Sunday, December 28, 2008

Did Charles Atlas Lift Weights?

There are certain topics that you can bring up on the internet and cause a major stir. Two that come to mind are whether soy or milk are good for you or not. A third is about Charles Atlas' alleged use of weights. It's been a topic that has been balttled out in several forums and like every other nearly pointless internet arguements, it'll never really get solved for sure.

I do think it has some relevancy though. Atlas is still one of the most visible proponents of strength training without weights. Had he used weights regularly, then it really makes him look like a fraud. After all, why use weights if non-apparatus Dynamic Tension worked so well? If the most famous practicioner of weight-free strength training used weights then what does that say about BW in general?

So I think that there is a quite a bit on the line as much then as there is now. I think that just about anyone who has ever tried to strengthen themselves have picked up some kind of weight to get there. I certainly have. Charles Atlas admitted to using pulley's and rudimentary barbells. I abandoned their regular use a while ago. The question is did Atlas?

I honestly think that he did and I premise that thought on how he looked. It's been said that is a weak arguement. I disagree. Certain activities yeild a certain look in athletes. Look at a gymnast. You'll almost never see one without some massive, pumpkin-like shoulders from all the ring work they do. Soccer players usually have modest upper body musculature. Boxers usually have lean, long muscles. Power liftser are very, very burly and bulky. Bodybuilders, well... You get the idea. Different training methods, different looks.

Many weight lifting movements often isolate the muscles and as a result, the lifter gets a more cut physique. Atlas, early on, had a very "cut" physique. Over time, his physique became more willowy and not quite so defined. One thing that I noticed about calisthenics is that they don't isolate muscles and the two pilliars of upper body conditioning, the pull-up/chin-up and the push-up, usually results in a larger upper body in relation to the arms than weights do. Charles Atlas' upper body showed such a transformation. In BW, the legs are usually more svlette than in weight lifting due to the higher volume repetitions. Charles Atlas displayed these kind of legs.

The debate might never be solved but I can assure you of this: Bodyweight isn't a sham. I haven't lifted anything to get my body in shape consistently in several years. It all goes back to my constant travels. I just don't have the luxury of strength training with any kind of weight because I move around so much and traveling light is a fact of life. Still, I get into great shape without them. Look at my pictures or at my last video. I built my strength without weights. It's doable.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Iso's on the Airplane

Well, I’m back on the road again. As I type this I’m returning home from looking at a job in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Many people are quick to mention how detrimental to keeping fit traveling can be. I just laugh. Traveling is a part of my job and one of the circumstances that I have to form my plans for keeping fit. Most of this trip was spent on planes.

You wouldn’t think that you could exercise on a plane. You’d also be wrong. This is where isometric exercises show their value. I think that people dismiss their value since just about every form of exercise has movement. The premise that you can exercise without movement is incomprehensible. I’ll admit that it’s not my first choice for strength training but one of my basic principles here at the Bodyweight Files is that any workout beats no workout at all. Another principle that I have is that you get out of a workout what you put into it. If you don’t believe that isometrics don’t give you a good workout, then you won’t get good workout from them.

With those in mind, I came up with this routine that I’ve been doing on the airplane.

Set #1, legs: I do 6 isometric contractions where I endeavor to push my feet through the floor. I do 2 of these with my feet flat, 2 with my heels raised, and two with my toes raised.

Set #2, Chest and Shoulders: I Spread my knees just enough to get my fists in between. I try to push my knees apart while resisting the motion with my legs. Next, I place my hands at my chest and push my hands together powerfully. Lastly, I push my head and my elbow into the seat and hit my trapezius muscles. Once again, I do 2 of each of these contractions.

Set #3, Arms: I do a simultaneous bicep and triceps contraction by pushing my fist down and resist the motion with the other fist, switching each fist after each contraction. I do these with my fists on my lap and then with my fists at my chest. 4 Contractions total.

Set #4 Forearms and Hands: There is, by far, the most variety of isometrics that you can do here. You could squeeze the dinky pillow that the airline gives you, press your fingertips together against each other, clasp your hands together and try to pull them apart. The options are endless. I try to do 6 of these.

In between each set, I like to do 5 Farmer Burns-style breathing exercises for the abs.

One thing that you’ll find out is that isometrics go a long way in keeping the jet lag away. This 15-20 minute workout will leave you feeling pretty refreshed during the plane ride. You might get some strange stares (I certainly did) but if you’re serious like me, you probably won’t care. You’ve probably found out that there are scores of people always ready to ridicule you for your efforts to stay in shape. Exercising on a plane is no different. Just get into a good zone, focus on your contractions, enjoy the flight, and find pride in the fact that you’ve done what few say is doable: you kept your fit lifestyle while traveling.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

But is it Hard?

There are a multitude of reasons why people don't regularly exercise ranging from constraints of time to physical sickness or injury to lack of motivation. There is one that I'd like to touch on right now and that is the people who don't exercise because it's too hard. I get that a lot lately. A number of my female friends and family want to lose weight and get into shape. The top two areas that they want to buff up are, without fail, their abs and their triceps. The most obvious exercise for both is the push-up. Unfortunately, they can't do them. So, I show a few exercises that will help them get to the point where they can do push-ups and get the conditioning that they want. Along the way, the "H" word pops up... "is it hard... it's too hard!"

Well, of course it's hard! It supposed to be hard! If it was easy, then it really wouldn't be worth doing! Now, I know that for some, some strength training is above their physical capabilities. I know that everyone isn't doing handstand push-ups on T's. That's not what I'm seeing when I hear about how hard an exercise is. I'm seeing people unwilling to take on a physical challenge.

The human body gets compared to machines frequently but it really isn't the best comparission. Machines regularly pushed their limit, break down. Their parts don't regenerate like human parts do. We are in a constant state of rebuilding and we need exercise to direct the rebuilding effort. Proper exercise places controlled amounts of resistance in order to induce stress. By doing this in a precise manner, the metered-out stress improves our ability to overcome physical challenges. It's an ongoing process too. As we become better at handling stress, we must place a little more stress on our body. It's a never ending cycle.

That's why proper exercise can teach a life lesson about any challenge that you face. One thing that I've learned is that challenges are a part of life. They're only going to be so easy. Any attempts to make them easier only serve to make them harder in the bigger picture. Take raising children for example. It's a challenge of your dedication and stubborness to raise well-disciplined kids. Still, if you neglect to do so, then they become enormously difficult raise due to their bad behavior.

Physical training is similar. Sure, I could skip my training. I could get fatter and more sedentary. It's far easier to do than to be well-conditioned. My tolerance to stress would drop though. The physical tasks that I have to do would become harder and would exhaust me much quicker. Eventually, I'd develop dengenrative conditions which might lead to disease which will make my life a slow, painful decline until death takes me. Which is harder in the long run? Thing is, you're in the exact same position as I and everyone else is. What are you going to do?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

I Want to Look Like...

We probably couldn't count how many times we've heard people talk about how they want to be big and strong like Arnold. Then, when they realize that he was a combination of gifted genetics and over-the-top (for the time, anyway) steroid use, the gears switch and then it becomes being ripped like Brad Pitt in Fight Club or Bruce Lee. I've seen where this gets to the point of an unhealthy obsession. We often have in our minds what we ideally would look like and it's likely that it looks like a luminary of the fitness world.

Over time, I've come to realize the folly of such thinking. Frankly, I think it could drive you nuts and leave you very unsatisfied. While we all are constructed the same basic manner, there are infinite variations on the theme. Our muscles have insertion and attachment points that vary from one to the next. The number of bundles differs as well as the tendon lengths. Our metabolisms vary and the number of fat cells we have determine how easily we store fat. The size, density and length of our bones has profound effects on how we look.

All of these (and more) variables conspire against you in efforts to look like someone else. Plus, there are tricks that many of these people use to look bigger and more muscular than they really are. You can make your abs look more ripped just by the proper angling. Try this: Look at your abs in a mirror from the front. Now, angle your body slightly and look at yourself in the mirror. Your abs will look more defined with your body at an angle. If you want to make your waist look slimmer, keep your body angled but twist your upper body so that your chest is facing the mirror directly. BAM! You're ready for a fitness magazine or a supplement advertisement! I've just touched on the bare basics. We haven't even gotten into pumping the muscles, dehydration, lighting, hair shaving, body oiling, and computer touch-ups used to make the extraordinary look the way that they do. The bottom line is these people that you want to look like probably don't look the way that you think that they do. You're seeing them in a way that they want you to see them. It may not be the same way that they really are.

So, don't get wrapped up in all of this, "I want to look like..." bullshit. That's what it is: bullshit. Just train for health and strength and everything else will fall into place. You're unique, like everyone else. Strive to look and be the best of yourself.