Sunday, February 22, 2009

A Deck of Cards

I used to be member of the Matt Furey Inner Circle (now called the Furey Faithful). A while back, we all got a deck of cards called the Matt Furey Exercise Bible. It's a deck of cards with a cariacture of the man doing various exercises on each suit. The game is pretty simple: shuffle the cards, deal a card, and do the exercise shown on the card. The reps are determined by the value of the card. I thought that it was a neat idea but I never used them. They just hung around my workout room for the past two years.

Maybe the problem was that I'm a stubborn, do-it-myself loner when it comes to exercise. I've never liked doing specified routines handed to me. My routines are my works of art that I decide to paint on a given day or week. Besides, I've never seen a magic routine yet. Some work better than others. Most work well with enough heart and dedication put into them. Some principles in preset routines certainly have some noteworthy merit but I'd rather mix and bake as I see fit.

So, I stumbled upon these cards not too long ago and decided that after two years, they were worth a try. I elected to make my own, special rules for the Exercise Bible (I guess I could be presumptuous enough to call it the Justin_P Exercise Bible). I've had a few people ask me about my routine so I thought I'd share with you the rules to my Deck of Cards Workout.

The Set-up
1. Chose four exercises that you can do in one set of 45 reps without too much difficulty. It's also helpful if they're working the body in different directions and body parts. Assign each one to a suit. I really like Furey's selection of the Hindu Squats, Hindu Push-ups, V-ups, and tablemakers.

2. Use the two jokers. Each Joker will be 15 reps of 8 count bodybuilders.

3. The face cards will be 15 reps of the exercise on the suits.

4. You're going to be doing some pull-ups and chin-ups. You should only do them in sets of about 1/5-1/4 of the total reps you can do in one set. I do 8-10 reps.

1. Deal the cards in sets of 3-6 at a time. If you want more of a strength workout, deal in sets of 3. If you want a workout that's more geared to conditioning, deal them in sets of 5 or 6.

2. Do the exercises in the deal. Once you are finished, do a set of pulls or chins.

3. That's one set. Rest for a few moments, deal another round of cards and top of each set with a different chin-up or pull-up. Continue until you've gone through the deck.

If you want you modify this to suit your needs or wants, then have at it. In case it's not really obvious, I'm a firm believer in individuality when exercising. Try this out and have some fun with it!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


Lately, I hang around's forum. One thing that piqued my interest not too long ago was a guy who wondered if kipping on pull-ups or chin-ups is cheating. There was some interesting viewpoints on both sides. Ross brought up that since there isn't a pull-up competition, then how can kipping be cheating.

I half-agree with his statement. Okay, there is no international pull-up competition where they judge your rep count and form. I got that part and I see Ross' viewpoint. He uses pull-ups as a means to an end. He trains people to compete in sports so the results in the rounds is all he really cares about.

That doesn't mean that the concept of cheating in training just because you're not competing with anyone. There's a good chance that you're cheating yourself! If you're constantly using momentum to get yourself up the bar, then you're robbing your upper body of the usefulness of the exercise. I have to keep that in mind when I'm training. Sure, getting to 25 pull-ups entitles me to some serious bragging rights but what good does it do for my body at the end of the day?

Now, I'm not saying that I think that Kipping a pull-up is cheating all the time. If you've just gassed out at 7 and you couldn't do the 8th in proper form if you tried, then I'm hardly going to say that you cheated. When you do an exercise, you should be doing everything that you can to get the most out of it. If you can't, then what is the point? If you need to make a pull-up easier by kipping a bit, then do what you need to do. When you can do pull-ups easily, then look for ways to make it harder.

Do I kip on pull-ups? Sometimes I do when I get really tired and I just want to get one last rep. I do have an evil twist on the theme: rather than let my legs go back to a dead hang, I'll leave them sticking straight (like an L).

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Playing with My Balls

I came across a really neat web site not too long ago that made custom made strength training equipment. They have a hardcore attitude that I identify with and they take bodyweight strength training pretty seriously. They had some very neat gear that I just had to have. Unfortunately, this stuff was HORRIBLY overpriced, especially considering how easy it was to make. So, I did the dignified thing and copycatted both of them.

The two that caught my attention both had one thing in common: they used balls. What I've learned from these two items are that using balls in your training is a sure way to make anything more difficult. Using round gear is far from new in my routine. I've used medicine balls, BOSU balls, and Swiss balls. They all make the time training delightfully torturous. I guess the newness of this gear really just revives my interest in the wonders of the sphere in strength training.

This is the first piece of gear that I crafted in the past two weeks.

These are brutal on the grip, particularly the muscles that control the thumb. I wasn't used to this grip when doing my pull-ups. They're larger in diameter and more awkward than a bar. Plus, I've been able to try out a new pull-up. With the balls, I'm allowed to turn my palm away from my shoulder execute the pull-up. This variation hammers the deltoids like no other pull or chin that I've tried to date.

Here it is...

The second set of balls that I'm playing with are these.

You can use these much like an ab wheel. The difference between this and an ab wheel are stunning. It's not simply that they require each side of your body to fend for itself. Since they can roll in any direction (as opposed to back and forth) stabilizing these things is even more difficult. Plus, you can do chest flies or combine the chest fly with an ab roll-out for a very unique exercise.

Now, it would have cost me around $200.00 to buy these two items. I suppose when Dave Draper thinks your gear is cool, you can charge a fortune! I probably made them for less than $30.00. They were well worth it! It's amazing how much hard fun that you can have when you try!

Monday, February 9, 2009

Functional Strength Training

I touched on the topic of functional strength in an earlier post. I mentioned my misgivings about what "functional strength" training has become. Many who speak on the topic have no business even discussing the matter since they don't work for a living. I remember someone on a forum who discussed what he thought was functional movements once. I believe he's some kind of software programmer and he believed that the farmer's walk and certain deadlifts were among the most functional movements since they mimic real life movements.

Certainly he has a point. If you're weak in those movements, then it makes some sense to train that movement. Certainly practicing a movement that you do on a regular basis will help you get stronger in that movement. Still, I don't think that's good enough. You train to get strong but you should also train to stay healthy. If you aren't healthy, eventually, you'll get weak. So, you need to do things that will strengthen your body to withstand the rigors that your body endures.

This past year, if I had to point to one exercise that has kept me functionally strong this year above all other, I wouldn't hesitate to say that ab wheel rollouts. It's not functional in the sense that it mimics any movement that do on a regular basis like a deadlift does. However, I can say that prevented me from getting lower back pain from the constant, repetitive lifting that I did on my digester cleaning job.

This exercise works so well because one of the many things that the abs do is stabilize the spine under heavy loads. Sit-ups are kind of worthless because your abs are supposed to contract powerfully in a straight line. That's why Pavel stated in, "The Naked Warrior" that flat abs are strong abs. When you do ab wheel rollouts, the entire core must tense powerfully to stabilize the movement.

Now, I'm not saying that this is the ultimate, functional exercise (although, for me, I personally think and feel like it might be). I'm just trying to illustrate that functional strength training has another element to it that many people miss. Keep that in mind when you're training. It's not always about getting stronger. If anything, if you do a movement at work long enough, you'll get strong without an exercise to affirm it. You need to make sure you're bomb-proofing your body while you're at it.

Friday, February 6, 2009

The AntiGym?

The article about Michael Karolchyk and the his gym, the AntiGym, in the latest Men's Fitness magazine was by far the most interesting part of the magazine. Apparently, he's made quite a splash in Denver, on Fox News, and just about anywhere else he graces with his presence. His ads on teeVee latenly insult fat people (CHUBBIES). His web site is hypersexualized. His company motto is: "Have sex with the lights on!" He walks around with a t-shirt that says, "NO CHUBBIES". He throws cupcakes, rubber fish, and twinkies at his clients who he thinks aren't putting their all into their work at his gym. People who don't put meet goals get put on "the Jimmy Dean Sausage List." With his bedside manner, he sounds like a reincarnation of Vince Gironda.

Check it out:

Frankly, this guy intrigues me. I've watched a few interviews and this guy, in case you haven't figured this out already, is a no bullshit kind of guy. If you're fat, then he tells you. He actions aren't motivated by people's feelings. He's wants results and he'll get them any way he deems necessary. If you read or listen to what he says, it's hard not to realize that he's a smart guy.

Still, there is an obvious question: does his borderline-abusive methods of motivation help or hurt people? Many observe that his training has a drill instructor feel to it. I have a friend who was a drill instructor and he explained that there is a reason why drill instructors are so hard on trainees: They need to be broken down so they can be rebuilt in a manner that ensures success. People usually won't change themselves that radically without being prodded and forced to do so. Now, DI's are rebuilding people to function in war. Karolchyk does this so people learn to live healthier and better.

It may sound excessive since his clients aren't going to war but Karolchyk is hitting at a core issue: people need to realize that they need to abandon their lifestyle. Bad lifestyle is dangerous, expensive, and degrading. Maybe Karolchyk's penchant for telling fat people that they won't get a spouse if they're overweight ("You'll never get a hubby if you're a chubby!") is degrading but how does it compare to diabetes, cancer, arthritis, clinical depression or impotence?

This isn't to say that I agree with Karolchyk. If he threw a twinkie at me, I'd throw a punch at him. I don't generally like to fixate on the physical and carnal pleasures of getting in shape (except in a joking manner). I see a higher calling to being in shape than just getting laid. I think that, as a whole, this guy does more good than harm. I think that people need to grow a thicker skin, start being accountable for their actions, and start doing what it takes to get their bodies healthy. All told, I think this is what Michael Karolchyk has in mind.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Functional Strength

Recently on Rosstraining’s forum, the topic of “functional strength” came up. For those who didn’t read the thread, I responded by commenting that I don’t like to use the term much anymore because I believe that too often its uttered by people who have no idea what training is functional. I can say with some certainty that a large part of Ross Enamait’s respectability and popularity in the fitness world is because he can talk intelligently about what kind of training is functional. He uses his body for a living.

Every pop culture term has its subtle variation on meaning but I think that we could all agree that functional strength is strength that you use to get through strenuous physical tasks. This could cover a lot of gound since athletes’s training could fall under the definition of “functional strength.” What it usually entails is training for the tasks that the proletariat use on a regular basis. I see it as the antithesis of bodybuilding. Bodybuilding revolves around look rather than function. So, this is training that has a point. The problem with functional strength training is that so few people work in jobs that are physically demanding.

What complicates the matter even further is most people who do labor for a living are hardly models of functional strength either. I do some manual labor in my job and people who are in good physical condition are uncommon. Most who do hard, laborious jobs abuse their bodies into physical decline.

In a way, I think that true, functional strength training is a little bit of a dying art. I think that’s a shame because this is what training should be about. We should do exercise that strengthens us enough to do strenuous tasks and also protect us from injuring ourselves when we do them. I’ll discuss this in other blog posts but I’ll leave you with a few questions to ponder: Are you doing things that are going to help you do things in your life or is your training largely motivated by the need to impress and look good?