Friday, May 29, 2009

Stone Training

One of the criticisms frequently leveled against me is that I'm anti-weight training. That's not entirely true. For the past several years, I've done not much else than BW training (sure, I went through a phase where I flipped tires but that was 14 months ago)because I wanted to see, and prove, that I could effectively strength train without touching a weight. It was partly ego but mostly enjoyment and practicality (part of which I discussed in this blog: Ultimately, I enjoy what I do and never felt the itch to train any other way.

Not too long ago, I saw this weight training routine in a Men's Health magazine (can't get the link to work here, so you're on your own to cut and paste)

It intrigued me, to a point. I like how many muscles a single exercise hit simultaneously. I could see that without trying the routine. That same multi-angle, joint and muscle group activation is what makes calisthenics so effective. It kind of reminds me of some medicine ball exercises that played with several years ago. Plus, the unconventional moves appeals to me. However, I don't have even one dumbbell to travel with so I kind of relegated it to neat idea but impractical for my regular use.

That is, until I added Zach Evan Ech to my friends on Facebook. I've read a few things that he's written in magazines and online. I've always liked how he improvises, adapts and overcomes when it comes to having a lack of "proper" strength training equipment. One of the things that he trains with is stones. Training with stones goes back to his teen years when he couldn't afford a Weider Barbell set. Lo and behold, he became pretty strong while he was waiting to get that barbell set.

So, while working near a massive sandpit in New Hampshire a month and a half ago, I decided to try this workout with stones instead of a dumbbell. I started modestly, using a piece of river-smoothed granite about about 2/3 the size of a basketball. Right away I noticed that I'd need a rest between the sets. So, I used my handy GymBoss timer and programmed a 45 second round with 30 seconds of rest.

It was a lot of hard fun. While the exercises hit slightly different muscles each time, all of them required constant core, shoulder and especially grip activation. Most of these exercises put the stone out in front of your body. With the stone in this position, you need to keep all of your core muscles tight to do the movement (keep in mind, if you use too heavy of a weight, you could mess your lower back up, start modestly if you want to give this a go). Keeping the stone in front of the body is also is hell on your shoulder muscles.

Above all, the grip work from this kind of training is what might be the most fun. No matter what exercise you use a stone for your hands will struggle to hold onto the weight. I've heard it said best about lifting stones before: stones weren't made to be lifted. The rounder and smoother the stone gets, the more awkward and challenging they become. The lack of a good grip makes training with even a 20 lbs stone more difficult than training with a 30 lbs dumbbell.

The allure of using stones for me is much the same as using a rope: it's very primitive. I recently watched a video of Sylvester Stallone working out in a very high tech gym with some obviously expensive machines. while I enjoyed watching his dedication there is something that leaves me cold about machines. The human body isn't a machine and there's something about building a body with a machine that doesn't ring true to me. I just enjoy building my body with little else outside of my mind, body and whatever the surroundings have to offer me. Ultimately, it's very effective and fun training method that I can pretty much do everywhere I've gone so far. If you're in the mood for an alternative method of strength training, I think this is a good direction to go.


Javier said...

great Blog man, im looking for a good body weight routine to build mass,im 6'3 and 170 pounds so im a bit underweight. I saw a couple of routines in your blog but i don't know if you took them from book or if you make them up yourself. Anyway if you can suggest some routines for building mass, or show me how to build your own routines or some book you recommend it would be much appreciated. thanks for your time and keep it up

Anonymous said...

Hey Justin,
I think this way of training is really wonderful because training with natural things is super cool.
Unfortunately, there are no smooth stones near my area and I obviously can make a sandbag.
But as I told you I became like you and I want to prove to myself that I can achieve strength, muscle and aesthetics using only my bodyweight as the main source of resistance.

P.S: Check your inbox on RT, I have a P.M for you about pushups.

-Workout Warrior

Justin_PS said...

Hi Ahmed,

There isn't a rule book for stone training. I like to use smooth, round stones and I can find them. If you can find only flatter, jagged stones, then use them! You can always compensate for the lack of awkwardness by using a slightly heavier one.

This is a fundamental principle of this blog: use what you have and make the most of it.


I generally don't recommend books for mass gaining because I haven't seen a good one yet. Gaining weight without chemical enhancement is, in a lot of ways, a lot art and science.

If you want to find out more about the routines that I've used and how I've built them, I encourage you to use the search function to find some of my previous posts on the subject. Most of the routines that I posted up until early 2008 were focused towards gaining mass. I don't frequently use other routines. I make my own up.

I will tell you this though: while exercise selection and routine construction is important, diet is much more important. Look up my previous posts that topic.

Also, Vince Gironda's old material has some good tips on mass building.

Good luck to both of you,