Friday, June 26, 2009

More on Universal Health Care

It seems like it's coming very soon: Obama wants to reform health care and insure all Americans. I blogged about this not too long ago and grabbed quite a bit of attention for my opinion that the real problem with American health care is that we're a horribly overweight country that's consuming too much health care as a result of being overweight. I still assert that if this country went on a diet, lost some collective weight, and took better care of ourselves, then our cost of health care would go down dramatically.

Of course, most don't agree with my assessment of the situation. I agree that there is waste, redundancy, and greed that bloats the cost of health care to its current, epic proportions. Still, I think that fat America is the root cause of all of this. Like most other people, my political opinions are shaped by my life experiences. I don't notice any of the problems that people have with getting treated because I'm very rarely sick or need medical care. I don't think that's just because I'm young. I know people my age who are overweight and need far more medical care than I do. It's pretty simple: you're fat, you put yourself in the crosshairs of more medical problems. Then, you have to deal with the beast.

The next time you're watching TV, flipping through a magazine, or looking at page on the Internet and you see an ad for some kind of drug, ask yourself if this drug treats something that would probably go away with having a healthy weight.

All throughout history, being overweight or obese was a supreme luxury. Only the richest noblemen, clergy, and business men could afford so much food that they became fat. One thing that has remained the same throughout history is that obesity is expensive. It used to be expensive just to get that much food. Now, it's expensive to maintain that lifestyle, especially considering that we all expect to live into our late 70's.

In the USA, we've reached the point where there are more obese people than overweight or healthy weight people. That means there's over 100,000,000 people who are really, effin' fat! Do you think that the cost of treating them will disappear into thin air? Do you think that the government will make it any cheaper to maintain that collective waistline? You'd be naive to think that's true.

Still, this isn't popular and for good reason. Many (Most?) don't want an answer to why health care is so expensive, especially one that implicates them. They just want free health care. People need to wake up. This won't be free and it will cost more of a fortune than we have. It doesn't matter what section of the economy we place this burden in: it's unsustainable. We need to look at our health as our responsibility and clean up our act.

Does anyone remember this post?

If you look at #1 and #3 on this list, they are cheap ways to make a huge dent on your health and well-being. The question is, will we take collective responsibility for the future of our health or will we sink ourselves into debt with the rest of the world so we can stay fat when there are people in this world starving to death?

Think about it, and don't support any of these universal health care schemes.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Push-up T Handles

I've heard them called the wrist wreckers. Apparently, balancing up on a handle with two thin stilts isn't everyone's idea of a sane workout. Still, the T handle push-up concept is seems to be catching on with those who want to take push-ups to the next level of difficulty. To my knowledge, there are three makers of T handles for push-ups. I ended up making a pair of my own since I wanted adjustability and I just had the urge to make some.

I'll be the first to admit that even the simplest, easiest push-ups on T's are pretty advanced exercises. They're not for someone who has trouble squeezing out 20 plain-vanilla push-ups. For someone with wrist, forearm or hand problems or weakness, I'd hold off on buying or making a set of these. In my opinion, if you can't punch a heavybag without your wrist bending on impact, you should build up strength in your wrist before investing in the T's.

My personal set of T's

The benefit of doing push-ups on T's are numerous. Remember my rant about eccentric training a few weeks back? Well, when you're doing push-ups on the T's, you're using a great deal of eccentric contraction. Since you're so unstable, you have to control all aspects of the movement. There's no dropping to the floor without control on these. This lack of stability demands a lot out of your core as well. This is the benefit of T's that gets mentioned the least. The most obvious, most talked-about benefit of T's is the grip work. This takes the push-up, not normally used for strengthening the grip, and moves it into position to rival pull-ups, chin-ups, and even rope climbing for BW grip strengthening.

I had a pretty good grip and core strength prior to getting my hands on T's I was able to take off running with them, cracking out 20 push-ups on a 2.5" stilt without too many problems. I know many of you aren't so fortunate. Were I someone needing graduation up to using them, I have a few ideas. I'd start out by doing as many of your push-ups as possible on your fists. Once that gets to be easier, I'd throw in fingertip push-ups. Both of these will build up good stability and strength in your forearms. I could do 40-50 fingertip push-ups before I started doing T's. If you've never tried doing elevated push-ups on a stability ball, then you have no idea how hard they are. You need a powerful core to do these. These help too.

If you look back in my blog, you'll find that I wrote a post about using elevation to ease or intensify the difficulty of push-ups. To start out using T's, it might be a good idea to do the push-ups the the T's on a chair, descending only to the bottom of your hands. This will take some of the weight off your upper body, making the exercise a bit easier.

T handles are a great training tool, provided that you error on the side of caution. Believe me, you don't want to do these before your ready or do anything that would put your wrist as risk of collapsing. Falling while on the T's is painful. Take your time, practice and get ready to get seriously strong with these great training tools.

Two of my routines

Normally, I don't post too much about what routines that I'm doing. I have a couple of reasons. There are a lot of blogs out there where people post little else other than the routines they're doing. Frankly, I think that's boring as hell. Aside from a shortage of insight, I find them dry because often times I have little or no interest in their routines. They might be too easy or hard for me. They may be using equipment that I don't have access to, doing exercises that I have no interest in doing or trying.

Apparently, more than a couple of people are interested in my routines. I've gotten several questions. While I'm not going to lay out every routine and exercise that I do, I thought it would be worthwhile to share a couple that I've been doing lately. What's more important about sharing them isn't the exercises that I do and the reps that I do of them is the principles behind them. If anything, that's what I feel is most worth taking from these routines.

Lately, when I want to work my chest and shoulders, I've been doing what I'll call my 5-10-15 push-up workout. I've found a lot of very valuable push-ups out there. Trying to fit them into a single workout is essentially impossible. What I did discover was that if I took 3 or 4 and did them at about a third of my maximum reps, done with little break between sets, was very effective at getting strong and staying injury resistant at the same time. Moving the body in different directions, through its various planes, can be key to keeping your body healthy.

So, my favorite set of push-ups lately has been this:

5 One-arm push-ups, for each arm, 10 total
10 Handstand Push-ups
15 Dive Bomber Push-ups

This is merely a fragment. I've also thrown rock training or miscellaneous planks in between this circuit, depending on my mood.

When it comes to conditioning, sometimes I feel conflicted between my two most travel-friendly exercises: Jump rope and burpee/8 count bodybuilders. Both deliver full-body workouts but I feel like the rope better develops coordination, balance and timing. The latter develops even more full-body conditioning along with moving the body through multiple planes. So, my Gymboss provided the solution: Doing 4-6 of 2-3 minute rounds, alternating between jumping rope and burpees/8 counts (I lean towards 8 counts when in a hotel room since the jumping disturbs others). This is how it usually breaks down:

3 minutes jump rope
30 seconds rest
3 minutes burpees
30 seconds rest
3 minutes jump rope
30 seconds rest
3 minutes burpees

Ultimately, you can fit in an awful lot of exercises into a compact amount of time with a little creativity and know-how. These are good routines for me but feel free to modify them according to your needs. Physical training isn't doesn't have one size shoe. Don't ever forget it.

Saturday, June 13, 2009


I know that newsletters in the email inbox can get pretty annoying at times, especially when the sender starts passing them around to others so they can clog your inbox with spam. Still, if there is one that I'd recommend you subscribe to, I'd advise you to get Bill Hinbern's from He leaves some good reading in my inbox pretty often.

Recently, the topic of squatting came up. He relayed some interesting information about John Grimek's 400 lbs squatting routine in his 80's. Grimek's heavy squatting was brought up as the culprit for his hip replacement and subsequent rapid physical decline. Of course, that brought up the possibility that heavy squatting is bad for the body and leads to problems with the hips.

Hinbern, and many others in a subsequent e-newsletter, deadpanned the idea that squatting leads to hip problems. After all, how many hips replaced by surgery are from people who lift weights? So therefore, that can't be the culprit. I'm not one to disregard anecodotal evidence but this line of thinking is a bit faulty. If we wanted to look at this objectively, we'd measure the number of lifelong squatters and then figure out how many of them have hip replacement surgeries. That would be a much more revealing look at the question.

That's not to say that I agree that squats cause hips problems. I think that improper squatting could lead to hip problems. While I think it's remarkable that someone in their 80's could squat 400 lbs, I question the practicality and the ramifications of doing so. If you read anything about John Grimek, you'll realize very quickly that the man was an anomolly, a physical marvel, who did things his way. Frankly, I don't see the point in doing heavy squats at that age and I can't help but think that kind squatting could have a direct effect on losing his natural hips. I can't help but think that the ungodly squatting that people like Grimek and Paul Anderson must have done would cause joint problems.

That's not to say that squatting is bad for the hips. Most of us don't squat the kind of weight that Paul Anderson and John Grimek did. Obviously, that kind of sustained, heavy load will take a toll on the body after time. You could even make the case that the back squat could have detrimental effects on the body. If memory serves me correctly, I remember that Dave Draper eschewed back squats in favor of the front squat. He felt that it's safer for the body to do. Mike Boyle feels the same way.

Ultimately, I think that we have to keep the long-term consequences of our exercising in mind when we train. Part of the point to exercising is to compress the physical decline of our bodies down to a minimum and not to add to it. Ultimately, exercises like squatting can definetly help with that. We just have to make sure that we're doing them properly. At the end of the day, any exercise can be dangerous and it's our job to manage it, keeping the risk vs reward to our body in check.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Pull-ups, Chin-ups, Rotator Cuffs and the Wonderful Trapezius Muscle

Every once in a great while, I see a question on a forum about how to work the lower Trapezius muscles. Even on the BW-oriented sites, the stock answer involves weight lifting. I remember reading on one of my anatomy books that I studied indicated that the pull-up and chin-up both work the lower traps. Most disagree with me on this.

Last week, someone left me a question about how to make pulls and chins less painful for their rotator cuffs. This got me thinking about the issue of whether or not the trapezius gets any work during doing pull-ups. Take a look at this drawing of the trapezius muscle. Keep in mind that all muscles pull their ends together. They don't push apart.

As you can see, this muscle is responsible for stabilizing the trap. It moves the shoulder blades up, down, and towards the spine. So, if the shoulder blades are going to stay in place while under a load, it's the trap's job to do that (yes, there are other muscles involved but for our purposes, I'm focusing on the trapezius).

Pavel talks about "keeping the shoulders in their sockets" numerous times in his books. This is pretty simple to describe for our purposes: keep your shoulders away from your ears from doing pull-ups. The natural tendency of the shoulder blade is to raise up when we hang our weight from our hands. If we're to keep our shoulder blades down when chinning, then it's going to fall on the trapezius muscles to do it, particularly the lower section.

So, why is everyone under the impression that the traps get no work from the pull-up or the chin-up? People are trying to make the exercise easier, resulting in bad form. You can demonstrate this for yourself on a chinning bar: Dead hang from the bars in both positions that Pavel is demonstrating in that photo. The shoulders-down position is the harder of the two because the traps are firing, trying to retract and hold your shoulder blades under the load of your body. This becomes far more apparent when you watch someone approaching failure when doing pulls or chins. They're trying to make the exercise easier as they tire to get more reps. So, up come the shoulders.

Don't make this mistake when you're chinning. Keep your shoulders down when doing your pulls and chins. This is key for keeping your shoulder muscles strong and keeping your rotator cuff healthy. Weak traps are the first step towards rotator cuff problems. You can get even more work on the traps by drawing your shoulder blades together at the top of the bar, attempting to touch your spine with them. You'll end up with your chest to the bar, as Vince Gironda insisted that all his trainees do. You can get good Trap work from pull-ups and chin-ups. You just have to do the exercise properly.

A closer look at my towel pull-up photo. What's that in the center of my upper back? ;) Note that my shoulders come up enough to allow proper rotation of the scalpula but they're not kissing my ears.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Eccentricity in Training

My experience in strength training varies quite a bit in its path and direction from most peoples beginnings. The real genesis of my serious strength training came from BW based strength training that I learned from Matt Furey and his book Combat Conditioning. So, my strength training ideas and attitude evolved differently than others who came to BW from weight-based strength training.

Since I've always looked at BW as the main course rather than a side dish when training, I've always looked to squeeze the most benefit that I could out of them. I see people all the time trying to do as many push-ups as possible by dropping down to the floor and only using their muscles to push them off the floor. Pull-ups are a similar story. I watched a man at a pull-up competition at a local MMA fight free-fall down to the start position so violently that the Marines hosting it had to stand on the bar to keep it from shaking too much.

I've always tried to raise and lower myself in a controlled manner. For me, training is never a rep contest. Unfortunately, too many who train with BW look at it that way, striving for the most reps in a set with little regard for proper control of the movement.

BW strength trainers are hardly alone. Many people focus only on the concentric contraction of the lift and disregard the eccentric contraction. In English: they raise the weight (concentric contraction) but let it drop rather than lower it (eccentric contraction) in a controlled manner. They wonder why they injure themselves so much!

What we need to keep in mind when strength training is both of these muscle movements are equally important. Part of what we're doing when we strength train is learning to control our muscles when resistance is placed upon them. The ability to control the muscles translates directly to how powerful we are. Maintaining balance between concentric and eccentric contraction is also key to injury prevention.

Unfortunately, balance hasn't been the "modern" fitness world's strong suit for quite some time. In light of this new found appreciation for eccentric contraction, things are getting a bit strange. It was discovered that your muscles can "lift" 10-20% more eccentrically than they can concentrically. Somewhere along the line, they also discovered that there is more muscle tissue breakdown with eccentric contractions than concentric ones. So, this has given birth to doing things like eccentric lifting with very heavy weights and even having someone push against your limbs and body when lifting weights. You know, anything to get that special, eccentric contraction.


First of all, you don't lift anything eccentrically. You simply control the speed in which the object drops. Sure, you can control a heavier weight on the way down than you can on the way up: Gravity is doing part of the work! Your muscle is acting like a brake. Christian Thibaudeau said it well: that is a yielding isometric!

As for the guido-gym-rat pushing your body when you're trying to lift, well, if you can't figure out why that's dumb then I can't help you.

How about this: just do your strength training in a controlled manner. Control the rate of decent and accent when you're lifting weights, doing push-ups or chin-ups. Don't drop down to the bottom of the movement. You can slow down the rate if you want to, as long as you can handle it (use the weight you normally use, not 10% more). Remember my golden rule about training: Speed-Control=INJURY. By doing what I just mentioned, you should get all the eccentric training that you need out of your workouts.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Do what you need to do

When I write blogs, I like hearing feedback from those who read my work. It lets me know what people are doing, what they like or dislike, what they they think, what is useful and what they might need help with. I've put a lot of ideas about how to train and exercises to try, hoping that people will find some useful ideas. I've noticed that I frequently put out ideas for pretty advanced exercises. Actually, I'd say that well over half of the exercises that I've put forth as suggestions could be considered advanced BW strength training.

For years, I've read and heard suggestions that BW is too easy and lacking effective progressions. Once someone's mastered the exercise, the only perceived way to make it harder is do do more reps. By this point, the argument becomes that you're not getting stronger. You're only gaining more endurance. So, I've fielded ideas on how to make things harder and more intense without the added volume. I tend to shy away from some of the higher volume exercises too for practical reasons. As I've stated in the past, traveling has a way of limiting time to train. They go hand-in-hand and I like exercises that cut back on my training time. That way, I can get more done in less time.

Lately, my coorespondance with my readers seems to indicate that some of my ideas are too hard for many. I've answered several questions how to make exercises less taxing and seen several comments about making BW exercises easier. As far as I'm concerned, the best kind of training is the kind that gives you the right amount of challenge. What on earth good does it do to try an exercise that you can barely do effectively for one or two reps? If you need to make it a little easier by modifying the exercise, then that's completely fine. You're just reverse engineering what I did when I thought up the exercise to begin with.

In fact, if you're not doing that before you train, then I think that you need to start. One very good piece of advice that I can give you is to try an exercise before you commit to working out with it. Play with it and see what kind of a challenge that it gives you. Keep in mind that when you do it, you'll be doing several sets of these for multiple reps. If it's too hard, try the exercise a different way and see how it works for you.

For example, if you can barely do two push-ups because your chest feels too weak to push yourself off the floor, then grab yourself a couple milk crates (or something like that) and do the push-ups to the top of the the crates. If you can do 10-15 of these, then you're getting somewhere. As it gets easier, then drop them out of the exercise and try them from the floor. I've also blogged extensively in the past about how to make BW exercises harder. If you want, look up those articles and work backwards from them. Ultimately, it's your training and you should make it work best for you.

As always, if you want some help on making an exercise work for you, get in touch with me here, on my forum, or PM me at the forums that I post at. I'll do my best to help you out, Always!