Monday, August 31, 2009

It's Only Going to be so Easy

Zach Evan-Esh wrote a nice blog entry a couple of weeks ago. At the end of the blog, he asked an interesting question: how do you use strength and the iron to make things better? There's more to training than just making your body strong (or at least there should be). It should also be a practice in high-powered meditation and self-discovery. If anyone ever asks or talks about training on a "higher level," this is the stuff that statement is made of.

I've certainly learned one thing about strength training that's helped me immensely in life: things are only going to be so easy. Any attempt to make it easier only makes it harder. There's no denying that strength training is just flat-out difficult and painful. When it gets easy, you have to adjust and make it harder again. It's the art and science of dishing out metered doses of suffering, even torture, in order to make your body more durable.

Naturally, a lot of people shy away from such an arduous endevour. They try to make their lives easier. They get weak and fat, eventually. We all know what comes after that. At the very least, their bodies descent into a long, painful physical decline marked by the mental anguish of looking back on what they used to be able to do. At the worst, the diseases and disorders crop up along the way, such as diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, and cancer.

Actually, cancer is interesting in relation to this topic of discussion. Researchers at Sweden's Karolinska Institute have completed studies that show men who weight train at least twice per week, for 30 minutes, are up to 40% less likely to develop cancers. I just finished reading this article on T-Nation. Alwyn Cosgrove is one of those rare guys: an highly-tuned athlete who battled cancer. He had some interesting things to say about the ordeal:

"As far as after cancer — I've been an elite athlete and a cancer patient. That's about as extreme as you can get... And, I learned that Lance Armstrong is amazing; cancer is way tougher than anyone can imagine. To come back from that and just look normal is fucking amazing — never mind winning seven tours and being the best in the world"

I remember a great line in the movie "Platoon" that Tom Berenger where he hushed up a wounded, screaming soldier by telling the poor guy, "Shut up and take the pain! TAKE THE PAIN!!" That's the best advice I could leave you with if you want to complain about how hard strength training is. Sure, it's harsh but the bottom line is that you'll take the pain somewhere in life. You basically have two options: you can take it smaller, measured doses where it will strengthen your body to the point where your physical decline will be much smoother and more compressed. Or,you can procrastinate, be lazy, and you'll take it in the form of degenerative disease and painful physical breakdown.

Your choice.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Time Magazine and the problems with fat, lazy people

I have to be honest: I didn't really want to read this article, much less comment on it. I posted at's forum that this article wasn't worth the time to comment on. I said that I didn't have the inclination. The problem is that I just can't get away from this article. It's popping up all over the place in blogesphere. It's Time Magazine's cover story: "Why Exercise Won't Make you Thin."

I'll be honest: this was irritating as hell to read. There is so much misinformation and bullshit in it that I still cringe as I punch these keys (maybe that's why my "down" arrow is broken). Apparently, the notion of rigorous, intense exercise doesn't really amount to nearly as much as eating right and keeping moderately active. Eating right is the key. This John Cloud found studies to support his notion that more intense exercise bouts of exercise only serves to make you hungrier, forcing you to eat more. Therefore, the whole notion of a dedicated period of exercise is just counter-productive.

There are a lot of guys out there dissecting Mr head-in-the-Cloud's arguments and breaking apart the idiocy of them (Chip Conrad does a pretty good job at it). So, I see no need to attack head-in-the-Cloud's article yet again. What I would like to do is take the time to look at the deeper problems that I see. To me, this piece of shit article is a sum-total of what's keeping Americans fat.

1. IGNORANCE! This may not be the most obvious one but it's the first that comes to mind. I can't comprehend why people think that they have to work out for an hour and a half to get a good workout in. If you think that you have to spend 8 hours, or more, a week training, then you're just shooting yourself in the foot and wasting a lot of time. I rarely train for more than one hour a day and I daresay that I'm in way better shape than head-in-the-Cloud.

As annoying as this is, the WILLFUL ignorance is even more irritating. It's obvious that this guy cherry-picked the scientific studies that he wanted to prove the point about exercise that he has in his head. This is a major problem that I see far too often. If your ideas and notions about how to eat right and exercise aren't geting you where you need to go, then obviously you need to look at things differently. Indeed, Head-in-the-Cloud just went out and found validation of his faulty thinking.

2. LAZINESS! So, we got the average guy who busts ass (incorrectly and improperly) on exericse, gets nowhere, and then finds a bunch of bullshit validation of his ignorance, how hard is it to arrive at the slothful, screw-it approach to exercise? For way too many, not hard at all. The lazy will always find a reason to not work out. Frankly, this article is full of reasons why you shouldn't. Well, maybe he advocates the "moderate" amount of physical activity throughout the day is the best way to lose weight but let's be honest: that leaves a lot of room for interpretation as to what constitutes moderate, doesn't it? That's just going to evolve into avoiding anything resembling activity that might break a sweat.

3. NEGATIVITY! Here's another message that was shouted loud and clear: we're screwed. We can't get into shape, no matter how hard we try. I couldn't believe that he used the words "pathetic" to describe our lack of magical brown fat to burn our calories up for us! I just shake my head when he makes it seem like a human is incapable of working hard without jonesing for a sugary, soft drink afterwards. Getting into shape and staying there is hard enough. I just don't get how bombarding everyone with "can't do it" words in the cover of a mainstream magazine is going to help the situation out.

Frankly, that's what annoys me about this whole, damn article. It's exactly what American's didn't need to see and read. It's just a pile of drivel that, in a big way, validates the lousy thinking that goes into people's efforts, or non-efforts, to get into shape. People don't get sabotaged from exercise. People get sabotaged by getting the wrong ideas and insights about exercise. This is one HUGE and HORRIBLE insight about the issue.

Oh, and one last thing... Head-in-the-Cloud did get one thing right: nutrition is just as important (maybe more-so) as exercise for getting in shape. On the other hand, the notion of a brief, intense workout period not working, well, just remember this guy... He worked out for 45 minutes a day. 'nuff said.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Brown Fat


I'm talking about a fat tissue in your body that known as Brown Andipose Tissue (BAT). BAT(or brown fat)wasn't, up until recently, thought to exist in the human body. I'll try not to get too technical here and I'll just say this: brown fat differs from your other fat tissue, White Andipose Tissue (WAT), because it doesn't just store fat. It converts it directly into body heat. Heat is the product of brown fat. It's not a waste product. So, functionally, it's a tissue that functions like a middle ground between your WAT and your skeletal muscles.

Here's a pic of the fat in question. It's typically found around the chest and neck area as well as around the kidneys, usually around veins so it can transfer its energy to the blood going back to the heart. It's a major source of heat for infants until they develop their muscles enough to provide heat and enough WAT to hold that heat in. It was thought that as an infant matures, the brown fat disappeared.

Like WAT, brown fat cells don't just go away. It' still present in an adults body. In fact, there may be as much as one pound (although I've heard a little as 2 ounces and as much as 1.5 lbs) of it in the adult human body, burning anywhere from 250-500 calories a day. It's an interesting discovery but like many others significant to our endeavors, there's some good ideas and some positively hideous ideas about how to use this new-found information about brown fat.

I don't know if your mind has wandered to the notion that someone might try to make a drug to stimulate or increase brown fat in the body. Unfortunately, the pharmaceutical wheels are already turning. This isn't a good thing. There have already been drugs out there that make the body do much the same thing that brown fat does (Technical talk here, be warned... That is uncouple the mitochondrial energy-producing reaction so that it produces heat without producing ATP. Look it up if you don't get it). They all have a similar, and nasty, side effect: They cause the body to cook up so much that major organs end up getting damaged. Can you imagine what would happen to your kidneys if you took too much of a synthetic protein version UCP-1 (which tells brown fat to do its thing)? The most famous of these style of chemicals might be 2,4-Dinitrophenol, or DNP. Tell me if this is sounding more and more like a really stupid, redundant road that we might be going down.

Still, there are some practical and useful ideas for the discovery of brown fat. Science found out about brown fat by doing a PET scan in a cold room. The thought was that brown fat might be stimulated more by the cold since it exists to provide heat to the body. It appears that they were right. So, you may be able to naturally stimulate your brown fat tissue to burn more calories by exercising in a cooler climate. For those of you who have ever worked outside for long periods of time in cold weather know that if you're active in these conditions, it doesn't take long to fry the fat off of your body. I'll be the first one to admit that it isn't very comfortable to exercise outside when it's 45 degrees but if you're serious about fat loss and you just need a break from people watching Oprah on the treadmill while your'e trying to work out, then give it a second thought.

I'd rather deal with the cold.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Doing this... not that!

If you recall my past few posts about my job, you'll recall that it frquently disrupts how I train on a pretty regular basis. So, one exercise that I haven't done a whole lot of because of this situation are dips. Unlike push-ups, I need a lttle bit more specific environment do do dips. With push-ups, all I need is the floor. For dips, I need some rigid bars or someplace to hang some ropes.

Lately, however, I've been working in places that have some good, solid hand rails which come to a right-angle corner, perfect for doing dips. In fact, I recall reading somewhere that Vince Gironda favored such a set-up for doing dips. Plus, I tweaked my back at work a little. So, doing exercises where my lower body is hanging allowed me to keep training.

Dips are one of those few exercises that BW guys and weight training guys can agree on being a great exercise. They are awesome for hitting the chest, shoulder and triceps. While they lack the ab work that push-ups do, they are, by nature, more difficult than push-ups are. You can also make these really difficult by doing them on some sort of suspension trainer. Lately, I've been trying to make them more difficult by going down as far as possible. Of course, there's no shame in going down until your arms are at a right angle.

Dips are one of those BW exericses that I left out of my training a lot because I don't always have the right apparatus available. Crunches, on the other hand, are an exercise that I intentionally leave out because I don't think that they're good for very much. In the past week, I've read two articles, one from T-Nation and the other from Bodytribe questioning, and pretty much doubting, that the crunch is a good ab exercise. I must say that the best explanation came by way of Chip Conrad.

The crunch forces your body into a bad posture, over and over and over again. It was a long-time assumption that the abs flexed existed to flex the trunk, which gave rise to the crunch's popularity. In reality, the Abs main job is to stabilize the trunk when it comes under a heavy load. That's why exercises like push-ups and ab wheel roll-outs are so good for the abs: it's more natural. One of my favorite push-ups for working the abs is what I dubbed (with some help) the "Spider T" push-up. . The key during this Push-up is to keep the abs and obliques rigid as you do the push-up. This, along with doing some swing work with stones and a kettlebell (yeah, succumbed to the curiosity of kettlebell training, just a little). It's some bad-ass ab work.

In fact, I'll share with you my last, ass-kicking workout:

1. Grasshoppers, 30 reps
2. Spider T push-ups, 30 reps
3. V-ups, 30 reps (closest I'll come to a crunch)
4. 1 arm Swings, 15 reps each arm w/ 35 lbs kettlebell
5. Woodchoppers, 30 reps with the same bell.

I repeated this for 3 rounds, resting as little as possible (around 30 seconds) between each set. I suggest starting with just two and work your way up.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

THE BIG 2-0-0!

This is the official 200th post of the Bodyweight Files. I started this blog up back on March 30, 2007 because I wanted to show anyone who'd be willing to listen that you you get get strong and healthy with nothing more than your body and nothing else. At the time, I'd used Bodyweight religiously for 4 years. Over that period of time, I've heard countless people tell me that you can't get strong without weights. It still happens to this day.

Now, I've said before and I'll say it again, I HAVE NOTHING AGAINST WEIGHTS OTHER THAN THEY COST MONEY AND THEY'RE HARD TO TRAVEL WITH. I do have a problem with many weight lifters. The truth is that you don't need them. If you want them, then that's another story. One thing that has changed since I started is that I do occasionally use some sort of weight in my training, usually stones or a kettlebell. Still, the overwhelming majority of my training is BW-based. I don't see that ever changing.

I'm very thankful for all of you who read my blog. It's satisfying to know that I've been able to help you all out, even if it's in the smallest way. It's gratifying to know that people probably cuss me under their breath while hanging from towels or attempting a single-leg wall chair. I also appreciate the comments, feedback, and conversations along the way. It's always fun.

So, thank you Ahmed, Jennifer, Nate, Alberto, Barb, Ed, Sally, Charles, Mike, Emily, Dave, Matt, Justin R, Elijah, and all the others out there tuning in from around the world. I've got more to come. If you keep reading, I'll keep writing.

Back to work...

Saturday, August 8, 2009


While looking around on my favorites list on my Internet Explorer, I realized that I haven't checked out Gubernatrix's blog in, as far as I'm concerned, way too long. She writes a good blog and if you haven't visited her site, then you're only hurting yourself for not doing so. Her last post asked a basic question: How competitive are you in your training?

Not too long ago, I came down a little critical on competitive lifting sports because of the intense drive that forces people to train their bodies into the ground. I recall reading about one guy on another web site and he had this to say:

"I am now an Olympic lifting coach who can't lift at all. My joints are so busted up I have to demo lifts with an empty bar and can only swim for fitness. Would I go back and change a thing? Not just no, but HELL NO! I knew the price when I started as an athlete and paid it. I make sure my serious lifters know there is a price to pay down the road. It's not like they can't see it in all the coaches at Nationals, anyway. I have never had an athlete quit because they were afraid of the long term price in pain and disability. If they do, they aren't serious enough for me to waste my time coaching them."

Is that the way to train? As far as I'm concerned, not just no, but HELL NO! I've got a lot more life to live than just past my physical peak. I'd like to live it in a manner that I can compress the physical decline that I know that I'll experience into as little time as possible before I go down for the dirt nap. To me, that's a huge consideration in my training. Forcing myself to compete to that point of breakdown is just ridiculous.

Besides, it flies in the face of my lifelong goal when it comes to my training: I want to defy everyone who tells me that I can't do this for as long as I live. I don't accept that the physical decline that they experience is my unavoidable fate. Frankly, I'm determined to be the Jack Lalanne of BW strength training!

On the other hand, training without ANY competition at all is just as counter-productive. You can't erase competition from life, no matter how hard you try. Someone is always going to try to get one up on you. This is where competition can help you train on a higher level. I see strength training as a way to accept the fact that life is, at times, hard and painful. It's unavoidable in strength training: if you want to get powerful and stay healthy, you have accept the difficulty, pain, and suffering (to a limited and controlled degree, of course). Competition serves as an excellent tool to force you to do difficult things. You don't even need to compete with someone else. I compete with my past self, trying to break personal records all of the time.

I believe that life is only going to be so easy. Trying to make it easier only results in making it more difficult. People who shun training because it's hard only become out of shape, mentally weak, and (frankly) a bunch of PUSSIES! I see it all the time, and it disgusts me. Shunning competition only exacerbates this.

What it ultimately boils down to is what I've said so many times: training is about balance. I said it in a comment on Gubernatrix's blog: One of the keys to training is balance… and there are way too many people that lost that set of keys. Don't make the same mistake. Use competition to push yourself to a higher level but don't let it rule your training and crush your body under its demands.

Off the topic, I'd like to take the time to wish one of my friends and muse to the Bodyweight Files, Pierini, a bit, GET WELL SOON! He got slammed with what sounds like a bad case of the flu. Send some prayers and well-wishes his way when you get a chance... Pierini Fitness

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Super-Easy Suspension Trainer

Not too long ago, I wrote about suspended training. There are a lot of good suspension training systems out there, most notably Blast Straps, TRX, or Gymnastic Rings. The problem with all of these is they're all pretty expensive, often times running up to $100. Now, for the sheer variety of exercises that you can do on them, I think that they're worth the investment.

However, some of us just can't part with that kind of money (or don't want to... us cheap bastards!). Part of the reason I started this blog was because I wanted to have a site that shared ways to do strength training on the cheap. So, I felt I'd be doing a disservice to my readers if I couldn't provide a far-less expensive alternative than TRX. Fortunately, this kind of equipment is very, VERY easy to improvise for a tiny amount of money. All you need, is some rope, a couple of 3/4" x 4-5" nipple, a length (or two, depending on your set-up) of rope (around 3/8- 7/16", the rope should be able to hold at least twice your body weight), and some knot-tying know-how.

Make the handles in the rope by using a Bowline , putting the plastic nipple in the loop. If you want, you can make this Bowline stronger by adding second crossing turn. On this particular piece, I am using only one rope. It's set up to hang over an open set of stairs at my hotel. You could use a similar set-up for a pull-up bar. To secure it to your bar, you might want to use a cow hitch.

If you want to raise up the handles, so you can do dips or rows, then you can shorten the rope by using a sheepshank. The top one will suffice. The Man o' War Sheepshank is a really attractive and strong version of this knot but you probably won't have enough rope to tie it effectively. What's really important when tying the sheepshank is to make sure all of the crossing turns are going in the same direction. If they're not, it'll come undone under a load... and you'll come crashing down to the ground.

The one piece version that I made up is simpler to make and is easier to use. If you want to make the exercises harder, you'll want to use two independent ropes. That's very similar to what I have in my basement at home. For that, I put a few hooks through the beams in my ceiling. I put several. Increasing the distance of the two hooks apart makes the exercise harder. Then, I simply tied a second set of bowlines on each rope and hooked them on the hooks in the ceiling. If you wanted to tie this set-up to a tree, then I might try using a timber hitch. The advantage of a timber hitch is that it's easy to untie, doesn't slip very easily and the more tension put on it, the harder it grips.

Overall, you could build something like this for a measly $8.00. I also recommend that you practice tying each of the knots that I referenced until you're proficient tying them. I know that this rig is not as sexy as any of the pro-suspension trainers but it also costs about a tenth of what they're currently running. Plus, it goes to show that you don't need to spend a lot of money to get a lot of results.