Thursday, December 31, 2009

Let's talk about pullups

I don't need to tell you again that traveling puts some unique demands on my training. What we can do for exercise is heavily dependent on our environments. Those of us serious and devoted to training seek out special spots ideally set-up to train (gyms). Others manipulate such a space ourselves. Most often this year, I don't have such a luxury. Some exercises I can do this week I won't have the means to do next week. So, improvisation become critical to the mission of keeping myself strong and healthy. Of all of the exercises that I like to include in my training, few have forced me to unique levels of improvisation quite like pull-ups. Finding something overhead that I can hang and pull from isn't as straightforward as you'd think.

I've also learned a lot from pulls&chins. What's interesting about the fact that I constantly have to come up with a way to do this family of exercises is it's taught me a lot about them. It's pretty simple concept to understand why I learned so much from improvising pull-ups. I do one variation from changing the way that I do them.

I notice Changing the level of difficulty on a pull-up is pretty simple to do: Change your grip. It's funny how such a simple change dramatically alters the level of difficulty of the exercise. I read somewhere that inclusion of the thumb (which I recommend if you're capable) activates around a half-dozen more muscles in the hands and forearms. Some people fret about including or excluding the thumb. A nice progression between the two that's served me well is using an inverted grip. I used this extensively when I hyperextended my right thumb. Twice. The only limitation that I found with this exercise is that you can't go much beyond shoulder-width apart with your hand placement. If you're looking to keep emphasis on the biceps, this shouldn't be a problem.

Then, what you grip make all of the difference in the world too. I've used towels (of course), thickened bars, lifting straps, fire hoses, balls, rings, suspension gear, and ropes to make a pull or a chin harder. The one I use most frequently are ropes. Most people, when they want to use rope, try to find a thick piece of manila for the job. Pretty traditional. I do have a 1 1/4" by 23' rope that I made and use for climbing and some pull&chin work. Still, I don't use it nearly as often as I use 5/8" rope (or less). No, I don't grip a single strand of 5/8" rope. I bundle it together and grab onto each side of the bundle. I've always wondered why I've never seen anyone try this before. Someone must have.

I do have a guess: it's harder. Each piece in the bundle will try to move independantly as you lift yourself up and down. So, you have to squeeze harder to hold on. How much harder depends on how big the bundle (bigger=harder), the material (synthetic fibers=harder), and the construction of the rope (braided=harder). I also bundled my climbing rope and held 4 strands of it in each hand. That's even harder. For that variation, I put more emphasis on bringing my chest to my fists rather than lowering my body until my elbows are almost straight.

Which brings me to a frequent crticism of my towel pull-up video. I get all kinds of questions/complaints/criticisms for my lack of fully extending my elbows. I admit that I wasn't going down low enough. I usually go lower but I don't fully extend my elbows. I like to go until my elbow are slightly bent, or about the angle that I'd normally walk around with them at my sides. Although I've never hurt my elbows doing pulls, most of the people that I've heard of hurting their elbows usually do it at the very bottom. As far as I'm concerned, that's as low as anyone needs to go.

When you train with pull-ups and chin-ups, it's important to remember that it's not just two simple exercises. It's actually a whole family of them. I rarely do them in their traditional manner and I don't think that you should either. There are so many variations that can change the exercise to a surprising degree. Don't limit yourself.

Have a Happy New year! Best wishes in all of your endevors!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Two People that Really Get Me Pumped!

First of all, I hope that everyone had a very Merry Christmas with their family and friends. Things went pretty well down here in Peru. I haven´t slept much because my wife and I have been so busy visting with all of our friends and family. It´s been great though.

The trouble is that visiting here means partying. Partying here in Peru means drinking. A lot. And smoking. A lot. No, I don´t smoke cigarettes but some of you probably know that I indulge in a cigar once a week. I don´t want to hear any shit about it either. If Wayne Gretsky, Michael Jordon, and Oscar De La Hoya can, then dammit I can too! On the other hand, that plus a few bottles of wine, whiskey, some pie, pancakes, empanadas...

It catches up fast and it doesn´t take long before I´m fed up and ready to get back to some clean living. It´s just a waste of good training time. I spend all the time thinking of ways to get the most out of my body and then spending that 20-45 minutes of actual torture time working out. Then, in two bad days...GONE!!! It´s like it never happened. Of course, I don´t notice it until I go to work out and everything doesn´t work as well as it normally does.

I get help from other sources. In this case, there are two fitness peeps out there that really make me want to get going. I read their comments on Facebook, look at their pictures and videos, and (most importantly) read their blogs. 95% of the time, they´ve got 50 lbs of TNT to throw into the fire in my heart. They never fail to get me going.

Kicking it off is Pauline Nordine.
She´s done some seriously hot photo shoots in black and white. Some of my favorites, actually. It´s fitting for her personality because when she writes, that seems to be all she sees or cares about. There´s eating right, training hard, and having a body that´s off the charts and there´s just distractions and setbacks to that goal. It´s hard. Deal with it. That´s the price to pay for the life that you lead. There´s few I´ve read who put it so as bluntly and have the results to show it off.

For sheer, balls-out energy and enthusiasm (but waaaay less sex appeal. Sorry,Z!), you just can´t beat Zach Even-esh. The first time I came in contact with Zach´s stuff was years ago when he wrote an article for T-Nation. It was all about getting strong using unconventional and improvised strength equipment. It doesn´t seem like he´s changed that much to this day. I admire an infectiously-positive and creative guy like him. It´s what I strive to be like. I don´t care how much or how little stuff I have to get into shape, I´ll find a way. Zach´s stuff is a great reminder for me to keep that spirit alive.

So, if you´ve slacked off during the holiday season, then these two badasses´ blogs are required reading. If you´ve got Facebook, then add them as friends too. Check them out, and best wishes for a great, and powerful, New Year!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Goal that's Always There

I have a great wife. Around two years ago, she tried to get in touch with Jack Lalanne, hoping that she could get him to call me and say, hi. She didn't get him on the phone but she managed to get his manager to send me a personalized, autographed picture. Do I need to mention that I was stunned, excited... and happy?

I immediately took it to a framing store and got the picture laminated so that it would last forever, or hopefully as long as Jack's lasted. That's my goal in life anyway: I don't want to just live as long as Mr Lalanne has. I want to do as good a job as he has maintaining his vitality. I want to be able to compress the morbidity of physical decline down to as small as a period of time as possible.

We all train a little (or a lot) differently but we probably have one thing in common: we all have goals for our training. So, we lay out the goal and mold a plan around it. Then, we let the weight fly (our weight or chunk of iron. Which-ever). The windows fog. The sweat puddle at our feet. Sooner or later, with enough drive, we get there. Then, we repeat the process.

Others have ruminated over the importance of goals. I don't think that I can' add much more than what's already said. Let me throw this out there: what happens when you can't pursues these goals because you can't train your prescribed manner? As I look back on this year, I set a few goals for myself. I wanted to set a personal record for pull-ups (27 would do it, 30 would be ideal for me). I wanted to do a full roller-ball ab roll-out. I wanted to buy, and climb, a 3" diameter x 15' rope.

It's been a year of travel, and injury, and other impediments. I had a plan for the rope thingy but I only had 3 good weeks of training before I ran out of a place to set up for rope climbing (Didn't have a forklift at all my job sites). Plus, my wife wouldn't have been too thrilled with choosing 3" manila rope over paint for our canary-yellow kitchen. There was injury too. I knew I should have never tried pulling this pump, tied to a wet rope, ten feet out of that underground tank. That kept haunting me all, damned summer. Pull-ups in hotels can be dicey at times too. I didn't get a chance to do any on my first trip to Peru. Do you know what a BW guy who can't train with pull-ups?

Travel was the main culprit though. It's just hard to keep a constant training schedule, focused on one goal, when you travel. I've talked about it all year about how much I've traveled. Here's a run-down of all of the places that I've been this year (and remember):

1. Sacramento, CA
2. Tehachapi, CA
3. Minneapolis, MN
4. Ohmaha, NE
5. Lima, Peru (twice)
6. Portland, ME
7. Rochester, NH
8. Amesbury, MA
9. Portland, OR
10. Carson City, NV
11. Oregon City, OR
12. Greensburg, PA
13. Honesdale, PA
14. Warminster, PA
15. Orlando, FL

So what if I couldn't meet my arbitrary benchmarks? I still have the one goal that I talked about at the beginning of this blog. I still have my desire to hold back the aging process for as long as possible. It's something that I keep in mind every time that I train. It's also something that I can always work on every time I decide to start working out. Every workout has the potential to keep me going in that direction.

We all enjoy training and probably look at it as a hobby or a sport. Sometimes I wonder if we should look at it more like we look at showering or brushing our teeth: a part of hygiene. Do we quit showering because we scrubbed way too hard? Do we take days, or a week, off from brushing our teeth? Why does healthy movement need breaks? If we view strength training through those sunglasses, doesn't it make some of the training protocol look, um I don't know, a bit mis-focused?

I keep going back to that guy who posted at a favorite blog of mine who trained at Olympic lifting so hard that he can't even lift a barbell with weight in his 40's because he's in so much pain, and thinks it was worth it. Why sacrifice the body to superficial goals? I think that if we'd all do ourselves a favor by following Jack Lalanne's lead more often. It's something that we can all aspire to, no matter what.

In closing, I'd like to wish Jack Lalanne a speedy recovery from heart surgery. God bless you, Jack, and thanks again for the autograph! It means so much to me!

"By the Way, you're wrong. Your diet sucks"

Jim Wendler recently said that in a recent T-Nation article. He never saw the person's diet, but still he knew. For those of use who are serious about training, we all know that the average-American diet sucks. Most people who think that they eat well actually eat pretty badly. That's how Jim Wendler was able to deduce that the person's diet sucked. Plus, when a person comes out points to a fitness goal and ends the sentence with, " matter what I try," 9 times out of 10, it's their diet.

It's pretty difficult to deduce if a person is eating right just based on what they tell you because half of the time, they are horrible at remembering EVERYTHING they eat or drink. The other half of the time, they don't realize that what they're eating is bad for them. So, keeping this in mind, I came up with several questions anyone can answer and, I believe, can solve the question about whether or not their diet sucks. I won't pretend this is comprehensive. It isn't. This is just stuff that I observe from people who aren't in good health (and subsequently, in bad shape). Most of them violate these points.

1. How many different liquids do you drink on a day to day basis? If the answer to this question branches out much farther than water, then your diet probably sucks. If you're drinking soda, gatorade, coffee, juice, Red Bull, and some beers then you're slurping down a massive wad of calories that will, most likely, end up feeding your andipose tissue. Drinking your calories is, by far, one of the easiest ways to gain weight. So, don't.

2. How much do you love salt and sugar? Do you crave it? Can you control these cravings? If your answer was a lot, yes and no then your diet probably sucks. I notice that people who can't control these cravings usually end up snacking. Compulsively. That's the kind of eating that people don't really realize they're doing when they try to keep track of what they're eating.

3. Do you like fruits and Veggies? If the answer is anything less than... "sort of," then your diet probably sucks. If you don't like them, then you won't eat them. It's a simple concept. Personally, I think that that food pyramid thingy sucks in one, key regard: I think that people should switch the serving suggestions of the grains for the serving suggestions for fruits or vegetables.
If you want to drop some weight and get healthy, then eat at least two servings of fruits and or vegetables with every meal (and while you're at it, one at every snack too). Find a way to enjoy them if you don't naturally like them.

4. How often do you make your food at home, from scratch? If the answer is anything less than... "about half of the time," then your diet probably sucks. Take my word on this one: the more that you don't prepare your food and the more that you eat out, the harder it gets to eat right. I'm not saying that it can't be done because I find a way to eat right when I'm out on the road. Still, it's much easier to eat healthy when you have more control over how your food gets prepared.

Divorce is an awful thing. Good diet and great exercise are married. These two elements of clean livin' can't cheat on one-another. Your body pays the price. You don't earn your cheat-meals in the gym. You just render a lot of that sweat that you left on the floor pointless. Think about that for a moment: those four max set of pull-ups that you worked so hard to crank out? It's like they never happened!

So, keep these, "your diet might suck" questions in mind when you decide that you need to eat or drink. If you're bad at keeping track or moderating your splurges, then you might want to consider just drastically cutting back on the junk that you eat entirely.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Just to let you know that I haven't forgot about you

First of all, I really want to thank everyone for your sympathy regarding the passing of my grandfather. It really means a lot to me and I appreicate it very much. Things are doing pretty well and every day has been easier than the one before it.

Second of all, I apologize for not keeping up the blog. This has put a major crunch on my time. I've been spending the past five days with family and starting tomorrow, I have to go head back to Pennsylvania. To put the cards on the table, I probably won't have any blogs at least until the 20th of December when I'm down in Peru for the Holidays. There are a few reasons for this:

1. Time. I'll be working 11-13 hours a day from now until I leave. I just won't have the time in the day to get online.

2. Internet, or lack thereof. Yes, there places in the USA where my wireless broadband won't work, and this town in Pennsylvania is one of them. The Wi Fi at my hotel is finicky at best and non-functional most of the time.

3. Photos. I have some great blog entries lined up but most of them require some pictures. I need someone (read: my wife) to help me out with them but I haven't been home much. Then, there's that problem with time again.

So, I'll do what I can to get something up soon. Otherwise, Check back after 12/20/09 and I should have some fresh meat for you. In the meantime, don't pig out too much during the Christmas time... or I'll kick your ass.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

My Grandfather and My Friend

First of all, I'd like to thank everyone who is reading for your patience. I've been without Internet access for the past two weeks. when I've gotten home, I've been busy with things around the home and with my family. Some of you might remember that my grandfather was in and out of the hospital with fluid build-up around his lung. It was the side effects of a 40 year smoking habit. Lung cancer. Bone cancer. Blood clots. Then, the fluid...twice.

Was. It's over now.

I'm unsure if things that help make sense of things come along for a reason or if it's the ability to look at things and learn from what's around you. Just yesterday, after finally getting some Internet access back while on the drive back from Pennsylvania, Ross Enamait threw this old essay by Henry Rollins on his blog. This morning, I read again and it moved me. I knew what I had to do do.

We all have our ways of dealing with things when life gets stressful. Some smoke. Others drink, often times too much for too long. Or comfort-eat. We like to say that what doesn't kill us makes us stronger. That's only half-true. Being passive doesn't make strength. We have to take action. We have to steer away from destructive action. If there was something to keep in mind from this whole situation, I had to find a way of making myself stronger from all of this. There are people who need me.

I didn't work out with a rage that made me weak or injured. Like Pavel says (which, indecently, I read intently before I got the news), good strength training should leave you feeling stronger than when you started. I controlled the anguish, sadness, rage, and despair. I pushed myself carefully to a couple of personal bests. I did it carefully, making sure that what drove me didn't consume me. In the end, I felt better. It's funny how a good sweat can be like a good shower: it has a cleansing quality to it, both for body and soul. Afterwards, things feel lighter. Easier.

The pull-up bar and the iron are my defense. It's my way of purging as much weakness, and therefore illness and disease, out of my body as possible. I have a lot in common with my grandfather: I couldn't imagine my life without being physically strong and active. Strength training has brought a sense that I can get stronger as I get older. I'm far more of a man than I was 21. Louie Simmons and Bob Delmonteque say similar things. I see no reason why I can't improve and get better.
Is it realistic? Maybe, maybe not, but I'm willing to try. I certainly won't hang my head in despair if or when old age fights back. If anything, I'll try to approach with with the same sort of grace that my friend Pierini displays. I know that my training will be there to help me.

Like Henry Rollins, I agree that good strength training is a great friend in so many ways.

Nothing and nobody is perfect. We all have our faults and it's our job to do the best we can with what we have and know. We all have different ways of looking at the world and life. It's all a part of accepting and loving our family for who they were. My grandfather was a great man. He only got better at being a grandfather as he got older. He taught me a lot. He was very encouraging and proud. It was a senseless way to go but I didn't see life through the same mindset that he did. In the end, I can only do what he did: do the best with what I have.