Friday, December 31, 2010

We Have Seen The Enemy...or... should we train fast or slow?

As a heavily fractured community, us strength trainers find plenty of shit to bicker about. We've got our studies, our experiences, and our training methods that we all use as pawns in the (almost-totally pointless) chess game of deciding who is the biggest, the best, and the strongest. Along the way, we can pad our wallets and stroke our egos by saying that we're in possession of the greatest way on the planet to train.

Among the things we (pretty-much mindlessly) bicker about revolves around the speed at which we execute the sacred dances (our exercises) that we do. Some want it fast... even plyometrically fast. Others want to focus on our eccentric lifting (seriously, that doesn't even fucking exist!). The swords get drawn over which makes the biggest strongest muscles and both have their reasoning... and their studies!
My study is the best! He did it! I'm right! Listen to me!

The pointlessness of this arguement comes from the fact that we fight about it ourselves by fogetting that we all have a common enemy: Gravity!
That's more like it!

When you think about it, strength training is both our individual and collective defiance of gravity. We all hate gravity because we all hate being told what to do. We, as a species, are mother nature's spoiled, little brats who won't take no for an answer. How else could you explain why we love flying, levitation, and space travel? They are all ways to tell gravity to, "FUCK OFF!" Unfortunately, those are all varying degrees of expensive or impossible. Strength training is the poor person's way to do the same thing.

So, why is it pointless to argue about how fast to do an exercise? How does that relate to that dark force that we hate so much? Well, it's pretty simple: there are more ways than to defy gravity than just one way! Certain exercises lend themselves better to deliberate fast motion than they do deliberate slow motion. Gravity always pulls us downward, towards the earth. We all know that. Some exercises work best by slowing the rate at which you or the weight descends, such as with hanging leg raises. Others work better by getting something up against gravity as fast as possible, like doing olympic lifts. Isometrics like the L-sit are great because you completely resist gravity's call to hit the floor, period.

What this really boils down to is concentric vs eccentric movement of the muscles. It's stupid to argue which builds muscle better because neither is more important than the other. There are exercises where the sheer difficulty of the exercise lies more in the concentric (shortening) movement of the muscles than in the eccentric (lengthening) movement. Usually, concentric is best done fast while eccentric is best done slow. Yes, there are exceptions.

Ultimately, we become stronger by resisting what gravity tells us to do. Yes, we'll succumb to that fucking-bitch mother nature but how fast we do our exercises dictates the method of resistance. The fight that makes us stronger changes. Adjust accordingly... and quit the bullshit arguing!

Monday, December 20, 2010


I don't know what everyone else calls this. I've always called them clock push-ups. I'm sure we've all seen it: you assume the push-up position and you walk your hands around in a circle while keeping your feet in place. If there is a more commonly-known name, please let me know. I don't want to confuse everyone more than needs be by re-naming common exercises.

Anyway, That's it's a part of one routine that I've been using lately. Sundays are the training day where I'll just come up with stuff just for the hell of it. Routines of things that seem like they might be fun. Sometimes, my best and favorite ones have come out of this. The last one I came up with was the following:

-8 KB snatches, each arm, with a 57 lbs KB
-Clock push-ups... 15 push-ups hands wide, walk 3 paces, 15 hands push-ups shoulder-width, 3 more paces, 15 diamond push-ups.

Rest? As always, as little as needed to keep going!!! Besides, I did this outside in Nebraska one night and it was 11 degrees! Movement is warmth, boys and girls!

At first, I did this for only two or three rounds depending on how much time I had or how much wine and whiskey my father-in-law and I drank the night before. Like I said, this routine proved to be a fast favorite of mine and I used it a lot on the drive from Vermont to Sacramento, CA. Since I could only drive 11 hours, I had plenty of free time so I pushed it to four rounds.

How'd I design and build this routine? What's it good for? Well, like I said, it's fun. I think I used it on the trip over because it was a pretty full-body workout. That's nice after sitting for hours and hours. Ross Enamait's Magic 50 (a favorite of mine) provided some inspiration. I like the combination of a more explosive, lower volume exercise with a higher volume conditioning-oriented one. I've always been big about working one part of the body, resting very little, and moving to another part of the body that wasn't worked by the previous exercise.

So, I do have some general guidelines for my own personal program design. Frankly, I've never understood why on Earth people get so worried about how to put together a workout. I realize that some people are new to all of this and have absolutely no basis in how to begin but there are also a lot of people out there who are plenty knowledgable to come up with their own routine. Instead, they fuss and worry about getting their routine perfect, jump from method-to-method, and flood message boards with questions about Wendler's, Rippletoe's, or Thibs' training protocol.

Maybe that's why I like to read Jamie Lewis' blog so much: I can't help but laugh, bitch, or rant about people's paralysis by analysis about routine construction. First of all, there is no perfect routine! Every, single routine is flawed. You're not missing out on the perfect routine because your weight lifting god is doing something different! Secondly, you're different than Wendler, Rippletoe, Thibs, Lewis, Enamait or Justin_P. What works for all of us may not work for you. It will need modification. We don't all train for the same shit. We don't have the same goals. So, we have to train differently.

That's another thing that pisses me off too. I'm sick and tired of hearing about how if you want to get strong, you have to bench press, squat and deadlift... powerlifting, in other words. Yeah, powerlifters are really strong but are they strong just because of these lifts? FUCK NO! Three lifts don't define strength. I recall a guy I used to roll with in BJJ who told me that his strength training revolved around powerlifts. He was 30 lbs heavier than me and although he'd eventually submit me, I make him work for it. That wasn't because I was more skilled than he was. He was, and still is, an amazing BJJ technician! It was because I was so much stronger than him and despite his size advantages on me, I could manhandle him like a child! I don't do anything resembling powerlifts in my training.

So, if you're starting out and you want to extract some tips based on how I train, I can sum it up for you. That is, if you're aiming for similar goals that I am. What are my goals? Well, I need to be able to lift and drag objects that weight up to 200 lbs (mostly water pumps of varying size) from time-to-time. I need to be able to drag and roll up long hoses. I need to be able to carry them for several dozen yards and throw them into a pick-up truck. I also need some grip strength for hammering stuff and working with wrenches. I have the occasional shoveling work to do. I need to be strong in a lot of weird, contorted positions too. While I'm not doing it a lot lately, I want to stay in good enough shape to be ready to get back into BJJ when I'm close to home again. To top it off, I want to keep myself looking hot enough to make girls pissed off when they see my wedding ring.

In other words, what I need out of my training is a mixed bag of everything. If that's what you're looking for, then here's how I do it...

-Keep the breaks down to a minimum in between exercises.

-Chose exercises that alternate between body parts or different muscle groups (Supersetting is good).

-Alternate between low-reps and high reps and/or different strength attributes.

-Most of all, do things that you enjoy doing!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Michelle Obama Will Make the Kids Eat Right...

Agreeing to the problem but not to the solution is something that comes up in the political mud pit. Yes, this is a "fitness" blog but fitness and politics merge together when it comes to health care. Those of us reading can't deny that Michelle Obama's doing the right thing by trying to get fat kids thinner. It's only a matter of time before the current crop of obese kids hit their 30's and we see the motherlode shit-storm of type-2 diabetes like this country has never seen before. Most of us know that's a gateway disease to a host of other issues that need to be treated... and paid for. You've heard the percentages before but have you actually LOOKED at the NUMBER of fat kids that is? Well, here it is...23,629,000 That's a number that would take you about 3,800 hours to count out. No wonder they put it down as a percentage!

So, obviously we need to get a handle on this. The question becomes how, and that's where I diverge from Mrs. Obama on. She's taking a lot of criticism from my side of the fence and, as far as I'm concerned, for good reason. Apparently, we just can't do this by ourselves. We know what that means when it comes from people like her: government trying to regulate our behavior through taxes, funding and regulation. Things like a soft drink tax, which is gaining an increasing amount of traction. It really irritates me when people throw around this notion that the government is part of the solution to fat America. If anything, it's been been a long-standing part of the problem all along, never really getting the full-share of the blame.

Nearly 100 years ago, President Woodrow Wilson often opined that the US Federal Government lacked the transformative power to shape and form the nation socially and economically. This was also around the time where the government essentially allowed a certain, powerful medical trust to regulate and control pretty much medical care in the USA. It was bigger than that. They began to mold how the American thought about medicine and health. They began to espouse such brilliant ideas that drug therapies were best, Chiropractors where basically quacks, and that strength training was very unhealthy (you know, it would use up your heartbeats and make you muscle-bound)... just to name a few... in those early years.

That was passively allowing bad decisions to happen. There's also the US government's brilliant call about hydrogenated oils. Right around the 1950's, they started telling us that we should be eating margarine rather than butter. After all, a food that Americans had been eating for a century and a half with a marginal rate of heart attacks was now public enemy number one. So, we stopped eating that and eventually began following government guidelines that told us to eat lots and lots of grains. How's our heart attack problem now?


Things are different now. We know better now. Besides, you can trust this rendition of the federal government, we're not like the other guys and gals from the past 100 years. You know... "Change we can believe in!"

Seriously, how much longer are we going to continue to look outward and upward to other entities to fix problems like the fact that we're all fat? Study the history of "modern" medicine and industrialized food manufacturing enough and you'll see that the abominations that occurred in food and health coincide with the government becoming a more integral part of our lives. Why is it that the first two, justifiably so, get shit for the bad things they've done but the latter is always exonerated and seen as a part of the solution? They were helping the former two do their thing all along!

Dear Michelle Obama,

When my kids are old enough to go to school, I'll be sending them with their lunches already packed, thank you very much. I won't be needing your assistance, or the government's assistance either, to feed my kids healthy food.

Thank you,

This whole feed the kids right is just part of the bigger problem of Fat America. The solution isn't going to come from having the same idiots with the same ideas about how the culture should function telling us how to fix it. We need to get back to the notion that responsibility is personal and individual. We need to fix it by ourselves and stop blaming others for it and expecting others to solve it for us.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Two Hardest Parts of Any Good Workout

Moderation is good. I'll never deny that. For a while, I felt a strong urge to moderate... MODERATION. Ever since I got my last adjustment at the Chiro (I'm still pissed about having to take the "look but don't touch" tour at Bodytribe!), things have been good. I'm healthy, feeling good and have been in the right frame of mind to push the pace, doing some nasty-tough work in my training. Everything's good and I don't have any interest in backing off at this point.

I learn a lot when I train. Aside from the task at hand, I notice things about myself as I'm training. As I've made things harder for myself, I'm reminded that there are two, key points in every, difficult workout. They're the two most difficult times in the whole experience.

Sally made a great point in a tongue-n'-cheek look at what, in part, makes a strength addict: being nervous about the hard days. He says a lot of goofy things but Matt Furey was right about this: getting started is 50% of the workout. This isn't too hard to figure out why: it's the act of taking a body that's in a comfy, cushy, wussy mode and forcing it into a brutal, painful place... VOLUNTARILY! It's not natural for most humans to do that by choice. Beginners have trouble accepting this. More advanced trainees hesitate to do what they know has to be done. Still, out of habit and willpower, they do it anyway.

This point in the workout has a lot of names and I'm just deciding to use the marathoner's term for this experience. It's the point in any workout where you realize that you're getting tired and you may not be able to do much more. You probably feel like stopping. You know that this is bullshit, of course. Now, it's not enough to rely on what you've got in the tank. Now you've got to use your mind and push it. This is where the REAL work gets done. This is where progress is made. It might feel like you're going to die but KEEP FUCKING MOVING DAMMIT!!!! You won't, trust me. The body is capable of handling a lot of stress. Chances are good you're no exception. Stay focused and work through it.

I may be preaching to the congregation on this one and for hanging with me on that, I thank you. It's come to my attention recently that there are some newbies out there looking for advice and direction. I don't want to leave anyone behind and refreshers never hurt anyone.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Obstacles, Barriers, Goals... and Age

Obstacles. They're inherent in training, regardless of where they came from. We place them in our paths as a means of pushing ourselves to become better. Sure, most people call them goals. They're still something that gets in our way of our journey. The journey is about getting physically better. To get better, we have to become more than the obstacle.

There are other obstacles though. There are the unwelcomed and unexpected ones that pop up here and there. Work, travel, or injury are different than our goals because they slow down the process of making the journey. It's all just something else that has to be conquered. Still, there's one huge obstacle that we all have to deal with someday: aging.

Things on our body don't seem to work nearly as well as we start to get older. We're a collection of a several trillion cells that make copies of themselves over and over again. Just like a piece of paper on the xerox, the copies of the copies get duller, weaker, and lesser quality as you keep going. Old age is the lead-up to the ultimate barrier to all of our physical endeavors: death.

Even as I enjoy what is presumably my physical peak, I'm not deaf, dumb and blind to the fact that at some point, age will join the list of obstacles that impair my ability to reach goals. Lord knows I've heard from everyone I meet over the age of 40 that I just won't be able to do the things I do know when I'm their age. I get sick of it too. What I refuse to accept is the idea that age-related breakdown is a barrier.

ob·sta·cle \ˈäb-sti-kəl, -ˌsti-\: something that impedes progress or achievement

bar·ri·er\ˈber-ē-ər, ˈba-rē-\: something material that blocks or is intended to block passage

Do we have to stop the strength journey just because we get older and become a less-sharp copy of ourselves? Someone forgot to tell this 66 year old woman...

Yes, I fully realize that there is a lot that's wrong with this picture but there's even more that's right about it. Strange would be a gentle way to describe a grandmother in that kind of condition wearing a bikini and a wig. Amazing might be another. Grannies in bikinis should be something seen in a "Girls Gone Saggy" video. Instead, she decided to give old age the middle finger and not go down to degeneration without a fight.

The might be the key point to the journey: keeping the right outlook... a positive outlook. Assuming aging is a barrier to movement is the negative way to look at things. Treating it like an obstacle to overcome is a better outlook. Bob Delmonteque even goes so far as to declare that it's possible to get younger as you get older.
While I have questions about how long that can be maintained through natural means, I don't doubt that it's possible to do such a thing to some degree. Take Sally's recent blog entry regarding aging and muscle for example. In it, she said...

I’m 35 years old and I’m stronger, slimmer, with less body fat and more muscle than 10 years ago. In other words, I’ve been able to reverse that trend by taking action.

I’ve not done it through ‘cardio’ or by starving myself. I’ve done it through regular weight training and a good diet.

This is not about how great I am or what sacrifices I made. I’m not a professional athlete or bodybuilder, just a regular person who has committed to being in good shape for as long as possible

I don't know how long I can keep up what I'm doing. I don't really care. I'm going to keep at it and simply work around my limitations, hopeful to exceed them or just happy that I can keep going despite them. Either way, I'll keep moving. Hopefully, I can surprise myself and others with how well I can do it.

Friday, December 10, 2010

What exercises could we NOT live without?

Okay, 3,000 miles of driving, one hyper-extended thumb, and too many days of not making any money have come to an end and I can do some blogging...

If strength were an element, I'd think it would be safe to say that it would have to be carbon. I've said it in previous posts: strength is such a raw product, capable of being molded into so many different ways. Well, look at how many different variations that carbon can take on...

The allotropes (look it up... it might be a nice break from porn) of carbon are positively dizzying. It can form the hardest and softest materials. It can abrade as well as lubricate. Its found in solids, liquids and gasses alike. It's just like human strength. Think about the number of very different athletes that, for a brief period of time, have been considered the strongest people alive, for one reason or another, or that I can remember in my lifetime...

Isn't it kind of amusing to read or listen to people insisting that there are things (ie: certain exercises) that must be done to be the strongest? If strength can be refined in so many different directions, how can one set of exercises possibly satisfy so many differing takes on strength?

Or, are there really exercises that we all should be doing, regardless of what we're training for? Are there really exercises that have that much of a universal training effect of making you strong for, well, pretty much everything? In other words, I'm asking a variation of the old, "if you could only do ___ exercises, what would they be?"

First of all, I'd have to point out that most exercise species as we know them have so many variations that they've become their own genus. So, what we may be really asking is which physical culture taxonomic rank is the most valuable to all of our needs.

We'd have to take into consideration is how unique of a training benefit that it provides. Many joints are capable of quite a few action. So, trying to pin down one or two exercises that are so unique and universal in their benefits doesn't seem doable to me. The Pec-Major jumps to mind. There are a myriad of ways to stimulate this piece of meat and saying that only one exercise is too important to not do since it can move (and therefore be trained) in so many ways.

Contrast this to the legs. The movements of the legs are far more limited. So, are the number of exercises that they can do. Therefore, if I had to name my first genus of exercise that pretty much every strength training couldn't live without, I'd have to go with the squat.

Paul Anderson thought so and I see no reason to argue with someone coronated by many as the strongest man in recorded history. There are a lot of variations on this one, weighted and unweighted alike. Whichever you choose to kill the goals you aim at is your business. Taken as a whole, I don't think that there is a good enough substitute for the ol' fashioned "knee bend."

The second exercise not to be lived without has got to be the pull-up/chin-up. What do you have for pulling muscles in your upper body? What do you use for upper body climbing work? It doesn't really matter. The pull-up works it. Really. Hard. Really! Fucking! Good! Plus, it does it all in one movement.
Even the most basic pull-up and chin-up variations can be practiced by the majority of strength trainers for a long time before they get to the point that they need to search out harder variations. To top it off, a lot of them don't even require extra weight to increase the difficulty.
If memory serves me correctly, I think that my friend Ed Pierini threw up a routine on his now-retired blog about a routine consisting of just squat and pull-up work. I didn't follow it to the letter but I took the idea of the pull-up/squat combo to heart and I've used it several times in the past year. It's a fitting way to train with what I'd consider the two most valuable exercises that can be done.

What do you think? What are the exercises we couldn't live without?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Why I train... and why I'm not writing as much

The header on this blog reads that I post two new entries a week. I don't know if my regular readers have noticed but for the past month or so, I haven't met my self-imposed goal for blog entries. Longer-term readers probably also notice that around this time of year, my blog output starts to drop off. This is my really busy time at work. This year, it's exacerbated by a key employee walking out at pretty much the worst possible time: right now. So, my life just got more chaotic, my free time shaved down, and my overall stress level elevated.

We all have these kind of times in our lives and especially in our training goals. A lot of strength trainers build their training around sports. Even those who don't do sports model their training around those who do. After all, goals are inherent in sports. Routines get crafted, equipment is acquired, training environment is established and modified to suit the goals.

I put up two goals for myself this year. The first one was to climb a 3" thick rope. The second was to complete Andy Patterson's and Michael Rideout's Magic 200 challenge. I finished off that one but the rope climb has been elusive. Basically, my ability to train with rope hinges on availability of finding someplace where I can hang a rope at least 14' off the ground. Or, more specifically, do I have a forklift available to hang my rope? That hasn't been a given this year.

I like challenges as much as any of us, don't get me wrong. Thing is, I can't afford to revolve my training around a fixed goal. If I hinged my ability to train towards a goal as the whole reason why I train in the first place...well... I might not be doing much of anything in the way of regimented, intense movement.

Still, there's a goal that I always keep in mind and I train towards: I want to keep the aging process away for as long as possible. Okay, I haven't even gotten to 30 yet but I'm still keeping it in mind. Looking ahead, I don't want to be that person who has the long, painful decline into death. I don't subscribe to the notion that such a life is an impossibility. That's why I look up to people like Jack Lalanne so much.

Oh... good article...along the same lines as what I'm talking about!

The nice thing about this goal is that I can always train towards it and keep it in sight, no matter how little I have to train with or how much my training environment is altered.

In the meantime, I'll try to get some more stuff posted soon. If you'll excuse me, I've got to get ready to head west to Sacramento...

Thursday, November 18, 2010

You, the Caveman

Much of modern humanity has done something that's presumably unique in Earth's history. There are enclaves on this planet that have managed to bend nature to their will rather than the other way around. If you're reading this, then chances are good that you don't have to worry about killing, catching, digging up, or gathering your food. Chances are also good that many, many generations of your family tree haven't had to live a hunter-gatherer lifestyle. The notion of living off the land is merely fodder for dreary, post-apocalyptic movies as far as you're concerned.
There's just one problem: our bodies haven't adapted to this new reality of this environment nearly as fast as we've managed to shape it. While the thoughts and worries of day-to-day survival drifts farther out of our minds, our body still operates on that premise. Where that becomes problematic is our lack of realization of this and how it relates to how we take care of our bodies. That's why I don't think that articles about how cavemen function are hype. If we're going figure out how to live, we need to understand the "why's" of how our body works.
We may not eat like him, but we still function like him!

I've read several articles in the past year and a half about how our we get fat. I've forgotten most of what I read but I didn't miss the bigger picture: our bodies have a lot of different ways to get fat. There's easily a half-dozen hormones that could be released that trigger the growth of blubber. Maybe more. The take-away lesson: Every body loves fat and it does anything it can to get it! That's why arguing about low calorie vs. low carb dieting is pointless. High calorie diets will make you fat. So will high carb diets. Fat is the body's energy bank account when the food runs away or dies off for the season. Look around outside if the leaves are falling off the trees where you live: every animal's doing everything it can to get fat! We used to have to do that too. Our body hasn't gotten the memo. It's still trying to do everything it can to get fat.

This also dispels another, bullshit notion: being fat is genetic. Well, not exactly. It might be genetic, yes. Thing is: WE'RE ALL DESIGNED TO GET FAT!

We can't leave out movement either. Face it: too many of us don't move enough. I guess the modern world assumed that after working ourselves to death (which we don't do these days... NOT BY A LONGSHOT!) by our mid 40's for the first 10,000 years of our existence, life would be heaven... if. we. barely. moved. at. all. We move so little that we seemed to have forgotten how to move properly. So, when the sedentary decide that it's a damn-good time to start moving, they turn to... I can understand why most people turn to some kind of long-slow distance running as a means of re-igniting the desire to move. It's one of the few activities that you don't really need anything to do. You don't need a machine or gear (although "they" have convinced a lot of people that they do!) to do it. There's just one problem: that's not what we were built to do! We've got two basic types of muscle: fast twitch and slow twitch. Many of us know this, and we know what they're all about. In case you don't...

Fast Twitch=powerful, intense, contractions. last no longer than 60 seconds
Slow Twitch=much less intense and powerful contractions. lasts for a long time.

There is no such thing as a medium twitch muscle fiber. When we were troglydtes, we journeyed over massive swaths of land over a period of days or weeks or we moved with great intensity for very brief periods of time. We weren't designed to move kinda fast for sort-of long periods of time. The first Marathon runner died after he finished. So, if you're new (again) to moving remember this when you exercise: move in a strong, intense manner or move very, very slowly. Forget the in-between shit!

While you're strength training keep this in mind too: if you're trying to get as strong as possible, you're failing. No, really... you're probably not even using a fraction of your muscle power. That's what you don't hear about much when discussing different types of strength: absolute strength. We only contract our muscles with a fraction of it's full-force potential. The mind only releases this extra power when it senses a life-or-death need to do so. Releasing this kind of power usually injures tendons and ligaments. This explains the mom picking up the car stories... or The Mighty Atom. Or, as so wonderfully chronicled in the Discovery Channel in The Human Body: Pushing the Limits(<----THIS IS A HINT...BUY THIS!!! ),the story of the guy who pushed a 1,000 lbs rock off his chest to avoid being simultaneously crushed and thrown off a cliff...

Let's just play devil's advocate for a moment: what if you could? When the mind senses a need, it will force the body to do it's bidding. That guy who threw the boulder off his chest tore some muscles up and gave himself the mother lode of tendinitis doing so. Compared to dying, that's a fair trade-off. Is getting a too-big weight off the ground, with the same results, for the sake of pride a worthwhile trade-off?

We can verify a lot of conclusions about how our body works by examining why it would need to work that way. Even as we advance our technology and modify the relationship between ourselves and our environment, we need to keep in mind that our past is still alive and well within our bodies, regardless of whether or not these adaptations serve a purpose or not anymore. One thing that we haven't been able to bend to our will is our body's function and regardless of what many say, science doesn't hold any promise of changing that. We still have to adapt our behavior to our bodies.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Death Walk

Is it called a duck walk or an elephant walk? Since I'm out here in the world, strength training usually not in a gym and almost always alone, I don't know what some people may have dubbed certain exercise moves. I figured someone must have grabbed onto the ends of a sandbag, picked it up, and walked with the bag at knee-level before I thought of it. I just had never heard of anyone doing it, or what they might call it. So, I figured that the elephant walk would be as good of a name as any. David Lemanczyk informed me that, in Strongman, it's referred to as the duck walk. He did agree with my thought that "elephant," sounded much more cool and tough tough than, "duck."

Dave's one of those guys you just don't want to believe when he shows up on a forum board. 6'3", 200-whatever pound guy who works out with a 170 lbs sandbag, can partially squat 1,000 lbs, and can do a one mile, 100 lbs sandbag carry in about 15 minutes? Yeah, WHATEVER... JUST LIKE EVERY OTHER, LYING, FUCKING GEEK 17 YEAR OLD WUSSY ON THE FORUMS! A closer review of his web site and his youtube page reveals...

Dave lemanczyk is a 6'3" 200-whatever-lbs guy who works out with a 170 lbs sand bag, can partially squat 1,000 lbs, and can carry a 100 lbs sandbag one mile in about 15 minutes. No keyboard-warrior here!

Anyway, Dave reported doing this on Rosstraining about a week ago and it really inspired me. As you've probably noticed, I've really gotten into working out with sandbags lately. I've done a lot of carry work with them but usually preceded by some sort of squat work, usually a Zercher squat to zercher carry. By the time I'm getting to walking with the sandbag, my upper back and arms are half-gone from holding the bag, cutting back on how far I can carry the sandbag. I usually only go 50-60 paces.

Dave put the idea in my head to do some sort of longer-distance carry work-only. If you haven't figured it out, I'm kind of opinionated and I'm a strong individualist who likes to do things my way. Besides, I couldn't decide HOW I wanted to do a long-distance sandbag, farmer's walk. There are a lot of ways to hold a sandbag. I have the problem with choosing ice cream flavors too. I decided to take the same route that I do with ice cream: all of them.

That's how I came up with this workout that decided to give an even-cooler appellation: the death walk. I do this workout on weekends when I'm killing time at work. The job site that I'm working on has a circular driveway that measures in at 210 paces, one time around. So, every time I went around, I did a different walk with the sandbag, alternating between the easier ones and the harder ones. This isn't too hard to determine: farmer's walks that place the weight over the spine, closer to the body, and don't use the arms and grip as much are easier. Here's the batting order:

Across the Shoulders
left shoulder
Elephant Walk
Right shoulder
Across the Shoulders
Bear Hug

Obviously, the three easier carries are pretty self-explanatory. In the event that I'm double-labeling some of these, I'll explain further...

This is probably the hardest of the bunch. Carrying a bag overhead really does a number on probably every muscle originating or inserting into the scapula. What's less obvious is the the incredible need for wrist and forearms stability while doing this. Plus, you can't get this one over with fast. Walk too fast and that bag gets harder to hold steady! No, you have to suck up the pain on this one and walk more deliberately.

Elephant Walk
While the Overhead might be the hardest, the Elephant is the most annoying. Trying to hold that bag at, or slightly above, the knee fries the biceps and the grip. Letting it fall below the knee dramatically shortens the length of your stride. Either way, the constant slam of your legs into the bag makes the bag move a lot, making your core work over-time. Did I say it was annoying? Too gentle of a description...IT'S FLAT-OUT MISERABLE!

I'm going to keep up the tradition of calling any exercise with this arm positioning the Zercher. That way, I'm pretty certain everyone will know what I'm talking about. Either way, this is a good one for the biceps and the Traps, UPPER, MID, AND LOWER!

Regardless of the way that the sandbag is carried, I find that I get the most out of any of them by trying my damnest to maintain proper posture as much as possible. This detail makes every sandbag walk, no matter how "easy"... hard work! No sagging shoulders, bent wrists, or slouching under the weight! It's also probably a good idea for your overall health. If posture can't be maintained, then a lightened sandbag might be in the order. In my not-humble, not-professional opinion, You should use a sandbag that's borderline-really-fucking-difficult to carry for two minutes.

This is the kind of conditioning work that I like doing the most. Carrying a heavy, awkward object has got to be the epitome of the often abused-misused term, "real world functional strength." I have to take my hat of to Dave-L for giving me the kick in the ass to realize that carry work with the sandbag can be an awesome workout, all on it's own.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Best

Always be on the lookout for knowledge. You never know where you’re going to find it and it’s also surprising how you can find something useful about one issue when looking for answers to something entirely different. Several weeks ago, I was in church listening to the priest talk about the latest gospel. Among the things that he mentioned, he talked about being good enough for God’s standards and how the effort to be the best at earthly things often times ran contradictory to the goal of being the person that God wants us to be.

These words hit me quite differently two weeks later. My wife and I took my grandmother to see her sister in upstate New York. My wife felt like driving, which bored me to tears. Everyone was still tired from waking up so early so with nothing to do but sit silently and get car sick from my wife’s driving (no easy task), I picked up the latest issue of Muscle and Fitness out of sheer boredom. The latest issue discussed the training of the stars of the Expendables. Actually, it only discussed the physically largest stars of the Expendables: Stallone, Dolph Lundren, Randy Couture, and Terry Lewis. The writers of the article took the time to dead-pan the cast of “300” as merely 175 lbs actors with body paint.
Guys who look like they could kill 25 people
The next article afterwards was a very interesting juxtaposition: Real life war heroes. Real life “Expendables.” Of course, none of these Expendables looked liked the previous, fictional “Expendables.”
Guy who actually did kill 25 people!
That's when something occured to me. A lot of the training that people do is to be the best, or at least better. In theory, superlatives aren't subject to people's thoughts and feelings on the topic. That's not true though. We're unable to figure out for sure who was, or is, the best. Plus, defining the best would have to be based on criteria made by other people. There are a lot of man-made standards out there. Was Paul Anderson stronger than Matt Kroczaleski? Or is Ron Coleman way more powerful than both? It's hard to say since one was a powerlifter and the other did mostly Olympics lifting. Coleman is a bodybuilder.

That brings another question up: is that standard of strength that we're judged by worth meeting? Do we really want to take enough steroids to keep up with Coleman? Do warriors in battle need to be as imposing as Dolph Lundren to survive combat? Where does your health fit into this equation? Paul Anderson was a big, powerful man but live long enough to collect social security, something most people in the USA were. He was born with a kidney condition that doomed him but could he have hung around longer if he trained differently?

Being the best in these strength games are just that: games. I'm not trying to say that's a bad thing. Certainly I'd think it's a more constructive use of time to lift big, heavy shit than to waste time on the internet arrogantly talking-up how tough you are or playing GI Joe-like strongman comparison's. At the end of the day, it's all exercise, something that most in Western society sorely lack these days too.

Let's not confuse games' overall worth in our lives. The games we play, and the training we do, should be to fulfill ourselves, be it emotionally or physically. Things go wrong when we seek a sense of fulfillment from others.

..."and may the god of your choice bless you!"

Sunday, October 31, 2010

A different look at old-age strength trainers

Every once in a while, I'm sure that many of us found something on the Internet relating to some sort of magnificent physical achievement accomplished by... AN OLD PERSON. Maybe it was that newsletter mentioning how John Grimek was doing 400 (or was it 500?) lbs squats for 20 reps at age 80. Or, how about that time that you found Built Old Lady rolling up an aluminum frying pan on youtube. Maybe it was seeing Sylvester Stallone still ripped to shreds at the SSI-check age. Perhaps it was Clarence Bass putting Sly to shame at age 70.
Yeah, I can barely believe it either!

For most of us who train in intense movement, we can't help but be awed by such a lasting display of physical prowess displayed by people who bury their fingers up to their knuckles in Father Time's eyes. Only the statues that such people model for are supposed to last that long, not the models themselves.

Indeed, most societies brand the people who've passed into, and beyond, middle age as frail and weak. We all know the narrative, along with the age-related degenerative diseases, medicines, surgeries, procedures that rob the body of what remains of it's strength, health and physical vitality. Defiance of all of that is bad-ass for sure. So, softer members of said societies are prone to label such rebels as a bit crazy.

That might be true. After all, being labeled crazy because you're a rebel is half of the fun of being a rebel in the first place. Okay, that's how the culture sees people who follow dudes like Jack Lalanne. Inside of our sub-culture, I started thinking it as a call to moderation.
I'm sure we all know people like this: acquaintances who told us about how brutally- bad-ass they used to train, how low their BF% was, the 10 hours a week in the gym, etc. The only trouble is, that was also several years ago and now they're out-of-shape. I think that we just spelled, "burned out." I'm left wondering why they worked out so, damn hard so regularly? What was the rush? A large reason for training goals is to reach a state of transcendence but when it comes to all matters of the body, that doesn't happen overnight.

One thing that I think that we can glean from the silver-haired ironheads is a realization that there isn't a huge-ass rush to get sick-strong. There's no need to put the foot to the gas and redline the engine every time we touch foot in our prospective strength shrines. We may have more time to do amazing things than we realize. The notion that only happens in the 20's and 30's is probably a figment of our culture's collective imagination.

There's a good saying that goes something like, "Make haste slowly." Sure, I love a brutal work out pretty regularly. At the same time, I'm realize that the bigger picture: to be able to do this stuff for a long, long time. I won't get there if I burn myself out by going full power, full time. Clarence Bass and Jack Lalanne never did. It goes back to what I've said before: it's easier to fix undertraining than it is to fix overtraining.

Oh, the old lady with the frying pan...

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Forearms, Hands, Fingers and Push-ups

One thing that I've always stressed since I started blogging is that there are other ways to make strength training harder than by incremental weight increase on the resistance you're working against. Resistance, and level of difficulty, can be increased in a lot of different ways. Accepting this fact and exploring it further is how we can get stronger without constantly needing to be tethered to an increasingly large source of iron to get strong.

Push-ups and Pull-ups, of all size, shape and flavor, are the staple exercises for upper body strength training for BW aficionados. A lot of us could work the most basic, vanilla, and well-known pulls & chins for a while before we get to the point of needing modifications to make them harder. The former needs changes sooner. Both of them can be made more difficult by a simple change: add an element of grip, finger and/or forearms training to them.

The hands are really, really important to our body. I know that sounds like a no-brainer but I don't think we really realize the extent. Our hands are packed full of nerves and sensors. A really hilarious series of pictures are out there. They take into account how many sensors there are in various body parts and relates them to size. The hands are very small in relation to, say, the arms and chest. Yet, they have many times more nerves and sensors. So, if we were to scale the hands up in size in relation to the number of nervous system stuff in them, we might look something like this...
How we can relate this information to making push-ups, pulls & chins harder is easy to understand with a simple test that you can do right now. Make a fist in front of your body and squeeze...REALLY! FUCKING! HARD! Notice how your entire arm, shoulder and chest contracted really hard? Do the same thing but now put your arm overhead. Note your back muscles.

There's also another, easier way to relate why throwing hand work into your push-ups and pull & chin work makes them harder: instability. Where you used to have a nice, solid and stable closed chain exercise, now you have reduced the amount of contact that you have with the object you're pulling yourself up to or the floor you're lowering yourself down to. When you train with a compromised grip, the whole notion of flying through the eccentric part of the exercise for the sake of making it easier is over. Now you actually have to focus, rather than drop through it!

Okay, so the next step would be adding this into the workout. Pull-ups and chin-ups are far more straightforward for grip training. Grip is such an integral part of the exercise already. All you have to do is find something else that's much harder to grip than a 1" thick bar that everyone seems to use. Towels are a prime candidate. You could grip two towels, wrap a towel around your bar to thicken it up, or take a thick towel and grasp both sides of it. Add to the insanity by supinating the grip when you do the pull-up.
Just a sampling of the stuff you can grab onto rather than a pull-up bar
The answers for push-ups aren't as obvious, and frankly the easiest probably scares the shit out of a lot of people: do push-ups on your fingers. It's easy to understand why because this is brutal on the hands and fingers. Still, it works so, damn well, so grow a set already! If this is too crazy for you, you could always elevate your upper body by doing fingertip push-ups on some sort of blocks. This will drop some of the upper body weight off your hands and get you used to the exercise. For those of you who bang out lots of fingertip push-ups without a whole lot of effort, do the opposite: place your feet on some sort of block, a chair or a bench. Don't ignore the fingertip treatment for your other push-ups. Jack Lalanne used to do superman push-ups on his fingers. I've started doing fingertip handstand push-ups...

One step up in difficulty would be doing your push-ups on one hand... or should I say, five fingers...

Another option for push-ups would be to find a welder near where you live and show him this picture....
FYI, if you buy these from this guy, you're dumber than the people buying Shake Weights!

Anyone with a band saw, a drill and a stick welder could easily make you a pair of these for a dirt cheap price, probably in about 10 minutes, and that's stopping to have a beer after making the first! They're really hard on the grip though! Just do me a favor and under no circumstances buy these from anyone online! You're just getting ripped off if you do so! Well, these and these are a little more reasonable...

Oh, and of course you'll get really strong hands, fingers and grip if you keep training like this. That's the most obvious benefit to this sort of training. What I wanted people to note is that throwing in some grip training into your workouts does a lot more for your body than just make people fear your handshake.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Write this way, train this way, be this way

My body surrounds a brain that often times has a hard time accepting compliments. For some inexplicable reason, I can't shake the notion that I'm being patronized. One compliment that has managed to out-run the suspicion-guard-dogs, to be accepted as a genuine compliment, is that I write well. I've heard it enough and after reviewing the stats here at BWF's Cent-Com, well, there can't be that many people lying.

Yeah, there are other insecure thoughts that roll around in my head. Another involves my writing as well. More specifically, when I read a blog of a friend. Too often, I read and while I admire how well this fellow-blogger writes, I also wish I could write as well as they do. Or, maybe a better, more accurate way to say it: I wish I could write in that style...that well.

Insecurity is why this sub-culture thrives. Sure, there are some of us driven to get strong for other reasons other than feelings of not being good enough. I'll put good money that some insecurity rooted in physical inadequacy pushes most guys into the gym.
He made a lot of guys show up in gyms, including rich nobles who had a, "lack of vigeur"...if you know what I mean
Some of us were blessed with the ideal blend of genetics, environment, food and rest, plus physical stimulation to build an awesome, powerful and fearsome body.

I should have hit the jackpot on that lottery. My father's lack of interest in training may render him overweight but he's still, and aways has been, a very powerfully-built man. I had part of the right genes. I lived, ate, slept and worked sort of like him too. I should have had a decent shot at getting his thick-wristed arms that, to this day, can tighten bolts so hard that I swear they were put on with an air-compressed tool...
... But it didn't quite work out that way. I tried. I doubt I'll ever quite get there but looking back on my 2007 mass-building experiment was that I (generally) enjoyed the struggle. It was nice, for once, to be growing muscle. I didn't end up looking like I had envisioned but I was happy with the results (but clothes shopping always sucks, and I needed to buy a lot of new clothes!).

We don't all look the same any more than we write or perform alike. Unique, like everyone else. That must be kept in mind when training. That's why one prospers on a program where another fails. I don't think that insecurity is always a bad thing. I see it as the soul's way of saying that there's weakness that needs correction. Individuality ultimately prevails though and we can't let insecurity force us into a body, action, or even writing style that isn't made for us. It drains the fun out of the persuit and it's ultimately counter-productive to the ultimate goal of making a better overall human being.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Zercher Squat: All kinds of Awesome!

If you spend enough time in improvise mode when you train, there are certain exercises that will seem to pop up regularly in your repertoire. It's hard to beat one arm push-ups, single leg squat work, or some sort of planking when the ability to go to a proper place of fitness diminishes. That's the BW-side of strength training. When I decide to start picking up stuff to get strong, then it's really hard to not stop Zercher squatting.
It's called a pump rotor. Approximately 4" diameter, solid steel. Weight: about 160 lbs
The reason's pretty simple: you can zercher squat just about any object that will fit in the crooks of your elbows. Sandbags, rocks, barbells, odd stuff, or heavy pipe can be Zerchered. Plus, you don't need to lift nearly as heavy an object with the Zercher to get a challenge since the object being lifted is in front of the back rather than directly over it.
The practicality of the Zercher squat doesn't end there. The human body is capable of lifting stupid amounts of weight with the back squat but how much heavy shit do you really pick up land put down like that in real life? Most often, the said pain-in-the-ass heavy object that needs moving is going to be in front of the body, not above it, nicely put in position with the help of some sort of rack. Life's rarely that convenient. No, you're going to grab it in a manner that looks sort of like (although not exactly the same) as a Zercher Squat.
The Zercher's also a lot more of a full-body exercise than many of the other squat variations too. The arms and the upper back muscles really get pulled into the torture session. The abs are also pulling some major overtime here too since they've got to stabilize the spine. I also find this squat variation a lot easier to go ass-to-grass (ATG) on this one, if you're into that.
By the time I got around to taking this picture, I wasn't that into ATG!

What I think that I love most about the Zercher Squat is that it works so well in conjunction with farmer's walking. As soon as I finish up my squatting, I just start walking with the weight (usually the sandbag) in my arms, cradling my little bundle of miserable joy! It's a brutal combination!
It makes sense that the Zercher is so awesomely convenient. Ed Zercher's workout area, according to looked as much like a scrapyard as it did a gym. Zercher regularly trained with oddball pieces of steel that he picked up here and there. Clearly, he was one of a few strongmen who relied very heavily on improvising. With strongman and the whole "old is new" mentality out there amongst strength trainers, The Zercher Squat offers a perfect blend of practicality and performance. Give it a try and you won't be disappointed.

Good description of Zercher execution

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Put the Power of one of the greatest human beings alive to work for you...

In life, there are a few indisputable facts, rules, etc. Common knowledge that we all know to be profoundly true. If people don't know these, then we're all responsible for making sure that everyone knows them. If we don't tell them to everyone, then we're making grave mistakes... horrible, borderline unforgivable sins. Here are the top ones in my mind:

1. Treat others as you'd like to be treated.
2. For every action there is an equal but opposite reaction
3. R. Lee Ermey is one of the greatest human beings that ever walked the face of the earth. You didn't know that last one? I feel sorry for you. I really do! It's just a known fact that R. Lee Ermey, the greatest drill instructor in the history of film, is also the greatest, most profound source of motivation and is the most adrenaline-spiking, ass-kicking human beings in the world who exhales pure testosterone every time he breathes. Right now, scientists are studying the theory that the R Lee Ermey's piss might be nature's perfect source for hormone replacement for old men and girly, little boys.
Make sure you drink a gallon of water before you let it rip on this one, Sarge!

Lots of us know that visualization is really important for achieving goals. A lot of us think about what we want, picturing ourselves getting it as we work towards it. I also like to use mental images when I'm training to keep me motivated and keep me going. I'm sure a lot of you do the same, for better or worse. How many times have you convinced yourself you were too tired to go on with things you've done before... only to fail at these easy tasks? I'm guessing more than you'd like to admit.

Well, sometimes it's not enough to block out the notion of fatigue. It might be necessary to think of something else. Maybe some motivating image in your mind. Well, this is the reason why R. Lee Ermey is several layers of awesome!
Somewhat to my surprise, I've gotten a quite a few questions about how to make a 20-30 minute workout and how to combine weights with BW. There's no real magic or rhyme that you have to follow. So, here are a few, choice routines along with some images to weld into your head. When you feel like quitting, just think of R. Lee Ermey, breathing down your neck, contemplating which of his fists hurts more when he punches the shit out of you for quitting like a little bitch...

Rope and Kettlebell Fun
I do this one with a 57 lbs KB and my 2" thick, 12' long rope...
30 kettlebell swings
2 trips up the rope
Repeat 4 times

Sandbag+8 count bodybuilders
My Sunday Evening Workout...
30 Eight-count bodybuilders
5 get-ups on each side w/ 75 lbs sandbag
12 Good Mornings with 100 lbs sandbag
Repeat 3 times

Kettlebell + Perfect Push-up
This one murdered me the other day...
15 Handstand push-ups on PP
5 Bicep curl-clean+bent press+windmill w/ 45 lbs, each side
10 One arm Push-ups, each arm, on PP
Repeat twice
Now remember this, ladies, there's ain't no magic to puttin' together weights with BW. If you're whinin' 'bout only havin' 20-30 minutes to work out, you're just not tryin' hard enough to make the most of your time. If you're ever draggin' yer ass during a workout, thinkin' of how bad it sucks, just think of me!