Sunday, February 28, 2010

On Max Strength

In one of my previous entries, I said that as far as the average, and above-average, strength trainers, Bodyweight is every bit the equal of weight lifting. Although I've spent almost three years blogging about the benefits of BW training, I will concede this point: for pure Max Strength, I doubt that BW is equal to weight training. I have no problem admitting that. I'd be hard-pressed to come up with a push-up that could equal doing a 600 lbs bench press for max strength development.

Occasionally, there are athletes whose complete mastery of one aspect of physicality wow us to the point of declaring them some variation of the greatest or the strongest athlete alive. Still, Max Strength, the ability to lift humongous amounts of weights will never fail to fascinate us all to no end. It'll force our ass into our respective workout locations in the hopes of capturing even a fraction of that kind of greatness. It's the reason why we admire bears, bulls, and diesel engines. Max strength will always be the gold standard of measuring physical greatness.

So, why train with Bodyweight if it doesn't get us to that gold standard?

Simple: that rabid, myopic focus on max strength as the only standard kind of sucks. Our bodies have lots of different ways of overcoming resistance. We have different ways of creating power. We're made to move in a lot of different ways. So, keeping all of the emphasis on just being able to lift the biggest shit off the ground doesn't make a lot of sense.

Fitness loves to specialize, when you really look closely. Many of the athletic achievements that we adore so much are the result of a person doing one thing with remarkable success. When you get right down to it, however, they're just playing. Others who need their body for real life stuff other than for games scoff at body-gamers. My dad has always been fond of looking at Bodybuilders and asking how much dirt they could shovel. How well could some powerlifters do hiking the Grand Canyon?

In my opinion, the body is at its best when it's an SUV: capable of doing lots of stuff with relative ease. It should be a more general-purpose vehicle. I'm not going to deny that some people will always excel at some tasks better than the other but it should have some general competence in a lot of different things. Training to lift hundreds of pounds often times runs counter to that mission.

Besides, it's not like you can't get milk a lot of max strength benefits out of Bodweight. You just have to avoid the falling into the conventional groove of only doing BW for more reps. Take this elevated one-arm push-up here:

How many people could do this push-up for 20 reps each arm? According to research (that I trust) and personal experience (mine and others), that's the drop-off point for getting max strength benefits out of an exercise. After that, it's a strength-endurance exercise. The fact is, many people could work at this for a while before it loses max strength benefit. So, even if it's second to weight training in this category, it's still a very strong one.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

My 2010 Goal

I've stated numerous times over the years that I think that the best BW-based exercise (possibly the best, period) for building grip and forearm strength is rope climbing. Whenever I get the chance, I love to climb rope. One strength training goal I had involves rope climbing. Sally blogs a lot about the importance of goals, so I decided that it's time to pick one up for the year. This seemed like a good one.

I wanted to do this last year but buying the gear was a little expensive considering I needed to buy some paint and tile for my house. Plus, I didn't have the place to train with it on a regular basis. This year, it's back on the agenda. Big time.

It's climbing a 3" thick, 15 foot rope. It's a monster chunk of Manila! It weighs more than two pounds per foot, and around 40 pounds total. It's got a 64,000 lbs break-point. You could pull a good-size truck with this behemouth! Holding it makes you feel like a kid again. Even John Wood, the head beer-can-crusher of, wont even sell it. Still, I got it in my head that I can do this.

Obviously, this is going to take some serious training. From now until the time that I pull this climb off, I don't plan on doing a pull-up or a chin-up that isn't done from a seriously thick hand-hold. I've already started thickening up my already-two-inch thick pull-up bar even more. I do my towel pull-ups with a bath towel, rather than just a hand towel. Yes, I bought a 2" thick rope to train with over my normal 1.25" rope. I've also tried to throw in some hand and grip work into whichever push-ups that I can.

I don't have a set time to accomplish this goal. I'd prefer to get it done by the end of the year but it's going to hinge on having a place to hang my ropes from. Frankly, I'd better. This chunk of rope cost over $120.00. It would be a waste of money if I don't pull it off.

I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Ladder Pull-Up

Okay, so I went off on high-rep-only BW guys who ignore the obvious: that high reps only go so far and aren't the end-all for getting strong and staying there. I said that to get max-strength strong and bigger with BW strength training, we have to do much more difficult exercises. Exercises that make you struggle to get to 20 reps (or less).

I didn't really go into detail about a specific exercise. Instead, I gave ideas on how to take some of Bodyweight's trusted stand-by's a facelift and make them harder, sometimes a lot harder. This time, I'm going to give you a specific exercise. It's one that I've been working with now for a month or so and I've really come to like: The Ladder Pull-up (or chin-up, I just prefer pull-ups).

As usual, I didn't come up with this one. Most of us probably saw it in Ross Enemait's book, "Never Gymless," where he presented it as a progression-type exercise for working your way up to a one arm chin-up. He didn't give it a name though, and for that, I'll take full credit.

I call it that because it resembles the hand positioning that you'll use to climb a ladder: one hand is lower than another. As you lower your hand on the towel, the exercise gets harder. Inches count here, boys and girls. Even a three inch drop of the hand makes things a lot harder. As you bring yourself up to the bar, try to resist the urge to bring your head away from the hand on the bar. If you find yourself bringing your head to the hand on the towel, choke up on the towel some more. As it gets easier, you have two options: drop the hand lower, as discussed, or bring your head over to the hand on the bar. Both work really well.

Also, what you grab onto makes a difference in how easy this exercise is. I normally use towels. I've used synthetic braided rope and my belt. These are harder, and might require you to choke up a little more.

I know what you're thinking now: what's a bad-ass pull-up variation like this without an equally bad-ass pushing exercise to do with them? When I'm at home, I like doing dips on my rings. Otherwise, I'll grab two chairs (or a bench) and do one-arm push-ups with my feet elevated on the chairs.

So, if you're one of those skeptical, ignorant ironheads that thinks that BW can't be as good as weights for building upper body strength... or just someone looking to build some more max strength with very limited access to equipment... then give these two ball-busting exercises a dance and let me know what you think.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Anabolic Almonds?

So, T-Nation recently threw out the article, Food Nazi: Nuts to You. I pulled this quote from the article:

Wanting to get so big that an ox yoke looks more appropriate on you than a necklace? Well, for the mass-seeking bodybuilder, almonds provide clean calories and have been recommended by bodybuilding nutritionists like Mike Roussell for those seeking to ditch the "skinny-fat" look.

Keep a bag of natural almonds in your car, your laptop case, or at your desk and snack on them throughout the day. Just a handful here and there can help you reach the 800 to 1000 additional calories per day that most hypertrophy experts say are needed to fuel muscle growth without gaining ridiculous amounts of body

My reaction to this article? NO SHIT, SHERLOCK!

Seriously, it stuns me how people, even "experts" on T-Nation, are ignorant about how to add more muscle to the body with diet alone (Or, they do a pretty good job pretending to be). Is everyone stuck on the notion that you get big only with protein powders and gear? Geeze!

I started blogging about the same time I decided to bulk myself up and it became obvious to me that nuts, especially almonds, were a crucial step in getting bigger and stronger. Since I haven't tried to bulk up for two years now, the exact science hasn't stuck in my head but I do remember this: you can't build muscle on protein alone. Protein is the substance that you use to build muscle with but fats provoke the hormone synthesis that tells your body to build tissue in the first place. If you're exercising properly, you'll build muscle. If not, well...

How much fat in your diet that you need. I never nailed that down for sure. After all, I was only working on myself. So, I can't say what percentage works for me works for everyone. Furthermore, I know that I was frying up a lot of that fat just running around like crazy in the Summer of 2007. It was a grueling, busy time and I know that I was using those fat calories just to sustain my work routine.

Anyway, I never would have predicted the rush of people looking to get bigger that PM'ed me on message boards, hit me up on my blog, or that I chatted with over the course of three years. It's hard to comprehend how almost everyone wants to get more muscle but how little decent information is out there on how to eat your way to big muscles.

So, every time I sat down to eat back in the day, I threw into any meal plan (including snacks) a heaping handful of nuts. Keep this in mind, almonds aren't the only nut that exists in this world. There also not the only nut that can help you in your quest to be a bull. Pistachios, cashews, pecans, walnuts, macadamias, hazelnuts, etc are all good. Couple this gratuitous nut-munching with some hardcore, kick-ass BW stuff and I'm walking proof that you can put some serious beef on your bones!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

My thoughts about playing with Kettlebells

One of my readers commented that they didn't realize that I had bought and started using Kettlebells. I bought one 35 lbs 'bell while I was in Minden, NV this past June. I've worked with it on-and-off since then. I've been traveling mostly by truck since then so I've been able to bring with with me wherever I've went.

So far, I really like it. After all, I'm stil using them quite a bit. Since it's a single, solid chunk of iron, it's pretty easy to throw into a truck and not worry about breaking or losing key parts. It's also more compact than a comparable dumbbell. I really like how much of the methodolgy around using them focuses on strengthening the muscles that move and stabilize the shoulders and the hips primarily. All of these joints are key to just about every powerful movement that you do.

The two exercises that I use more than all of the others. The first is the ubiquitous swing. The second is one I adapted to KB use, called the woodchopper. I'll tackle that one first. Originally, this was intended for use with a light dumbbell. Since I didn't have one of those with me at the time, I used a stone. From there, it was pretty natural to try it with a Kettlebell. I modified the form a little bit from the way that I learned, when i saw this picture. Instead of starting with over the opposite shoulder, I started with the weight overhead (but not too far back, behind the head). That puts a lot of the work on the shoulders. As with any exercise, I don't let the weight drop down. Instead, I control it, bringing behind the knee. That fries the obliques a lot more. Reserve going fast for bringing the weight back to the starting position.

Everyone who uses Kettlebells uses the swing. It's a great exercise for the muscles that, in any way, connect to the hips. For once, I don't know what else to say about them that hasn't been said. I use them, I like them, and I don't see myself stopping any time soon.

The thing is with Kettlebells is that, with any fitnes craze, the hype runs amok from the reality. I like training with the 'bells but I don't think that they're as unique in their training effect as the KB-peddlers would have you believe. A huge part of what makes a kettlebell distinct from the other 'bells (dumb, bar) and machines is that they're awkward. Their weight, and therefore their center of gravity, is in front of your hand(s) and not on the sides. When you think about it, weights have gone in a direction of making them easier by making them less awkward. You lose a lot because you don't have to struggle to stabilize the weight like you would with a kettlebell.

Plus, it's not like you couldn't replicate this odd-ball center of graivity thing with dumbbells. When I was training at the Hilton's gym in Orlando, I did swings with a dumbbell by grabbing onto the weight rather than by the handle. It's not an exact replication of the Kettlebell, but it's more awkward for sure. Since I grab the ball of the KB, rather than the handle, when doing woodchoppers, the only difference that I notice is in the grip.

Overall, I see the option of owning the Kettlebell as purely personal. I have some very valid reasons for owning one, so they are practical for me. If you enjoy them, then by all means indulge. In my not-humble, non-expert opinion, they're very nice but not as necessary as some would have you believe.