Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Three Years Old

So, three years ago today, I was sitting at my computer, reading a friend's blog and thinking to myself that, "I could do this." So, I started punching away at the keys and three years later, surprisingly, I'm still at it. I didn't really think that I'd keep this going as long as I have. Most bloggers stop after a year or so. What can I say? I enjoy doing this and I always have something to say about my training. Plus, I've got a fair amount of people who value what I have to say.

Back then, I was a 100% Bodyweight-only trainer. Now, I train pretty regularly with some king of weight for resistance but I'd say that 65% of my training is still BW stuff. Even with the inclusion of weights into my routines, I still think that BW is the best way to train. The reasons haven't changed from the reasons three years ago: it's the best way to train on the road, regardless of where I end up. It doesn't require too much, if any, equipment to work with.

Considerations like that too often don't figure into people's decision-making when they decide to train. They don't think about how practical this will be to implement and continue with in their lives. Far too often, modalities their practitioners have a way of having a, "my way or the highway," mentality towards keeping in shape.

If I can't get to a gym, I can't train

If I don't have a barbell, a power rack, and at least 400 lbs of weights, I can't train.

In that regard, Bodyweight-based strength training has enormous potential for those who are serious about always having a way to train, get strong, and stay healthy. It's minimalism is suited for the traveler, anyone on a budget, or the hardcore minimalist. That minimalism bleeds over to the times where I use weights to train. I don't use much fancy equipment when I go for weighted exercises. I have one 16 KG kettlebell and a nice set of dumbbells that my dad gave me for Christmas but the weights that I use most often are my tool backpack (more on that in the future) and rocks.

BW strength training just needs more of a shot of creativity. There's too much of the notion that the only progression in BW is more and more repetitions. This notion limits BW's effectiveness for training and keeps those who are serious about being comprehensively strong from using it as much. What I've always tried to do was to show that there are indeed ways of making BW much, much harder to do while not using a set-up that is so specialized, and expensive, that my readers couldn't do themselves. I want this to be the place where you can get an idea, push away from the keyboard, and start training immediately, if you so choose.

So far, it's been a winning combination. I thank everyone for stopping by over the past three years. I'm appreciate it and as long as you keep reading, I'll keep writing!

Friday, March 26, 2010

That Isn't what it's made for!

You don't need to be a long-time reader of this blog to realize that I'm a big fan of being unconventional when I'm training. I'm constantly experimenting with exercises and seeing if I can find a new variation that does something for my training that I haven't gotten from previous exercises. I certainly don't discourage others from doing this either. This is how we collectively make progress.

I would appreciate it if people would realize when they come up with variations that aren't helpful to their goals. There are exercises that are very versatile and can be modified in a lot of different directions. Take the wonderfully multi-use push-up for example. You can turn it into a plyometric, strength-endurance, or max strength exercise. There are some exercises that aren't a veritable multi-tool of training though, and everyone needs to realize this.

Take the mountain climbers or the grasshoppers. They're good for strength-endurance and for explosive training. If you're a pretty strong person, as far as max-strength goes, you're not going to get much out of it for max-strength. So, it doesn't make much sense to try. So, when I saw that there's someone out doing them with T's, I just shake my head. To do these, you're going to have to slow down the exercise so your wrist doesn't collapse. By slowing down, you lose the value of the exercise. Besides, how much good strength training are you getting out of this exercise anyway?

Other times, modifications can be just down-right unsafe. One such example I heard of was a guy doing box jumps with a presumably-big rock in hand. Once again, we have another explosive strength exercise that I use and I like. I also love training with stones so no complaint there either. Combining the two, in my mind, isn't so good. What's so awesome about stone training is that it constantly challenges your grip strength, no matter how small your stone is. Doing something that requires fast, pounding action, like a box-jump, is a recipe to dislodge that stone... onto your foot!

Generally, exercises that have a strong, stable base to work from are good for modification from one strength attribute to the next. Go back to the push-up. You're working from your hands and feet. That's why you can modify it and go in so many directions. Ditto for the squat. Doing pull-ups is a little more tricky. Your entire bodyweight is hanging, unsupported, from your hands and wrists. Unless you're really strong and can do these in very high reps, you'll have to move slower and more deliberately. That makes it great for max strength and less suited to plyometric work (for most, anyway). T-handle work is the same way. Your only contact with the ground went from two hands and feet to two, tiny little pegs and your feet. Now, you have to move more carefully and add more muscle tension. Great for max strength but not so good for high-rep endurance work.

So, keep this in mind when you're experimenting.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Training for my 3" Rope Climb, Part I

Pain. Swelling. Soreness. In. My. Fingers. Forearms. and. Hands. In other words, another day of training for my 3" rope climb... my primary strength goal for the year.

The first thing on the list of part of my training was to get an eye splice in my 2" rope so I could get started on training with that. Both the 2" and the 3" rope are 18' long. My intention was to splice them and end up with 15' of climbing rope. That didn't go according to plan with the 2-incher. I haven't spliced rope in ages. I messed around with that damn thing for an hour, messing up the strands a little before I got it right.

The trouble was, the splice ended up making the last 2.5' of the rope over 4" in diameter so it's not really climbable now! So, I only got about 12' of climbing length on the rope. I haven't done anything with the 3" rope yet but rest assured, that won't be spliced. Instead, I'm going to use a technique called seizing to put an eye in the rope.

Why eyes, you ask? Putting an eye in rope is much, much stronger than a knot. Plus it's much easier to set up than a knot. Think about this for a second: how easy is it to tie a knot on an limb, or whatever, when you're 15'+ off the ground? How about doing it with rope that's thicker than your wrist? It may require me to study up on my rope skills but what the hell? You only do it once and after that, hanging a rope is as easy as passing the tail of the rope (aka, standing part) through the eye and your rope is secure around the object that you're hanging it from. Plus, it's easy to get it down too!

So, what's a guy to do with a shortened rope? Do an L-sit rope climb! DUH!So, I decided to do some supersetting: 12'x2" thick, L-sit rope climb and 15 deep dips. Mondays and Fridays are my usual push-pull days so at least one of these days is devoted to making sure that I climb rope. Once again, it's all about how often I can get access to a spot where I can hang my rope.

Other than that, I don't do a pull-up or a chin-up on an object that isn't at least two inches thick. One of my favorite pull-ups has been off a shower towel (which is about 2 inches thick after I gather it together), neutral grip, with a 40 lbs backpack. I try to crack out 4-5 reps each set. So far, things are off to a good start. I think that I'll be up and down that monstrous rope by the beginning or the middle of the summer.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Ring Dips, a Love Affair!

I'm no different than everyone else in the sense that what I like to throw into my training changes with time. I was never a huge fan of the dip for the overwhelming majority of my time training, partially because it requires a bit more specific equipment than most other forms of BW. So, I didn't do too much with it.

That was until the summer of 2009, when I struggled with some problems with my lower back. a large swath of my choice exercises were promptly rendered too painful to do. Dips were an exception since the legs and hips hang, not really requiring any sort of muscular contraction while working out. So, by necessity, the dip became my upper body pushing exercise of choice.

The hotel in Nevada that I was staying at had a sturdy railing that could hold me while I did my dips (it really surprised the hell out of a lot of people as they walked by) but eventually, cracking out 20, deep reps became a bit too easy and I looked for alternatives. This is when I built this super-cheap suspension trainer.

I started something that I just can't stop doing now! Doing dips off from rings or any other hanging object amplifies the difficulty of the dip immensely, particularly for the chest aka pectoralis major. I could bore you with all of the actions of the major pec muscle but I'm going to keep it pretty short and sweet: If you have to move your humerous (arm bone) in any direction in front of your body, you're probably using using the pec-maj. Pretty important muscle, in other words. When you're doing dips on rings, you're forcing your pecs to work in TWO ways: You're bringing your bodyweight back up to the start position while trying to keep your arms in place. It adds up fast, and that rocks!

If you've never played with these before, you'll probably be starting with your choice suspension tool's handles close together, shoulder width apart. This will bring your triceps more into play. As it gets easier, spread the handles farther apart. Now, you really have to pull to keep those handles in place!

These also pair very well with Pull-ups in a superset. Or, if you really want to torture yourself, with handstand push-ups! Either way, it's worth setting yourself up with some sort of suspension rig so you can do this gem of an exercise!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Working up to a One Arm Push-up

I don't know if any of you caught my response on my post about the Ladder pull-up when my readers asked about how to progress up to doing one-arm push-ups (OAP, as it's known by on the Internet forums). As I wrote down my response, I realized that I had a pretty good topic for a blog entry.

In theory, anyway. I kind of felt like I wasn't qualified to answer that question since my progression wasn't really based on a set-program. Back in December, 2006, I decided to try them in my hotel room just to see if I could. Long story short: I could... about 7 on each arm. I didn't start using them regularly until this year. Now, I'm good for 15 on each arm for several sets.

Still, it's the Internet and I guess that allows above-average, sort-of (but not really) experts like me to say pretty much whatever I want (or any other no-mind, out-of-shape fool for that matter). I have a few ideas about how to get there and they go back to a series of posts I made a while back. When you're working with any push-up, including the OAP, increasing it's level of ease or difficulty stems from the placement of your hands and feet as well as what you're holding onto when you're doing the push-up.

The first approach that comes to mind is to place one of your hands on an object while keeping the other hand on the floor. The higher this object is, the more difficult it will become. If you extend that hand away from the body, it also gets harder. This is a good approach if you're lacking the upper body strength required to perform the OAP.

If you're having trouble with the OAP because your core, then you could elevate your upper body by placing your one hand on a chair, bench, or whatever you have available that can hold your body and allow you to place your shoulder over your hand. This is important because if you have your shoulder behind your hand, you risk pushing the object out from underneath you. The higher the bench/chair/whatever, the easier the OAP becomes.

Now, I said that I didn't have a set-program at the top of this blog entry but there is a tip in my approach to push-ups. I do so many different flavors of push-ups in one week. I work do different intensities, different angles, directions, etc. I've been confusing muscles before Horton invented it in P90X! So, you could say that constantly changing it up creates carry-over strength to other movements, including the OAP.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Hurry Up and Get in Shape!

How often do you ever read about someone who does an hour or so of cardio on a gym machine each day, in addition to strength training, and say to yourself: "How do they do all of that training? I don't have the time for that?" You're not alone since I do the exact, same thing. I don't have a clue how some people have that much time on their hands. Even if I did, I certainly wouldn't spend that much time on one of those lovely, shiny pieces of modern machinery. You probably wouldn't either.
5 one-arm swings, each arm
5 snatches, each arm
10 burpees
Repeat 7 times (Thanks, Ross!)
Total time: About 15 minutes
If you look at those same people and think that because you can't devote that much time to training then you can't get in shape, then you're way behind the curve. Yeah, a lot of us don't have a lot of extra time on our hands to devote to training like that but that's not an excuse to not even bother.
3 minutes Jump rope
30 seconds rest
3 minutes burpees
30 seconds rest
3 minutes jump rope
30 seconds rest
3 minutes burpees
Total Time: 13.5 minutes
There are a lot of lies out there about training and the amount of time that you need to spend training is certainly one of them. The fact of the matter is that you don't need an enormous amount of time. Even on my least-booked schedule days, I really don't train more than 45 minutes a day. Most of the time, it's under 30. That's what I've got, and I make the most of it.
Ladder Pull-ups, left arm
Ring dips
Ladder Pull-ups, Right arm
Ring dips
Dumbbell snatch, 10 reps each arm
Repeat twice
Total time: About 20 minutes

If you bother with strength and fitness literature, you'll find that they recommend resting at least a minute, sometimes as much as 3 minutes between sets. If you think that's crazy, then I'm with you. We've got things to do and that much rest just isn't necessary. If you're going to make the most of 20 minutes to train, then you've got to learn to push the pace! Cut your rest time down to 30 seconds to a minute. TOPS! You can rest all you want after it's over. You're in a gym to train, not to rest. So, TRAIN! You can die after you're done!
BW speed squats, 20 reps
BW lunges, 24 reps
Reverse lunge w/knee shot, 12 reps each leg
Jump squats, 12 reps
15' rope climb, twice
repeat 4 times
Total time: about 20 minutes
Exercise selection and design is also important. I'm a huge fan of supersetting for that reason: you don't need the actual rest. You just move to another muscle group or movement that you haven't worked in the last one. Full-body workouts are good for this reason too! If you train like this, you won't miss the extra 90 seconds of rest!
Headstand neck exercises, 10 reps each direction
Ab wheel roll-out, 10 reps
2 Bridge (switch up the bridges)
Repeat 3 times
Total time: about 15 minutes

Oh, and don't get in my face with the scientific evidence about the extra rest period being more helpful. It's not even applicable to this situation. We don't have time, remember? We can't lament about what we don't have. We can't wait for the perfect amount of time to train. Anything is better than nothing. I'm not even sold on that notion of that much rest amounts to anything anyway.
Handstand Push-ups on Perfect Push-ups, 12 reps
Ring Dips, 12 reps
15 KB Clean and Press, each arm
Repeat 4 times
Total time: about 25 minutes

So, stop using the excuse of only having 15, 20 or 30 minutes to train. If you want to make it work, you can find ways to make you not miss the extra 40 minutes of training time. You'll be in too much pain to even notice! Don't tell yourself that you don't have enough time. Instead, figure out how you'll make the most of the time that you have. If you can't even carve out 15 minutes to train, then you need to stop lying to satisfy your laziness and weakness.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

"The BPA's Makin' me Fat!" :(

Many years ago, during Europe’s mad dash to colonize African nations, Italy invaded and colonized Ethiopia and Libya. There’s nothing really of any value in either of these nations but at least they could say that they now had African holdings. The saying was that Italy arrived late to the dinner table and all that was left was the crumbs. So, they ate the crumbs.

I have a similar feeling nearly every time I pick up a fitness magazine. I know that I’m going to pay for some bad information but I have an inane desire to buy magazines and read about things that I take an interest in. So, I settle for the crumbs of good information. At the very least, I get to read something that I can disagree with and then blog about.

Such as the case with the increasing all of these articles about BPA in our environment that cause all of these bad things to us. I’m not here to disagree that it’s not a good chemical to absorb into our body. I wouldn’t doubt that it does drop off our Testosterone production, especially considering how many ridiculously girly-men we have in the USA.

Still, I draw the line as the culprit to America’s expanding, collective waistline.

As I’m typing this, I’m watching a typical, overweight couple in the airplane sitting down to a snack consisting of four sticky-looking blueberry muffins that they bought at the grocery store before boarding the plane. I wonder if they’d buy the notion of BPA helping to make them fat. I wouldn’t be surprised.

These articles in a magazine claiming to be serious about fitness just annoy me to no end. The dividing line between those who succeed at being fit and those who fail will always be those who take their own health into their hands. You have to take ownership of a problem before you can solve it. Sitting around, finding reasons why we’re fat and it’s out of our control is counterproductive to the whole process.

Besides, the whole notion that BPA adds to our white andipose tissue supply has some leaks. Apparently, 90% of Americans have elevated levels of BPA in their urine. So, how do people like Pierini and I manage to strike back at this inevitability? I brought food with me on the plane too: An almond-butter sandwich on whole grain bread, a bag of dates, and at little bit of 75% dark chocolate (of which, I will eat only one half of one serving at a time, FYI. Scouts Honor!).

Inevitably, the barrage of excuses that take the power to get in shape out of the average person’s hands will keep coming from the people supposed to be helping us understand fitness. It’s no wonder many of us consider mainstream fitness to be soft and not serious. We’ll just fire back with what we know works. Disciplined dedication. Stubborness. Good training. Better eating. It’s amazing what these things will overcome.