Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Strong Women, another perspective

Women doing real strength training has quickly become something that I've thrown a lot of support towards this past year or two. I've done so, in part, because I think that the lack of real strength training for women, be it BW or weight training, is a large reason why I don't take the fitness establishment seriously. We all know that strength training has a bounty of benefits for the health of the human body and mind. Still, women are encouraged to not do anything serious in the weight room. We know the number one reason: aesthetic. Women don't want obvious musculature. Apparently, that's manly.

While a lot of fellow bloggers (mostly women) attack this broken thinking from other angles, I've consistently said that a change in what is considered good looking for women is in the order. I do this for a reason that is pretty obvious to me. Generally speaking,throughout history, almost regardless of the culture, WOMEN...





Yet, somehow, in spite of the radical, body-altering, and dangerous procedures, having a body like this...

... is UGLY If it was considered attractive to have some muscular development, I think that the temples of the XX Chromosome would brutally sacrifice this horrible notion that muscles are manly forever, jumping on board with real strength training rituals.

I freely admit that trying to change the perceptions of beauty is lofty, daunting, and a bit on the low-brow side of things. Still, it's been proven to work. I've frequently used Eugen Sandow's story as proof. While he was far from perfect, his contributions to how we keep up our bodies was invaluable to the human condition.

This time, however, I'd like to take the conversation up a notch, much like my other cyberspace bloggers. Gubernatrix, Mistress Krista, and Allyson regularly look above and beyond the desire to be sexy to others as a reason to do some real training. There's a simple reason for this: being physically weak sucks. There's no good reason to be that way and a lot of very good reasons to get strong. I know this because I speak from experience. That's not because I used to be a woman. It's because I used to be this...

I spent my teen years and the first half of my 20's with this 5'8"-5'11," 135-145 lbs body. I hated it. I knew I was weak, and there were times when life reminded me of how weak I was. There's something terrible about walking around in life knowing that "physically weak" is your default setting. It's something that those who've never been like that can't relate to. It alters your psyche in all the wrong ways, allowing in all sorts of negative thoughts and emotions.

Those of us that are really serious about strength training know that to succeed in developing outer, physical strength we need to simultaneously develop inner strength as well. Walking lunges with a 100 lbs sandbag requires laser-like focus on the task at hand. The final climb up the rope can't be done without ignoring physical discomfort to get the important task done. Doing Pistols is impossible without believing in yourself. Walking while cradling an 80 lbs stone forces you to work through fatigue. The carry-over of the lessons from strength training to other endeavors in life are uncountable and richly rewarding.

As far as I'm concerned, dissuading woman from this kind of awesome and uber-important kind of training is, at least, wrong and at worst, borderline evil. It's all kinds of levels of FUCKED UP to confine women to the gerbil weights less they develop something resembling "ugly" vascularity in their arms. Good strength training isn't just good for the body. it's an exercise in strengthening character and the soul. All of us practitioners of strength training are stewards of the tradition and it's our responsibility to do it right for those who come after us. It's not right for us to confine these wonderful, life-changing lessons to one sex for no other good reason than, "it's not sexy."

Bullshit... Exercise Edition

I must have liked using the word, “Bullshit,” in the last blog entry. I started doing my own version of BULLSHIT, putting my cross hairs on the nutrition side of things, shooting at what I consider some major crocks of cow crap. I mentioned that there was plenty of this to go around and this time, I’m taking another heaping soup spoon of it and focusing on the exercises-end. This time, however, I’m going to put them in order of BULLSHIT-iness as I see it.

1. THE BENCH PRESS IS BULLSHIT! Every time I say something to voice my dislike of the bench press, I end up kicking up a pretty major fire ant-hill. I just don’t like this lift that much, and somehow it ended up as the number one way to show off how powerful you really are. Never mind that it doesn’t evenly develop your shoulder muscles, leading to posture problems, winged scapula, and reduces the ability to raise the arms overhead properly.

Sure, you could balance it out with some overhead work, some push-up work, some face pull work on the cable machines, and/or some pull-ups. Or you could do some weighted push-ups, weighted dips, or work both on a suspension trainer. Hell, you could combine the two if you're tough enough! The truth of the matter is that the chest is responsible for moving your arms in numerous ways. So, it responds to a lot of different exercises pretty favorably. Far too many, in fact, to pigeon-hole your training down to one that needs a supplemental exercise to make sure that you don’t spend the rest of your days with rotator cuffs that do a passable imitation of a cheese grater.

2. RUNNING LSD IS BULLSHIT! I think that when people complain about not having enough time to exercise and exercise is boring, I think that the bulk of them have Long, slow distance (LSD) running in mind. With all due respect to Goddess Pauline Nordin, this is just flat-out BULLSHIT! Let's just look at the practical side of things for a moment (which I'm particularly big on doing). Many/most of us have those days where we can barely muster up 30-45 minutes a day to train. So, we have to spend it all on a "fat burning" exercise? No strength training? Come on, there are better ways! Properly done, you can get the same workout with jump rope in a fraction of the time and train your balance and coordination all in one.

One thing that I'd like to touch on is the notion that LSD is a great fat-fighting exercise. To some degree, it is. If you start out overweight and out-of-shape, then your body will respond to this by slicing up some of your stored fat, converting it to glycogen and burning it in the muscles. That's good, but it doesn't last. Here's the problem: remember how I informed you that your body's been biologically wired to love fat cells more than muscle cells? So, when the body starts losing what it perceives to be too much fat, it will start getting rid of muscle cells that it thinks that it doesn't need. This is how it's possible to end up with skinny arms, legs, and inexplicably, some belly fat. LSD has proven to waste away muscle, drop metabolism and stimulate hunger. It now all fits together now, doesn't it?

I'd much rather reach for a jump rope, do a scab run, sprint, do animal walks (duck walk, bear crawl, etc), or interval training. I get a lot more done in a lot less time while still keeping bodyfat in check (which, incidentally, is controlled more by diet than exercise).

3. Crunching is BULLSHIT! I would have put crunching at number one of this list if the only qualification for the top spot were exercises that promoted poor and weak posture. One thing that I noticed years ago in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu was some of the biggest crunchers were also the ones complaining most frequently about back pain. I've said this before but Chip Conrad explained this best a long time ago: stand up, place your hands behind your back, and using your abs, bring your head and torso forward and down, like you were doing a crunch standing up. Note your posture. Not good, is it? Why would it suddenly be good for you just because you're lying down?

The science is finally telling the truth: crunching sucks for your abs. It was thought that the abdominals were primarily responsible for bringing the torso forward. In reality, their biggest, most important (but not only, BTW) job is providing stabilization for the spine when it's under a heavy or difficult load. The crunch does nothing to enhance your ability to do that. Some strength training brainiacs are even going so far as to say that an ab exercise that doesn't support weight doesn't do anything beneficial for the abs. I'm not sure I'd go that far but I agree that the crunch might be near the bottom of the list of most important ab exercises that you can do. If you insist on doing a crunch-like exercise, then I'd recommend the V-up. Other than that, just can this BULLSHIT exercise.

What is kind of interesting about this collection of crap is that they're all pretty new exercises, or exercise methodology. If you go back 50 or so years, Nobody did these. I don't know if you're the type to believe that trainers and training were much more honest then they are now (I'm still somewhat torn) but if you were, the fact that these new developments didn't even factor into some of the luminaries of a bygone age's training might suggest something: they were never worth doing to begin with. There were better options for the task that these crappy ideas. Well, not that much as changed. They still suck.

Find alternatives. Take this info as cautionary. A lesson learned. Do what farmers do with bullshit: dispose of it and make something useful out of it.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Rope Training, Part Two

Visualization is key to achieving any goals. A lot of us see ourselves achieving our fitness milestones and we lock the feeling of that achievement in our minds. How many of us can smell our goals though? That’s one thing about my main goal: every time I walk into that crimson, half-finished basement room that I work out in I’m immediately assaulted with the aroma of manila hemp rope. It’s the distinctive odor of my 3” rope that I’ve vowed to climb this year.

I recently put an eye in the rope, this time by seizing it into place. This takes up a lot less usable rope than the splice that I did for the 2” climbing rope that I did a few months ago. I haven’t done anything with the 3” yet. It’s just hanging up in a closet, waiting for the day that I take it’s dare to climb it.

In the meantime, I’ve been pounding away at the pulling exercises. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday are my pulling exercise days, to some degree or another. Mondays and Fridays are reserved for pull-ups, which I really do my best to push the limit on what I can do with pull-ups. The other two days are my rope climbing days, which I try to make a bit easier. On those days, I try to fit several climbs up the 12.5’ rope. On the rainy days (and there have been a few) I do sets of 20-22 wide-grip pull-ups on the towels, usually 3 or 4 sets.

I initially had concerns that I might be pushing the pulling too much but so far everything has gone pretty well. I can feel myself making some big strides. Mondays are 3” close-grip pull-up days. I started out doing only 3-4 sets of 8. Now, I’m moving up to 3-4 sets of 13. Fridays are the weighted thick-towel pull-up days. I started out doing 6 sets of 4. Now, I’m pushing up to 8 sets of 6.

As the weeks go by, that 3” rope is looking less and less daunting. I remember a few years ago that by the time that I got to doing pull-ups in sets of 15 without an issue, I realized that I was ready to do some rope climbing for regular training. When I’m hitting that benchmark on the thick-close grip pull-ups, I think that I’ll hang that rope up and give it a try.

Stay tuned... there's another awesome video coming up! Guaranteed!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Tao of Justin_P

[Tao] is a concept found in Taoism, Confucianism, and more generally in ancient Chinese philosophy and East Asian religions. While the word itself translates as 'way', 'path', or 'route', or sometimes more loosely as 'doctrine' or 'principle', it is often used philosophically to signify the fundamental or true nature of the world...While the Tao cannot be expressed, Taoism holds that it can be known, and its principles can be followed

Several weeks ago, Nate Green wrote an article for T-Nation called, "The Tao of Boyle," which I liked quite a bit. From the first time that I read his stuff on T-Nation a couple of years ago, I've been a Mike Boyle fan.

The single, biggest reason why I like him so much is that he seems to be one of the most vocal guys out there saying that if you're not healthy, you're not really strong. I don't think that I can think of a guy who takes injury prevention into consideration when he trains guys quite like he does. Plus, he's not above saying that certain exercises suck, regardless of their popularity.

I really liked this article too, particularly the format. He's done a few like these in the past. So, I'm going to be a latent copycat and try the same thing in this entry...

-We all know that being strong is key to being healthy. That's why we do what we do. While I can't prove it, I think that strength-to-bodyweight ratio is most important to being healthy. The higher, the better. Obviously, Bodyweight-based strength training is probably the best way to maximize this ratio.

-BW might also be the best way to promote a healthy weight. While there are exceptions to every rule, try to find a horribly underweight or an obese person who can do 15-20 pull-ups or 10 pistols on each leg.

-Saying that pull-ups and chin-ups are good exercises are like saying that Ferraris and Bentleys are good cars. They're just about the best exercise that anyone could possibly do. They just don't get mentioned enough as being the best exercises you could do. I know they get mentioned a lot, but even then, it isn't enough.

-A T-Nation dude just realized that Chin-ups are an awesome ab exercise by hooking up an EMG tool (look it up) to his stomach. Duh! Where the hell have you been? What does your chin-up form look like? How much have you REALLY been training with chin-ups?

-Most people who strength train suffer from a form of materialism when they train. They need specific equipment in specific places with specific people helping them obtain specific goals for specific competitions. That's not all bad but what happens when you take away some, or all, of that? Where are you then? Could you keep training? Would you keep training? If you're that dependent on everything being just right, then you're doing something wrong.

-I'm undecided on Crossfit. I agree to a lot of the points that they make about the problems with strength training but I'm not so sure if I agree with their solutions. They do have some smoking, hot women that do it though!

-If you have strong hips, strong shoulders and a strong grip, then you'll be a truly powerful human being.

-BW strength training continues to be stuck in the high-rep-for-progression hamster wheel of progress. If you can do it for 30 reps, then chances are pretty damn good that you need to find a way to make it harder. Get creative, or move onto some other exercise.

-Bridging is awesome. There are more forms of bridging than just the wrestler's bridge. My personal favorite is the straight bridge, done between two chairs with the body suspended in between them, straight. Try it for 90 seconds.

-The more that I train, the more that I think that people who work out for hours on end are either doing lousy exercise, are taking way too many breaks for far too long when they train, or aren't challenging themselves enough.

-Along those lines, length of time spent for training is a poor measure of dedication. If you disagree, let me know. I'll give you something to do that takes 25minutes and it will be so brutal that you won't miss the extra 35 minutes! Or, you could try Tabata

-Rushing the eccentric lengthening of a muscle during any exercise is a good way to get hurt, sooner or later.

-There is no such thing as a perfect routine. How much heart and soul you put into it compensates.

-Yes, I'm using weights when I train these days. But I'm not really using weights like most people think of. I don't have a barbell set. I do have some dumbbells but I rarely use the handles. I use Kettlebells, sometimes grabbing the ball rather than the handle. I use rocks, a 155 lbs piece of corkcrewed scrap steel, a sandbag, and a weighted backpack. Odd rules.

-Lift stuff off the ground. Put it over your head. Carry it. Put it down, don't drop it. You'll get really strong this way.

-Supersetting is awesome and it saves time. You don't need to rest as much.

-Do One-arm-push-ups with your feet elevated 12-18 inches, if you can. If you can find a better BW exercise for the serratus anterior, I'd love to know what it is.

-I don't think that there's anything wrong with weightlifting I think that there is a lot wrong with weight lifters these days. Like I said at the top, if you're not healthy then you're not strong.

-The deeper and more powerfully you breath when training, the better. I've noticed that shallow breathers are the ones that have the hardest time losing weight and getting strong. My dad and sister don't regularly train and are prone to putting on weight if they're not careful. When they decide to get back on the horse, they drop weight like that iceberg dropped the Titanic. When they breathe, you can hear them from shockingly long distances away. I think that their deep breathing plays a big role.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Enter the Sandbag

So, it's been a long, hectic 11 days since you last saw a blog entry from me and for that I apologize. First, it was work. Things have been hectic and I haven't had the chance to add finishing touches (read: photography) to the drafts that I have stored up and ready to fire off. Then, it was a very nasty bout with the stomach flu that lasted a day and a half. Who knew that if you got sick enough (and vomited enough), you could sleep for over 20 hours in a day and a half?

So, your reward for hanging in there with me is a fresh, right off the cuff blog entry. Here's how The BW-files works: I get an idea rapidly jotted down for an entry and then I spend a week or two (sometimes more) before I post it. Not this time. I'm writing this one and firing it off, right away.

Right when the soreness of last night's workout is still fresh in my mind. And my thighs. And my glutes. And my forearms. And my fingertips.

I finally took the plunge and built my sandbag. I've been putting it off for the above-stated reasons and finally, now that I had the chance to build it, I did it last night. Frankly, I couldn't wait. Ross Enemait has a great article on sandbag construction. Lately, his bags use gravel rather than sand since it's far less messy and far easier to construct. I chose to go the old fashioned route. Another reason for waiting until now to make my sandbag: the job I'm currently at in New Hampshire is one, 15 acre sandpit. I don't need to buy weight.

Besides, if you use gravel or rocks, call it a rock bag. Am I being fussy and a bit OCD? Maybe, but I never claimed to make sense or be perfect (but pretty damned close). He's nowhere perfect either... HE'S A RED SOX FAN!

I understand that if it breaks, it's bound to be messy. When I read his tutorial, I opted to go with the 25 lbs bag increments, using 3 mil contractor clean-up bags. 25 lbs of sand doesn't take up much space in a 40 gallon bag so rather than waste all of that extra bag space, I opted to put some old clothes to good use.

I tied the bag off by twisting the hell out of it and taping it off with duct tape. Then I took the excess, wrapped it back around the sand, and filled the area around the sand with clothes so it would cushion the inner core of sand. Then, I taped up the bag again. Each bag weighs in around 28 lbs when I'm finished. I got four bags into my canvas duffel bag. For a little extra good measure, I added some clothes on the top to keep the zipper from rubbing on the bags.

I don't have a scale heavy enough to measure this thing but I don't think it matters. I found out what a lot of people already know: it's not as much about how much weight you're lifting with a sandbag. It's so unbalanced and unstable that you're always working to keep the damn thing steady while you work out with it!

Since I wanted to use my climbing rope, I decided to go easy on the grip work on the sandbag by working on some shouldering and walking lunge work. Ambition got the better of me and I started out with all of the weights in the bag. That could have been a huge mistake had I continued. Prudence won over and I dropped one weight out of the bag. Always remember this: it's easier to fix undertraining than it is overtraining.

So, my routine was this:
Shoulder the Bag
Walking lunge, 10 steps, put the bag down (I didn't drop it)
Shoulder the Bag, other shoulder
10 more walking lunges
2 trips up the 2"x 12.5' rope

I repeated this four times.

I just don't know why I didn't build one of these so much sooner. It was really hard but it's immensely hard fun. There's just no break for any muscle in the abs, hips or back. It's a small wonder why this training tool is so well-renowned for building functional strength. I really have a new found respect for people that can work with 200 lbs bags! I could probably work this bag for a while before needing to add more weight to it but we'll see how it goes.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

"Exercise is Boring"

Am I crazy?

Seriously, I'd like to know your honest opinion. I enjoy training. I enjoy every facet of it. No, really, I do. I love biting into a brutal, challenging workout, chewing through the toughest tests that I can come up with. I love the sweat spots that I leave on the cheap carpet. I love the head rush from the last reps in Perfect-Push-up-HSPU sets. I laugh at the thought of hard workouts. Burn is bliss, as far as I'm concerned. There are so many things that I gain from it that I just can't imagine not trying to do something to strengthen my body every day. To me, it's every bit as important as showering or brushing my teeth.

So, for the life of me I can't wrap my head around people who don't like to train because exercise is boring. I thought about this the other day. I honestly can't remember the last time that I considered a training session to be boring. I have things that I like to do better than other things but I can't bring myself to call the lesser things a bore. I can describe exercise as challenging, inspiring, discouraging, difficult, nauseating, uplifting, brutal, nasty, evil, awesome, and cathartic. These are all pretty strong strong adjectives, all filled with powerful emotions.

When you think about what boredom is, it's really a lack of stimulation. You get bored when there's nothing to do. When things aren't worth doing. When things are too comfortable. When there's a lack of strong emotional response to a stimulus, you're bored. So, is the answer to boredom in training not abundantly clear yet?

If you're bored it's because you're not CHALLENGED ENOUGH IN YOUR TRAINING! I always take it for granted that people understand and accept that training should be hard. If it's too easy then it's not worth doing. I never cease to be amazed that so many don't understand that. If you're bored in your training, then you need to find ways to make it harder. You need to embrace this, most basic premise to training.

Even if you don't like that, you need to do it! Do you stop showering or brushing your teeth because they're either too boring or too challenging? Okay, they're not a challenge but if they were, would you stop doing them? Well, if you don't mind being disgusting, I suppose you could. Most of us don't want to be perceived by people that way. Who wants to smell bad?

So, why would exercise be any different? If you don't exercise enough, doesn't your body get kind of disgusting, at least to look at? For those of us who've been unfortunate enough to be smashed next to a fat person on an airplane, we know that they are disgusting to look at and smell. Thank the heavens, in spite of all the flying that I do, that hasn't happened to me yet. So, we could make a convincing case to think of exercise as a form of hygiene. If you don't want to look at exercise as a noble challenge to conquer and grow from, at least look at it like necessary, bodily maintenance.

It's a shame to have to look at training from such an obligatory perspective. To the rest of the world, the most crazy, hard-core strength trainers look like meatheads and gym rats. Some of that might be true but to be outright dismissive does is a poor way to look at strength training. Those of us who know better realize the immense personal growth that comes out of being physically strong, way beyond just our bodies. Doctors and scientists continue to prove how much being physically strong helps people become smart and happy. Boredom is a kills mind, body and soul, often times with stunning speed.

So, maybe asking if I was crazy at the beginning of this post was a little rhetorical (or maybe I just wanted to give my readers the opportunity to take a playful jab at me). I'm not crazy, I just realize how much there is to be gained from some hard training. If I am crazy, then maybe you should be crazy like me.