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!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

How much and what kind of Pain to take

Strength training deals with pain. Pain comes from stressing the muscle tissue to varying degrees to, and sometimes past, the mind's somewhat self-induced limit. That forces muscle tissue to strengthen itself to deal with the stress. Pain is the by-product of this process. The mind induces limits for the safety of the bodily structure and only allows it to to exert to a point. That way, serious structural damage isn't done. Or, at the very least, excessive exertion doesn't waste potentially valuable energy reserves when such things are scarce. Remember, the body still acts like every day is survival mode, even when the the body's survival isn't threatened.

Two reasons why the mind will attempt to shut off muscle from moving. Two extremes that cause confusion in the new strength trainer. Very often, newbies are worried about overtraining. I have one boiler-plate response to questions about overtraining: if you're asking, then you're not overtraining.

Overtraining isn't what happens when you've worked out really, really hard and you're still tired two hours later. Its something that happens either over a period of several days or after a workout that's way past insane (think: triathlon horror story). It's not unlike having the flu: headaches, nausea, extreme fatigue, etc and all you want to do is sleep! Not enough sleep and/or not enough food are keys. In other words, it's a period of complete disregard for your body and a complete lack of caution. By asking the question, chances are that you're showing too much caution to overtrain in the first place.

Something that plays into overtraining and training injuries alike is mistaking the notion that you can measure the merits of your workout by how much pain you experience. Pain is a side-effect of hard training. So, the harder you work, and the more pain you're in, the better your workout is... to a point. Frankly, most newbies don't know where this measure becomes null and void. Muscular pain from fatigue can be good: it's the side effect of good work. Achy joints or pulled tendons/ligaments are not! Even worse is feeling your workout hours after it's completed. A good workout shouldn't hurt for much more than two hours afterwards. An exception would be a new exercise. The body takes more time to adjust. That's why it's a good idea to ease into a new exercise gently, on an easy day.

Let's be frank though: Too many people undertrain. They use pain as an excuse to pussy out of working hard. They pull the overtraining card out when they're tired afterwards. There's another reason to go easier the next day. It's all bullshit. As long as we get the proper amount of healthy foods and a good night's sleep, most of us are capable of pushing ourselves much harder than we do. That's why some exPURTS insist on training with other people: someone needs to deliver that kick in the ass that you need! As long as you're not insane or being stupid, you probably don't need to worry about injury or overtraining.

Pushing through pain also a great spiritual and mental exercise too. Embracing pain in life is key to getting what you want. You have to work hard to get that thing that you want. Hard work always brings on the pain. The only way that you get what you want is to accept that pain is necessary. Pain will always be there. If you don't get that through your thick-ass skull, then life will always be harder than it needs to be. It's kind of funny but in trying to make life too easy, it actually becomes much harder.

Here's a good example, relevant to the spirit of this blog...

Let's say that person x just didn't like to work out. It's painful and tiring, so person x stops reading The Bodyweight Files. It's too much to eat right too. It's cheaper to buy potato chips, ice cream, fast food, soda, hot dogs and hamburger helper than it is to buy fruits, veggies, nuts, eggs, fish and lean steak. Besides, person x enjoys the former more than the latter. So, this goes on for a while with a few, sporadic and fleeting efforts at getting in shape just to say that person x tried to. Exercise is painful, after all.

By age 35, person x shops at Causal Male XL (or maybe Lane Byrant). By age 45, person x starts having problems with blood sugar, causing the feet to ache and feel cold all the time. Then, person x need cholesterol medication. All the while, the aches and pains of carrying around 35% Bodyfat keeps taking its toll and by 55, person x has arthritis in one of the knees. That blood sugar problem warps into type 2 diabetes. So, now person x is on insulin, cholesterol medication, and a pain killer... plus something for depression. Shopping at the fat clothing store takes a toll...

Now, by 65 person x has a heart attack. The doctors manage to patch that up, for now. The effects of all of diabetes has taken it's toll on the arteries going to the feet and now simple sores on the feet turn into septic infections requiring treatment. That arthritic knee is now bone-on-bone and needs to be replaced. Then cancer

How does that compare to the pain of working out every day for 20-40 minutes?

Be smart when you're working out, but for crying out loud... DO SOMETHING! It's really not that painful in the bigger picture.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Should Sly just quit this muscle thing?

He's been given an lifetime achievement award Razzie as the worst actor ever. He was the very definition of the over-the-top action hero in the 1980's. He talks really funny too. Yet Sylvester Stallone is still out there, making his movies and still managing to attract enough people to the theaters to turn a decent profit off of his work. His latest movie, "the Expendables" might has made around $95 million on a $60 million budget by the time that you read this. His career seemed dead in the water for most of the last decade until he started making this latest, mini-comeback.
It hasn't been without it's criticism though. Apparently, he's way too old to be an action star anymore. Even though 80's nostalgia has been in full swing for the past few years, Stallone's brand of action hero isn't invited to the party.
These can make a comeback, but Sly can't? FOR REAL?

To top it off, a guy pushing 65 years old shouldn't look like that. That's almost as wrong as a woman doing real strength training. I remember when his last Rocky movie came out, a boxing writer said something to the effect that Stallone's physique looks something like a freaky, over-aged piece of meat. I guess people old enough to collect social security need to look old, weak and broken down.

Okay, let's get the obvious out of the way: Stallone uses steroids and growth hormone. We know that he's used them for a long time. He got caught with them in Australia a few years ago and proclaimed that he loved the effects of HGH and Testosterone. I'm not a fan of steroid use so I'm not a fan of Stallone's steroid use either. What those of us who strength train know is that steroids alone don't make a physique. There's a lot of hard work behind even the most steroid-laced physique. That is what I'm focusing on, not his drug use. There is no doubt that Stallone works his ass off!

That work ethic is admirable, as far as I'm concerned. I like the fact that he hasn't given up on himself or what he loves to do just because he's in his
mid-60's. He takes good care of himself and he doesn't give up.

So, what we're kind of saying by deriding a muscular, but old, man is that we expect people to just give up on themselves at some point. Sure, we can train, get big muscles and get girls with our strength training but there comes a time, right around where we start collecting the SS check, that we just need to say, fuck it! We need to give up on ourselves and accept that rotting to death for the final 30+ years of our life is our fate.

I just can't buy into that storyline for myself. I just can't bring myself to will that upon others. Some of the key points to strength training is to exceed the limits of what we consider to be possible, do defy expectations, and discover a sense of self while we're doing it. If we stop this process, then what was the point all along? Quitting on our bodies once we're no longer young doesn't fit into this picture. The picture that it paints isn't one of real, holistic physical culture. It's a portrait of self-absorbed trend-following and pleasing other people. I don't expect Sly to do it, and I don't expect anyone else to either.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Eating Right, Eating Out.

I was driving to the gas station to pick up 20 gallons of diesel fuel when some chick came on the radio doing one of those informative commercials about fitness (or whatever those radio spots are called). The day's topic was eating healthy at restaurants. I freely admit that it's not easy to do but I wasn't really satisfied with the tips that they gave. I don't think that they were general enough to work at every restaurant.

Most people probably look at eating out as a splurge experience to begin with. That's why the food on most menus are bad for you and they're served in enormous portions. The experience is supposed to be a treat. I don't always look at it that way. I travel a lot for work and I don't want to eat junk every, single night. In fact, I'd rather spend 6/7th of the week eating right. If you're like me, in the minority of people who won't let it all hang out every time you cross a restaurant threshold, then I've got some tips to help you out with that.

There are a few things that you have to keep in mind while reading this entry. Since the overwhelming majority of restaurants are set up to be indulgent, they're all going to have bad things on the menu. It's a minefield that you have to navigate. I don't want to hear that this restaurant really sucks for eating right. Almost all of them do, somehow. Eating right while eating out is the culinary version of panning for gold. It's tricky and we also have to accept the fact that the best options on a menu aren't always going to be great choices. They're just going to be better than others. For every good entree choice, there's about 7-14 on the menu that suck.

The first, and as far as I'm concerned most obvious, tip that I can give anyone is to avoid any and all appetizer menus like the plague. Well, they are a plague... of salt and fat. Most appetizers are breaded, fried, covered in creamy or cheesy sauces, and stuffed with fatty/salty meats. It's not uncommon to find out that the caloric intake of the appetizer is higher the main course or the even the dessert!
You really out-did yourself on this one, Outback! 2900 calories and 182 grams of fat! Nice Job!

The second tip is about cooperate sit-down restaurant chains. You might want to avoid them too! Many of these don't operate very differently than the fast-food restaurants that we all try to avoid. Yeah, there's a waitress. Yeah you sit at a table and order your food. Okay, you're not being herded out in 30 minutes or less. Still, it's probably glorified fast food. Often times, the food is not made fresh at the restaurant but pre-made somewhere, salted, preserved, frozen, and shipped a few hundred-or-so miles. They also have the same disregard (contempt?) for making food healthy that so defines fast food joints.

The two cooperate restaurant chains that I like for eating right are Outback Steakhouse and Ruby Tuesday. While Outback completely blows healthy eating out of the water with their appetizers, desserts, and drinks, most of the side dishes are made to order so you can request them without the added junk(butter, cheese, bacon, etc). Plus, a lot of the sides are actually very healthy. They've started offering smaller steaks too and a lot of their steaks are leaner cuts. Ruby Tuesdays is more obvious: they've made their salad bar their main attraction. I also like that they have whole grain buns for their burgers, two of which are turkey and bison I might add. So, the lesson to be learned here is to find out who is making your food to order, who is making it in large batches, and who serves glorified TV dinners.

The Third tip involves price point. Quite simply, the more expensive the restaurant, the better chance that you have of finding something that's actually healthy on the Menu. People of (supposedly)affluence and money are more health-conscious. They've done studies that prove that.

Remember I mentioned above that you could ask for the sweet potatoes at Outback dry? Well, if you're going to eat right at a restaurant, you're eventually going to have to ask for some substitutions. That's tip number four: don't be afraid to ask for substitutions, or subtracting stuff. Just make sure you're nice to the waiter/waitress when you order. If you act like an asshole, expect your order to get "screwed up." Oh, and leave a decent tip for the extra trouble, particularly if you're planning to return or become a regular.

This isn't always easy but it's part of a growing trend: If you can, search out localvore or "green" restaurants. They have fresher, often times organic, foods. They usually make the effort to put healthy food on the menu, and let you know it's there. If you're ever in Reading, PA, then check out Good Eatz Green Cafe. They put steak and eggs on the dinner menu...AWESOME!!!

If you're eating out for lunch on the road, then you might want to consider dropping in on a grocery store. Most of the time, grocery stores are put right off an interstate, just like the fast food joints. It's way easier to find healthy food there than it is at the latter, or any other restaurant for that matter. Many of the have soup and salad bars, sandwich shops, cafes etc that make eating right very, very easy. Wegmans, found mostly in Western New York and Eastern Pennsylvania, excels in all of these. As far as I'm concerned, it's the best grocery store chain in the USA! I still managed to pick up a loaf of bread, a jar of almond butter, some cherries, dates, and a jug of milk at the utterly plain-jane Stop & Shop in Rhode Island. It's way better than Red Robin!

Tip number seven: WATCH THE COCKTAILS! Okay, we don't like alcohol when we're trying to stay fit because it's severely degrades our ability to work out like the maniacs that we are. Still, we'll sneak it in every now and then. Well, if you insist, steer clear of those fancy-ass, foofy martini menus! These things are almost as bad as the appetizers in calorie count, most of it being sugar. As we all know, it's probably worse to drink your calories than it is to eat them. So, screw the chocolate martini, cosmopolitan, and the peanut butter chocolate brownie mudslide(I made that one up, I think). Besides, these things are fucking prissy! CAN'T I JUST GET SOME ROOM-TEMPERATURE WHISKEY AND A GLASS TO PUT IT IN???? THAT'S ALL I WANT!!!

Ultimately, there's one tip that is valid in your home as it is in a restaurant. It's something that separates those who succeed at staying in shape and those who constantly fail: ask yourself if what you're ordering is really good for you! Then, answer honestly! Act accordingly...

I guess this is why I don't do one minute, fitness tips on the radio. Maybe some topics are best left put to writing. Either way, if you want to, keep these in mind every time you eat out. There's nothing written that you have to eat like the scooter-people every time you let a business make your food.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Example

If you get into enough conversations (or flame wars) about steroid use in sports, or amongst gym rats, you'll eventually find someone who seemingly injects a caulking-gun quantity of common sense into the whole conversation by asking the question: What difference does it make what someone does with their own body? It's nobody else's business but theirs! Or, something to that effect. That often appeals to my strong desire to be a (sort of) unique individual.

Still, I know better. People are watching, and learning, from people all of the time. Sure, it's up to people to figure out for themselves who is worth being elevated a good example of anything. I'm not trying to remove personal responsibility from the equation. Others simply may not have the deductive reasoning or the experience to determine what's a good example for themselves.

Yes, I'm going to bring up the children. It's so cliched at this point but it's also so true. I think that people dead-pan it as a cliche in the first place because they're trying to hide from the awesome responsibility of molding a weak human mind into something strong. A kid's mind is equal parts skull of mush and a steel trap. I learned something from having my 3 year old godson live with my wife and I for several months: never under-estimate the power of the example that I set. Kids are looking to adults for ways to behave. With the proliferation of fat bastards in the USA in turn producing fat kids, most Americans aren't doing a good job.

On the flip side, what does it say when kids then turn to athletes and assorted weightlifting freaks for how to be big and strong? Is drug use part of the answer that we want to give them? If you think back to, "Bigger, Stronger, Faster," the Bell brothers, along with several other people who showed up the film all claimed Arnold as an inspiration. Drug use, like it or not, is linked to getting strong. Is this right? He showed them something, regardless if they read this god-awful book or not!

I never really realized how strong that link was until the past several months. While I'll admit that I do have a pretty good build and I'm pretty strong, I will never claim to be anything resembling the potential that steroids can deliver. Yet, for some bizarre reason, I've been accused by a couple of guys of using steroids this year. I had to laugh at it because I know that I don't look anything like a juicer. That's when I realized something: that's how heavily-welded together PED's and strength training are: people who are really strong must be using something. Sad.
So, some kids may not have developed the ability to reason what a strong, healthy body should be. Some guys are dumb enough to think that you don't get that without steroids. What about those who don't know what strength and health looks like? Nonsense? Well, not if you're a woman! There's where the confusion grows thicker. Women shun real strength training, either voluntarily or by being compelled to by others because strong-looking women are misrepresented. We could have a long debate about whether men or women fuss more about the way their bodies look but we can't dispute the fact that women flock to aerobic classes and cardio machines in droves because the idea is out there that strength training could make them look something like this:
Do I really have to mention that kind of look comes mostly from systematic steroid use? The fact is that women simply don't have the same amount of muscle mass as men do. Sensible strength training won't come close to making a woman man-looking. It takes some pretty intense hormone manipulation, naturally or otherwise. The notion still remains out there that real strength training makes women into men. Where's this generation's Pudgy Stockton when you need her most?
As much as we'd like to think of individual choices as occuring in a vacuum of space that doesn't affect anyone else, that isn't true. Every generation puts forth what they think people should act and be like to the generation that follows. In our subculture, the images and notion of strength are skewed. Out of focus. Since the 1960's, steroids have heavily re-arranged what strength is and what it should look like. All of this was done with no regard as to what the next batch of would-be followers would think. If you're an adult reading this, remember that the way of our culture is ours to mold. Always remember that everyone is watching, men, women and children alike. The question is: are we showing them something that they all should be seeing? Are we really telling the truth?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Mentally. Take the Pain

April 26, 2003. Vassily Jirov vs James Toney for the IBF (and unoffical best) Cruiserweight Championship. This is one of my all-time favorite fights. Jirov wasn't a great fighter but he was a rugged motherfucker who would savagely tear into an opponents body, ignoring punches, pain and fatigue until his opponent was stopped. It seemed like a bad match-up for Toney, one of the greatest (but chronically underachieving) counterpunchers of all-time. His career-long lack of desire to stay in shape made him seem like a sitting duck against such a physically-stiff, bodily challenge that Jirov presented.

Toney started well, looking like his old self: not getting hit much, throwing lots of good countershots, and getting the better of the early, 90+ punches-per-round onslaught that Jirov brought to the table. Towards the middle rounds, things started to turn for Jirov. It looked like his balls-out body assault was going to get the best of Toney. Then, in the Championship rounds, Jirov started to wear down and Toney managed to pick up the pace, get a 12th round knock-down, and win the fight.

While Toney managed to get his weight down to 190 lbs for the first time in what seemed like ages, it probably wasn't conditioning that carried Toney through. He was visually exhausted by the end of the fight. He simply accepted the pain and fatigue, blocked it out the best he could, and fought on.

A challenge was issued to me by one Andy Patterson on Rosstraining (who I affectionately refer to as, "the fucker") to take part in a sort of brutal holiday aka Demolition Day aka one hard-core, hard-ass conditioning routine decided on by him and another hard-ass. This year's challenge: Magic 200... four rounds of Ross Enemait's Magic 50. Although I didn't know how to do a single-arm snatch, I accepted the challenge in early March and got started on training promptly. That consisted of morning workouts of M50, gradually working my way up to M100. Once I got up to 100, I did my best to get my M100 time down as little as possible.

I started out using my 35 lbs kettlebell. Eventually, I started doing this routine on my new Ironmaster KB. At this point, I alternated between doing the routine with 40 lbs of weight for 80-100 reps or loading the 'bell all the way up to it's max and doing M50-70. I settled on using 45 lbs, shaving my M100 time down to 20 minutes consistently. I figured that if I could do that with relative ease, I could do the full 200 with a modest break in the middle.

Demolition Day arrived. The week's events weren't complimentary. I threw my back out and needed 90 minutes of sports-massage to fix it. I had to go and pick up the lumber, decking, and 13 bags of concrete to build a 12x24' deck on my house. I guess that qualifies as not quite ideal conditions.
Cry me a river, right? FUCK THAT! I was going to do this thing! I was curious as to how I'd hold up and I exercised a bit of caution: I decided to go with 40 lbs on the KB.

After all, pain was the point of Demolition Day. Nobody makes up a challenge like this and puts a name like that on it without expecting everyone who does it to suffer terribly while trying to finish it off! That's the whole point: to wear yourself out and continue to push onward. Physical challenges are usually mental challenges too.

I accepted the brutality of the task, cutting my rest in between circuits to just 15 deep breaths (I don't have a clock with a second hand downstairs) and a two minute break at the midway point. Yeah, I had a few breaks longer than that (my wife also interrupted me at 90. I had some camera problems). I managed to finish DD, 2010 in 47minutes.

Sure, I did a couple of things to ease the process a little. I intentionally ate some high-gylcemic fruits (dates and bananas) prior to DD and I had some coconut water (naturally high in electrolytes. Nature's Gatorade!) in between breaks along with water. Yeah, I increased the conditioning work in my training in the past few months. In the end, it's every bit in the head as it is in the body. Any physical challenge has a mental component. Nobody goes into a challenge in the best shape and under the best circumstances. James Toney was stuck at boxing-standards-old 34 years old, away from his natural 160-168lbs weight classes, and after taking almost 70 lbs of fat off his body over the course of two years to fight the Cruiserweight title (which, if you're not a boxing fan, it's the Gobi Desert and witness protection of boxing's weight classes rolled into one.) away from a human meat-grinder. Still, he did it.

Never underestimate the value of mental toughness. Ever. Take the pain and accept it as a necessary evil to get what you want. Every once in a while, a challenge like this is a good way of driving that point home.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Shooting My Mouth Off

Okay, I thought my Tao entry was kind of neat but looking back on it, I think that I was taking myself too seriously with that title. Sure, I was copying T-Nation but really what I was doing was just firing off random comments about training in general with little or no elaboration.

My mind moves fast, sometimes too fast to come up with explanations. So, I thought I'd give it another go-around, this time with a more apt title, bearing in mind that I'm writing this with a painful knot in my upper back and possibly food poisoning.

So, with that in mind, here's my latest collection of fast, random thoughts on strength training and other, similar stuff...

-Never Take training advice from a guy with pretty hair. My former signature at Rosstraining is the best way to avoid prissy, pretty-boy douchbag training. Ross Enemait. Zach Even-Esh. Pavel. Louie Simmons Steve Maxwell... Ugly guys but they know how to get results! Being strong isn't supposed to be simply an companion to hair gell.

-I changed my mind a little about vegetarianism. There were, and still are, a lot of healthy and strong vegetarians. George Hackenschmidt and Jack Lalanne spent large swaths of their lives being vegetarians. What I'm not down with is being a vegan. Old and new time strong dudes eat some kind of animal product. They just didn't eat meat. So, there is a need for animal products in the human diet. Veganism is kind of stupid. Either way, I'll stop eating eggs and beef when they figure out how to grow both on trees.

-Either one of these diets are sub-par as far as I'm concerned but don't get me wrong: both are way better than the fast food junk that most eat on a regular basis.

-While we're on the topic of vegan and vegetarian foods, I want to bring up something: soy sucks. Soy protein-based foods became very popular in the United States in the past 70 years chiefly because of soybean oil's numerous uses, industrial and otherwise. Someone got the idea to feed the defatted soy meal to animals, and people and make some money off of the manufacturing by-product. Often times, it's laced with solvents. In other words, it's like eating a salad using naptha and acetone as salad dressing!

-Come on, bench press junkies: admit that you know that this lift isn't exactly the best thing since Brazilian ass in thongs. Matthiew Hertilus recently did...
But even though I wanted bigger, stronger shoulders, I realized that I needed healthier, more flexible ones even more. I might not have problems now, but given the amount of benching I already admitted to doing, the writing was on the wall...

-So, I've spent some time Zercher Squatting my sandbag as low as I can go. I try to go ATG. A lot of the times, I get it. As I get tired, it gets harder, or I just can't do it. I'm thoroughly tired of listening to people debate how good ATG squatting is or isn't. I think that most don't do it because it's harder than a parallel squat... problem number 1. Based on my experience, there's no issue with the knees as long as good form is kept. Maybe that's problem number 2.

-I love hanging leg raises. No, not the easy ones where you either bring the knees to the chest or the legs perpendicular to the ground. I'm talking about the ones where your feet go over the bar (or the knees. That's good too). I've seen a few people do these with shitty form. They let their body drop back down to the starting position. That's not only bad form but a good way to throw out the lower back. Fix this by doing them on something that challenges the grip more than a bar. Bath towels come to mind. You can't move fast when holding onto these. So, now you have to slowly bring yourself up and slowly bring yourself down, like you're supposed to do in the first place.

-If you have to ask if you're overtrained, YOU'RE NOT OVERTRAINED! Overtraining happens when you're not careful...for a period of time longer than a single workout. If you're asking, you're showing that you're careful, and that you're probably undertraining.