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