Sunday, May 29, 2011

Towels and Pullups

Refreshers never hurt anyone, right? For anyone who has read my blog for any length of time knows that I'm a huge-BEYOND HUGE- fan of pull-ups. Since I'm also a fan of BW progressions beyond simplistic increases in repetitions, I don't regularly grab a normal pull-up bar. There's always a twist to make the pull-up harder.

Most often, that twist is a towel.

Regular readers also know that I use towels when doing pull-ups a lot too. In a way, using towels with pull-ups put my blog on a lot of people's radar. In the past 18 months, I've picked up a lot of new readers so I figured it wouldn't hurt to go over what to do with towels when executing pull-ups.

For most of the towel pull-up crew, the standard method of doing them looks something like what Ross Enemait's doing here:

Always a great way to get things started. I had a slightly different approach. Instead, I decided to use one towel and go with a close grip. I can't imagine why nobody ever thought to add a supination of the wrist into towel pull-ups but I had never heard of anyone doing it before me:

Three years fly by! I did this video around the time the Perfect Pull-up hit the market. By this point, I had been doing this pull-up regularly for a year and while I knew that the PP was a good idea, I thought it was madness to pay that much money to get that extra movement. A towel does the job well enough. These also lend themselves very well to added weight too!

The towel-pull-up relationship doesn't end there...

A while back, I started playing with what I ended up dubbing ladder pull ups. I saw the idea from Ross Enemait's book, "Never Gymless". It's presented as a progression towards the one arm pull up and it's bad-ass as hell!

Of course, you need to work both sides. A year ago, I used to do a ton of these, supersetting with one-arm push-ups. It's a brutal combination!

The fun doesn't stop there. There is the most basic way to take the towel and make the pull-up way harder: just wrap it around the bar. Simple, just not easy. This is my favorite pull up lately and I typically like to thicken my bar up to 3-3.5 inches thick.

Oh, if you're also looking at a way to make chin-ups harder than pull-ups, doing them on a 3+ inch-thick bar is actually harder than doing a pull-up!

That's the beauty of the pull-up: progressing with it is literally as simple as a modification of the grip. Just something that simple completely changes the level of difficulty, often times dropping the total reps by half! There are all kinds of ornate pull-up bars out there in McFitness centers, doing nothing more than pulling towel-hanger duty. Little does anyone realize that a whole other dimension of pulling and chinning up to a bar is waiting for them to try out. Don't make the same mistake.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Push-up Cocktails

So, I'm still laying down with ice all over my left side and doped up on Vicodin in an attempt to control the pain from this bout of shingles. All the while, I'm thinking about all of the things I should be doing, such as planting all of the fruit bushes that came in the mail this week and installing my new hard water softener. I'm also thinking about the things that I could be doing, things that I enjoy, such as push-up cocktails.

That's a good name for them since I can't drink cocktails while on Vicodin (or, SHOULDN'T drink. The thought has crossed my mind!) and I can't do push-ups since holding an electric toothbrush can cause pain if I hold it too long. Plus, a well-made cocktail always takes a couple of simple ingredients and makes them into something really awesome, far more awesome than the individual ingredients could ever dream of being.

I don't claim to come up with a lot of the ideas that I write about here and I'm not going to claim credit for this one either. Matt Furey gave me this idea a long time ago. Yeah, Matt overcharges for the information that he provides but still, he does give out some sound advice. Taking similar push-ups and doing them in a single set was definitely one of them.

My favorite cocktail starts with the wide hand-stance, normal, and diamond push-ups, in that order. 10-20 reps is all that's needed. I just go from one to the next, without stopping. Or, I'll do one set, walk my with my hands three steps over while keeping my feet in place. The former works the shoulders a lot more. The latter, which I've dubbed clock push-ups, hits the abs more.

My second choice cocktail comes from all of the (pointless) arguments that pop up on forums. Every once in a while, the dive-bomber vs. hindu push-up is one of those sticking points. The reason why people debate which is better than the other eludes me and frankly, why not do both? Alternate between them in the same set, doing 10 hindus and then 10 dive bombers, working up to 40 to 60 push-ups. This is an awesome combination of mobility and strength all in one set of push-ups.

Now, how do you use these push-up cocktails? Well, I promised RJ in SAC that I'd plug kettlebells more often and here's a golden opportunity. When I drove to and from California, I was partial to doing some KB snatches followed immediately by a set of clock push-ups. 4 or 5 rounds of that was enough to shake off any lethargic feelings left in my body from being stuck behind the wheel of a truck for 11 hours. I've kept the kettlebell-push-up cocktail thing going by doing some heavy lateral swings(34 seconds in) followed by a dive-bomber/hindu push-up set. Once again, 4 or 5 rounds of that will get your attention.

I love them both. I'd be doing either of these workouts right now, if I only I had a healthy body that would cooperate...

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

One Goal Down For The Year...

I really need something to do right about now. It's been three days since I broke out with the shingles and it's starting to really bother me. My pain meter often gets pegged in the 7-9 range if I so much as dare to lift a basket of laundry. I had to get unlucky enough to have the rash flare up on my left side of my body, my dominant side. I can't even crush a CoC Trainer without feeling some sort of discomfort. I'm sure this will pass, and I'll be able to get back to doing all the stuff I like doing... doing my 100 rep, 1/2 BW squat set!

That was the news of the end of last week before this unholy virus decided to pop out of my nerve gaglions. I managed to make the jump from two sets of 70 & 30 up to one set of 100 with 88 lbs of sand on my back on Thursday. Just for the hell of it, I managed to do it again on Saturday. That was a good feeling for sure. I'd have to say that of the little goals that I throw up for myself to meet in training, this might have proven to be the most beneficial for me in the bigger picture.

After doing hundreds of squats per week, I feel much better acquainted with this exercise now than I ever have before. Alongside deadlifting, this might be one of the most basic, fundamental movement that the human being is capable of but in spite of the simplicity of it, there are still lots of questions.

A couple of people here and there questioned this goal, from a few perspectives. The issues of the knees, specifically the safety for them came from a couple of family members. That's not uncommon since there's always been questions about how safe the squat is for the knees. A lot of people claimed that they've hurt their knees doing squats, something that I have never experienced.

In my NON-EXPERT opinion, the sheer thought of the squat as a knee exercise is the root of the problem. Years ago, this exercise was called the deep knee bend. When I started doing this Steeve Reeve challenge, I made it a point to think of the squat as more of a hip movement that takes the knees along for the ride. I really think that this is a more accurate way to visualize how a squat is supposed to work.

Another, far more controversial question about the squat is how far down. Whenever I squatted, I did my damnest to get below parallel every, single time of those 100 squats. I tried, but that doesn't mean that I succeeded. An Ass To Grass (ATG) is a harder squat to perform since it's more distance to travel. I think that's why it's avoided by many. It's certainly the reason I would only go parallel. As long as I did the squat all the way down properly, I had no problems with pain anywhere going ATG.

I did a lot of this Steeve Reeve Challenge when I was down in Peru, under the watchful eye of my 2 year-old nephew. While he was fascinated with watching me exercise, I was equally intrigued by his squatting technique. Seriously, have you ever watched a 2 year-old squat? 9 times out of 10, IT'S PERFECT! Their feet are the right distance apart, they keep their chest and shoulders proud, and they ATG effortlessly! Watching him made me realize that squatting isn't something that we need to learn but re-learn! I think we lose the basics of this movement with our sedentary lives.

I think that's why I found this whole challenge so beneficial: I re-claimed a lot of movement lost to the chairs, sofas, and lazy-boys. Now, I find myself squatting down to pick up things far more often. My wife finds it amusing. My nephew would be proud though!

I started out doing this challenge by doing goblet squats, 5 sets of 20 reps. It turned out to be a great way to program myself to doing good quality (no-joint pain) squatting. We all know that this is the best way to teach squats, right? It's not right to forget about them once the squat meets the bar. Dan John confirmed what I figured was an awesome idea: use some triple-digit weight to goblet squat! He wrote a great article here. Should anyone feel inclined to try this challenge, I'd start with goblet squatting for sure.

Eventually, the shingles will go away and my body will return to normal. I've got my ropes back from California too. So, I can move onto climbing that cursed 3" thick rope. Patience is always a virtue, no matter if the suffering is self-induced or an act of nature. Patience is eventually rewarded.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Does the hardgainer exist?

Since I became a fan of the CoC grippers, I figured it would be neat to join up at the Ironmind Forum. There was some good conversations going on there, included one semi-heated debate ignited by Dave Lemanczyk about the existence of "hardgainers." I really wanted to add my thoughts on the matter but my application hasn't been approved yet.

Then I realized that I have a blog. I can write about it whenever I feel like it.

So, I've talked about this in the past. As a wiry guy who struggled to get myself up to a weight and build that would qualify me as appearing to be somewhat strong, I absolutely believe that this exists. Anyone who has read or listened to anything that Dave L has said knows he's a stand-up guy who knows what he's talking about. He doesn't believe that hardgainers exist. It's just a person who doesn't train right, train hard enough, eat properly, and/or get the rest that they need to grow.

In a sense, he's right. In theory, there is should be no such thing as a hardgainer. If you get enough rest and eat enough of the right foods while doing some good, hard time in your respective gym, then the gains will come. I won't dispute that gains are a result of having the right programming, even the crazier levels of training.

The reason why I disagree with Dave, and many other strength athletes, and believe that the hardgainer definitely exists is that we don't all live the same lives. Dave was a pro basketball player who transitioned into a strength and conditioning coach. His opinion is probably based on his life experiences. He's lived his life, in one way or another, as a professional strength trainer. People like that live a life where being athletically strong as a job. If they have to train for hours a day, eat thousands of calories in a single meal, and sleep 12 hours a day, then that's what they do because it's their job! Physical growth and progress determines whether people like this have a living or not.

It's a different world than the rest of us where our strength training becomes a hybrid of a hobby and hygiene. We have jobs that don't involve the stuff we do in the gym. Since it's not probably not necessary to have the best, most heaviest squat in the world, we don't have the luxury to adjust our entire life to make that goal happen since it doesn't pay bills.

Tom Platz's leg training is a great example of what I'm talking about. I read somewhere that the training that build arguably the greatest legs in bodybuilding history required so much intensity and work that he would count out how many steps he'd have to take in his day-to-day life, taking care not to walk anymore than necessary so he wouldn't hinder his recovery. How many of us can intentionally cut back on how much we walk so we can recover from such a routine? I can't speak for everyone but for work, I often walk several miles every day. My leg training has to accommodate that part of my job.

Furthermore, there is no denying that some of us are more physically blessed than others. Some people are born with the ability to do crazy strength training for long periods of time far easier than others. There's certainly a genetic factor. Then there's also evidence to support that environment and diet as a youth greatly affect how strong a body becomes later in life.

The belief or denial of the hardgainer phenomenon reminds me of the whole labratory/school vs. real life arguments that happen in so many other facets of life. I hate to degrade the brave efforts of our subculture's gym rats by comparing them to book-smart-street stupid places of learning but there are a lot of things that they do that are inaccessible to the average trainer who doesn't have the luxury of molding their life completely around the efforts in the gym. In a sense, their strength training rituals are a completely different animal than what most of us end up doing. In their lives, hardgaining doesn', CAN'T exist. For the rest us, we need a more measured approach.

Now, can someone kindly approve my application already?

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Pink Floyd Path

His name fails me but in the third Kettlebell workshop that I attended at Bodytribe, I ended up chatting with one of the other, fellow KB-lifters, discussing what we did for training. Like I've commented earlier, I'm "the Bodyweight Guy", in those parts. He said something that struck me as kind of interesting. For a long time, BW was the most reliably-available method of strength training that I could do. I had to make it work. Since I had so little contact with anyone else, in this guys words, "I wasn't told it couldn't work so I made it work"... or something to that effect.

That sort of reminds me of Pink Floyd. I watched a super-rare interview and documentary about them. According to David Gilmore (I think it was he who mentioned this), they were a bunch of guys who wanted to start a band but they had one problem: they didn't really know how to play any musical instruments. Obviously they learned. Gilmore said it wasn't easy but it did have a distinct advantage: when someone else teaches you to play an instrument, you'll always sound like someone else. It was a totally out-of-order way to become one of the greatest rock bands of all-time but they made it work. In a sense, they didn't know any other way to do it, so they did it the only way they knew how.

It's too common to omit the fact that strength is the same way these days. There are a multitude of instruments that can be used in very different ways to create great amounts of force. Furthermore, we all tailor it just a little bit differently to suit our needs and wants. I don't think that strength can be fully understood if this isn't accepted. There aren't as many unmovable rules to strength training as people out there (who really want your money at all costs) would have you believe.

It was bad enough that I decided to get strong without using the traditional strength training apparatus (as of the this draft of this entry, I have worked out with a barbell twice in my life). I also didn't organize my movements properly. I didn't even use weights for a while. There was a time when I didn't know the meaning of circuit training, even though that was basically what I was doing. I was never told that I couldn't get strong training like that. I never heard that it was just for beginners or it was only good for endurance. Still, I made it work well, presumably moving past what could be considered, "a beginner."

Sure, there are better ways than others to arrive at strong than others. It's obvious that it's way easier to learn how to play a musical instrument than on your own. Improvising as you go usually means that you'll make more mistakes before you get it right. A teacher is, in part, someone who has screwed it up before and can effectively tell you where the mistakes happen. Still, if you're smart about things, you'll find a way to make it work even if someone isn't showing you the way. Too often, teachers are people who benefit from you doing it THEIR way. Forcing you down that way while telling you that's the only way to do it should always raise red flags. Ultimately, it's your body and your strength. The journey and the destintion should suit you.