Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Time and Place, Part 2

I can tell that it's one of those days when I haven't drank enough water throughout the day. I'm tiring more quickly than usual and my sweat is unusually salty. It's already made it to my eyes and they're starting to sting. I'm on set number 5 of hip belt squats and I figured I'd use my 30 second break to grab a towel and wipe off my face.

The only problem is the fucking mice made their way into my house for the winter, leaving mouse shit all over my gym towels. Things like this happen when you turn half-finished basement room into a gym. It works but it's hardly perfect. It's certainly not the cleanest until I can get rid of the mice. My ceiling is too low to put any weight, other than kettlebells, overhead. At least I can just barely do pull-ups without my knees touching the floor. To top it off, I had to cram my desk and books into the same area when my son Henry was born.
OOPS! Sorry, kids...
So, I move outside when I need some serious overhead space to work with. A good example is my rope climbing work. I'm still plucking away at my goal to climb my 3" thick rope. It's not getting any more fun though. The temperature's seriously starting to drop and keeping my fingers warm dictates that I move through most of my pulling and pushing sets with some haste, disregarding that my lungs feel like they're a barely-contained explosion.

Thing is, I don't do this work at home. I have to go to our company's shop to use a forklift to get the 15' of overhead space. Finding a clean patch of ground is, well, I gave up trying. It all smells like some variation of shit, antifreeze, dust, gas, and god-knows what else! I just suck it up, throw the chains on my neck, and keep doing my push-ups.

Why not just join a gym? If you're asking this then you're new here or you're just not paying attention. I travel and lately, I don't have any money. You'll find out if you don't have a wife and a kid. Soon enough. Those two reasons make a gym membership impractical. Besides, I hate most gyms. They're fluffy and not very serious. I can get the work done in them, sure, but they're distraction-filled. At least with the cold, smelly ground and the mouse-bordello basement gym, there's no TV, bad posing routines, and people asking me if I'm doing something from P90X.

I decided to do this two-part blog entry for a simple purpose: to demonstrate that there is no perfect time and place. In point of fact, there are times when there isn't even a GOOD time and place. Yeah, you have to mold your life around training your body to some degree but your training is going to have to do the same. This isn't a bad thing unless you make it that way.
Good example of less-than ideal settings to train.

This is all about getting your mind right. If you do that, and not get stuck on the specifics and circumstances, then you'll find that you can overcome any shortcomings in environment and timing.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Weights vs. Bodyweight, Part 2

Hopefully, attention spans are restored and clear minds are brought to the table because it's time to get back to comparing Weights vs. BW again. In the first entry, I decided to lay out what I considered the advantages of training with iron in the hands. This time, it's time to turn the tables and look at the disadvantages of iron and when it's a better idea to look around for different methods of making strength training harder.

The most obvious, clear-cut, and convincing advantage of BW has over weights is the convenience factor. Weights are stuff. Stuff costs money. Stuff takes up space. A lot of us don't have a lot of money...or space. Some of us travel and can't take a lot of stuff along. The majority of BW exercises can be done with bare minimum of extra apparatus outside of our own body. The importance of this advantage isn't stated nearly enough.

Getting strong and healthy gets determined by how well we can maintain a strong and healthy lifestyle. Right now, you could probably shove away from your computer and start doing a very productive BW-only routine. You can go on a vacation and do the same thing. If you went broke, you still have the ability to work out. Very little of this applies if your strength training heavily relies on adding ever-increasing amount of weight to make it a challenge. That can hurt the ability to keep that strong-healthy lifestyle thing going.

Now, we have to venture into more murky territory. I have to freely admit that a lot of what happens with weights isn't always the problem of the weights but what people do with them. Too many of weight trainings most popular shortcomings really have more to do with what's in between the trainee's ears than in the palms of their hands.

That being said, I really do think that BW training is better for overall health.
No, this isn't going to be the normal, "weights will bust you up," rant. I never believed that and I still don't, especially after the weight training that I've done. Furthermore, I am fully aware that it's possible to injure yourself with BW (worst thing I've done to myself training in recent memory was hyperextending my left thumb on a 5 finger, one-arm push-up) if not done properly.

Although I feel that I've had more of the wrong kind of aches from weights than I have from BW, that's not my reasoning for tipping the healthy factor in favor of going the non-metallic approach.

The first one has to do with the whole notion of strength-to-Bodyweight ratio(S-2-BW). There's a lot of pseudo-science out there about this but I still think that there are some very convincing reasons that maximizing this ratio is important for maintaining your health. The most obvious it's very difficult to have a high S-2-BW if you're fat. There are numerous BW moves that are impossible to do if that ratio isn't off the charts because you're carrying around too much extra blubber. When was the last time you saw someone who was 50 lbs overweight pull off One-Arm push-ups, a flag, pistol, or climb a 15' rope? On the other hand, you can find plenty of fat guys lifting huge piles of weight.

Now it's time to bring up those other, even more murky reasons for giving BW an edge over iron. As moving iron become easy, what do we do? DUH! We start lifting more. and more. AND MORE! I think that it's hard to dispute that it's very easy to lift more than we should. That makes it easier to hurt yourself while doing it. Yes, this can be negated by checking your ego at the gym entrance, making sure that we control the lift and not add so much that we let the lift control us. Still, the temptation is there. Every iron game revolves around moving more and more iron so the urge to move more than we should is always there.

Another temptation of moving iron is to shorten the movements so we can lift even more. Weight training happily embraces partials of a lot of the lifts for the sake of moving more weight. BW, on the other hand, really frowns on partials. We don't like partial pull-ups, pistols that aren't ass-to-grass, and the jury is still out on dips to parallel. I've always looked at range of motion as a use-it-or-loose it proposition. I don't see reducing ROM for the sake of moving more metal as a healthy trade-off.

Getting back to getting stronger, I gave weights the advantage for the lower body. I'd have to give BW the advantage for the upper body, and for the opposite reasons. The upper body isn't built to take the work load that the legs and hips can easily handle. They're built to move around in lots of cool ways and so there are lots of ways to make them really, REALLY strong without really needing to add weight to the movement that you do them with. Most of my readers could probably work the upper body extremely effectively with no iron at all for a long, long time with little else than a few scraps of rope, some pipe, and some towels. If that.

I do have a mental advantage to give to BW. I recall that Eric Cressey commented that the human body, when sufficiently motivated by necessity, will move weight regardless of proper mechanics, personal safety, or perceived lack of strength. I don't bring this up to comment on the safety or practicality of such a lift. It's simply that the resistance is always there. Gravity never takes a rest. When doing a BW movement, chances are there that effect isn't there. That's not a bad thing. In fact, that can be a huge advantage. If doing the move heavily relies on you focusing on the move and forcing it to become more difficult, then there has to be a more intense mental focus. Without it, you get no work out of it. This might be why many BW guys feel that there's a meditative element to certain BW moves.

So, the somewhat logical conclusion to this would be to try to determine whether BW training beats weight training. I'm not sure of the answer. When you figure it out, if you could kindly let me know if Flint and Snake Eyes would beat The Cobra and Copperhead in a fight to the death and if the Marvel Universe is really superior to DC, please?

In the meantime, I'm going to point out something else that doesn't get mentioned a whole lot in the weight vs. BW fisticuffs. The choice of which one and which one is better to use over the other is highly personal and subject to what you're looking to do and what you have to work with. This varies so much that it's hard to nail down a favored method of strength training. By reading this Blog, you already know my answer. That's my personal choice. A little bit of analyzing on your life and goals has to go into your consideration for working out prior to selecting your tools. Choose your favorite accordingly.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Time and the Place, Part 1

I've grown a severe aversion to people who run on at the mouth, or punching keys and creating piles worthless words, discussing things that they have no clue what it is they're talking about. There are places all over the internet that overflow with such mindless shit. I've grown up around too many people like that much of my life.

I've never claimed to be an expert on anything up until now. Today will be the day that I declare myself to be an expert on working out on the road. After several internet explorations, I've discovered people who think that a piece of exercise equipment that fits into a duffel bag is portable and others who think that it's feasible to check a doorway pull-up bar in their luggage. I wonder if these are the same bone bag metrosexuals who travel with no less than 5 shirts no matter if they're taking a three day weekend to a nudist colony.

Well, they could be halfway right if they were traveling by car, or especially by truck. Most of last years business travel for me was done by car. That makes things a lot easier since you can bring a modest amount of gear. Kettlebells tuck neatly behind the seats of most pickup trucks and my much-worn, much-loved sandbag doesn't mind the ride in the bed. A set-up like this provides a very-wide variety of training, no matter where traveling may take you. Within reason, you're only limited by your desire to bother loading it into your respective automobile.
Traveling by car is easy enough. Where things get really tricky is the airplane. Thanks to fat bastards all over the USA, your bag weight is down to 50 lbs each. Things get exacerbated when you have to travel in the winter time. The 50 lbs bag weight is very easy to exceed when you need jackets and sweaters. There's not a lot of room for exercise gear.

You're probably back to BW-only. We're all here reading because we love BW. Chances are good that part of that devotion is precisely because we can do it anywhere with marginal amounts of equipment. Well, air travel combined with hotel living will put that to the test.

Still, some stuff helps out a lot. Near the top of the list is something for pull-ups. Too often, a collection of running machines are what passes for a gym in most hotels, if you find anything at all. In spite of how simple the needs for pulling up in a gym are, they're just not common. That doesn't make you too down and out if you stay in one of those multi-story hotels where all of the rooms' doors are outside. They usually have railings and stairways that you can attach a suspension trainer to. Easy.

Not so if the hotel room entrances are inside of the building. This quickly renders a suspension trainer less useful. What I've used through the years (until I lost my pair. SHIT!)are doorway pull-up handles. As long as you're not too heavy and you're using them on a solid-core door with durable hinges and a good lock (which, if your room doesn't have that, I suggest you find another hotel) they work great. You can also use them for ab leg raise work as well if you place them at the bottom of the door.
Both of these options are very lightweight and don't take up much space in a bag. While you're at it, it might be helpful to pack something to make push-ups more interesting. To popular candidates are either some sort of push-up spikes or a travel Perfect Push-up. If you topped off your travel kit with a jump rope and some sort of gym timer (preferably a Gymboss), you're good to go.

Now, if you're difficult and you have to have some weight, then go back to the sandbag. I packed my Alpha Strong Sandbag on a trip to the beach in Peru. When I finished up, I washed, dried and re-packed it in my suitcase. If you're not going to the beach, then take a discreet walk through your hotel's landscaping. Chances are good you'll find a stone that you can build a workout around. Did you rent a car? That could make a good piece of workout gear if the hotel isn't too crowded.

I've done all of the above when I'm traveling. I can vouch that with enough imagination you can see a source of a good workout if you're willing to look at things in that light. Yeah, it's helpful to bring some of your own stuff when the opportunity presents itself. The best advice I can possibly give is not to let yourself fall victim to thinking that your workouts are made and broke by your access to stuff.