Saturday, November 26, 2011

Weights vs. BW

Of all of the things I have blogged about over the past three-plus years, there's one, glaring blog topic that I've actually never directly touched on: a post directly comparing Bodyweight-based strength training to the weight-based stuff. Sure, it's been an underlying theme here since the very beginning but I've never felt the like I should do a direct, head-to-head comparison. I've been accused of being cocky, or even arrogant, before but in reality I do my best to not speak about what I don't know about first-hand. Since I didn't really start doing some weighted stuff in mid-2008 (and even then, I did it very sparsely) I didn't feel qualified to write such an article.

Now fast-forward to summer, 2009 and that's when I started throwing the weights into my workouts with any sort of regularity. I won't claim to be anything but a novice with weights now but I've worked and studied with them enough to notice some distinct advantages and disadvantages that BW and weights have.

One thing I also noticed when I decided to write this entry was how difficult it would be to make a comparison in the first place. A lot of people who train with weights fall into certain, somewhat distinct, types of weight trainers, depending on the strength sport that they do. Which one do you use for comparison? BW, on the other hand, doesn't really have competitive events and it just recently started breaking down into distinct styles much like weight training did years before.

Another difficulty that arises from such distinct styles of strength training is that one mistake or shortcoming of one strength sport may not exist in another. Plus, each one has different goals. Each person has a different take on the merit of, for examples, doing an iron cross or deadlifting 700 lbs.

These reasons alone are enough to make many say that a pitting weights against BW is pointless bickering.
Thing is, I don't really see it that way. Something gets lost in the thousands of wasted words spewed on this usually-pointless debate. As far as I'm concerned, the BW vs. Weights fight revolves around is the near-hegemonious domination of adding weight as the single-best method of making a movement harder in strength training. When you work exclusively with BW, and the weight moved doesn't change, it becomes a search for variations on the exercise and using other methods to make the exercise harder.

So, the debate really isn't strictly BW-Weights but more along the lines of where does adding extra weight have its advantages and when you should look for another way to increase the difficulty. If the debate were looked at from this standpoint, we might actually arrive at some valuable insight.

So What distinct advantages does BW and weights have over another?

Initially, I planned on one blog entry on this subject but the size of the article quickly shot up in size. I don't know about you but my attention span for blogs is limited and I decided that it was best broken into two parts. For now, I thought I'd do the heretical thing and start discussing what I perceive to be the advantages of the old add-iron approach to getting stronger.

What lept out at me the first couple of weeks of picking up a barbell-for-for strength was the legs. I think that when it comes to training below the belt line, weights take it over BW. The legs are made to manipulate the weight of the body for an entire day, if necessary. That might not be a problem if it weren't for the simple fact that motion that the hips, knees, and ankles have to use for strengthening purposes is more limited that the shoulders, elbows and wrists. So, I'd have to admit that adding weight to lower body exercises makes a lot of sense since your options for progression are more limited down there.

While I haven't made any more attempts to bulk up lately (I'm thinking about doing that more and more.) and it pains me a bit more to admit this, I'd have to say that it's probably easier to bulk with weight training. After all, some of the biggest muscles in the body are down south. If adding weight for lower body has the advantage over not adding, then you'd have to give a slight advantage to weights for gaining muscular weight.

I also give a couple of mental advantages to adding weight. The first one is that I feel most acutely is when you have a weight in front of you that you want to move, you have a tangible goal in front of you. You can see it with your eyes rather than just simply imagining it. There's something to focus your aggression on. I do have times where I find this very helpful in training.

A second, slight edge I give to the iron is measuring and keeping track of progress. Since you can see the weight you're moving and how much it weighs, it's very simple to make a note (mentally or physically) of where you are in relation to where you were before. When you're trying to do the same with BW, it gets more tricky. Most of us who use BW exercises often times have to mark down three different variations from one time to the next. When you bench press and move from, say 200 lbs to 220 lbs, well, that's easy enough. On the other hand, if you wanted to account for one-arm push-up progress, it's entirely possible that you've manipulated hand positioning, foot positioning, and/or the an incline or the height difference on the incline/decline. There's clearly a convenience factor in measuring the progress with weight moved.

Since I'm beginning to push 1,000 words on this entry almost as bad as I'm beginning to push the limits of my limited expertise on strength training. Like I mentioned earlier, I'll be discussing BW's advantages over weights in another topic. In the meantime, I'd love to hear people's thoughts on this often-times tense subject. In the meantime, regardless of which side of the debate you fall on, train hard!

Friday, November 25, 2011

So, What Really is Strength?

Sometimes, I have to marvel at the ability of people to pile up mounds of words so worthlessly. That ability to ramble on and on about nothing just staggers my imagination. I inadvertently subjected myself to such a discussion mere moments ago without realizing it. I wouldn't have thought that people who usually have so much worthwhile to say about the pursuit of strength could waste so much neural electricity trying to define strength.

Geeze, how many times has that utterly simple question been chewed on with dull teeth of nearly dead horses waiting to be beaten after they exhale their last? It shouldn't be that hard to figure out. Just go to a fucking dictionary for fucks sake...



Okay, so terms in a dictionary certain don't don't always give us the answers that we're looking for. Numbers certainly don't either but somehow people, including those I mentioned above, didn't get that memo. Instead they launched into a full-blown numerical assault on what strength was, throwing x number of sets and y number of reps at z bodyweight defines strength.

What's with the numbers? We're strength trainees, NOT ACCOUNTANTS! The funny thing that accounting and strength training have in common is both can manipulate numbers to give a false impression. Number can look impressive without meaning jack shit. I had a friend who told me that when he (briefly) worked out, he deliberately avoided squatting because his leg press numbers were way more impressive.

So we might all have our own definition of strength. I have one that I like. After giving it some thought, strength is the ability to overcome great challenges. That certainly would answer another element to what that previous conversation was nibbling around but, for some reason, just couldn't eat the whole cake.

When trying to use numbers to define strength, there comes a point where we start talking about single-rep max strength or relative strength/strength endurance/strength-to bodyweight ratio, etc. Is it more impressive to one huge rep or several reps with lesser gravitational pull? Obviously there are body types more adapted to one than another. Big guys are far more impressive at moving huge piles of weight fewer times. Smaller souls are better at repetitive demonstrations of strength.

I've run across this before. To apply my definition of strength being the ability to overcome great challenges, what would be most impressive is to take on and defeat a challenge that pushes a body past it's comfort zone, or what's it's not used to doing well. While I appreciate the human gorilla's ability to move hundreds of pounds in a Lat Pull machine a few times, I'm far more blown away by shows of strength such as konstantinov's 55 pull-up set. THAT'S SOME SERIOUS STRENGTH!

On the other end of the spectrum, I watched an acquaintance work up to a 300 lbs deadlift through pictures on Facebook. The number might seem unimpressive to the legions of internet strongmen out there except for one thing. This was done by a woman who, by my guess, clocks in at 5'7", pretty light (I'm not going there) , and, if memory serves me correctly, is an avid runner.

We have to get this whole thing figured out. Otherwise, how can we hope to obtain something when we don't even know what it is? It's odd and unfortunate that after so long, there are still so many that can't really define what strength really is.

To me, strength is about shoring up your weak links, whatever they might be. Your weaknesses are the best source of great challenges. If you note that I didn't include any references to physical challenges in my definition of strength. That wasn't an accident since no great physical challenge can happen without an equal amount of hard, mental work. It's certainly a strain just to admit to ourselves what we suck at and then face it down, day after day, until that weakness can be counted as strength. After all, the less weaknesses you have, the stronger you really are.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Behind the 8 Ball a Little but What the Hell: My Review of the Convict Conditioning Books

I've noticed that in the past few weeks, I've got some new readers. You may have found out about my blog from Paul Wade's newest book, "Convict Conditioning 2" where my super-sexy finger strength was on full display. So, that might color be as bias to others if I gave my dos centavos about the the series that I've given modest contribution to. If that's what you're thinking then FUCK YOU. I try to be honest and I wouldn't put myself in a book series if I felt that it was shit. I was very happy for the invitation to be in the book and I think both are awesome books.

It's always struck me as strange but as I've been approached about BW strength training, I've noted that people seem to break down into two dramatically different groups. First are those who don't strength train at all and couldn't do one rep of even the most basic pull-up and push-up so they don't bother since they're that weak. The next group are the people who looked at the basics as just that: basics. Once they got good at them they abandoned them for the weights since they figured that there was no worthwhile strength progression afterwards.

Convict Conditioning (CC1) is excellent because it covers both types of strength trainers with variations on six Bodyweight movements, ranging from very easy to very advanced. I'd go so far as to say that this is the best, pure BW book out there. If you had to buy just one BW book to get you started in BW training and sustain you with a very bare minimum of stuff for a few years, then this is the book to get. The most elaborate equipment in this book are baseballs, basketballs, and towels. The only references to weights I recall are car pushing, carrying another person, plates for twisting exercises, and using jugs of water for balance while doing pistols.

I'm sure that a lot of us (Paul Wade included) know the criticisms regarding CC1. Compared to something like Ross Enamait's masterpiece, "Never Gymless", CC1 is decidedly different. Much of the written material about strength training are about training for the sake of becoming stronger at some sort of sport (in Ross' case, it's boxing). CC1 is about learning to use and become stronger with BW movements rather than simply becoming stronger soley for bettering another activity.

There may be some people underwhelmed by the first book because more than half of the movements in CC1 are child's play to them. If that's you, then Convict Conditioning 2(CC2) is your book. There are no basic or beginners moves here. There are simply beginner moves to some very difficult exercises. A lot of people complain about buying books about BW since the written know-how can be found on the internet with a couple of key strokes on Google. Indeed, I've seen plenty of tutorials on pistols and pull-ups. Ah wheel roll-out are down to a nickel a dozen. Flag holds are much more rare and not nearly as well-taught as it is in this book. As before in CC1, the progressions are laid out very clearly and logically. If you thought that the layout of progression in CC1 was awesome in it's simple brutality, then you won't be disappointed with CC2.

It also touches on other topics beyond the argument for BW training and the moves not that he didn't bring up in CC1. There's discussions on nutrition, active stretching, keeping your joints in running order, getting the mind right and clean living. This gives the book a more vintage feel, sort of like reading, "The Way to Live" by George Hackenschmidt.

Once again, very minimum amount of equipment is used in any of these exercises. In my opinion, the genius of both books is that it shows you the dizzying levels of physical power you can really generate with such a bare-bones setting! The books cost a little more than most other books on the subject but if you want to measure the price up to what you can do with the information contained within, these books earn their keep.

In other words, I highly recommend them.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

It Never Stops Coming! Bullshit III!

Shouldn't certain things be obvious? Maybe I haven't been subjected to enough brainwashing going on in our modURN society to have most of my objectivity removed. As I glanced at Wild Gorillaman's Facebook page, one such example popped into my mind.
I pretty sure that he posted this pic of Marilyn Monroe because she's hot. I hope it wasn't for her brain. I've never really understood the amount of respect that she gets. Let's add up a few things that are definitely, or probably true, about her. First, she got famous for shucking her clothes for Playboy. She was married and divorced three times. She did JFK, and then possibly his brother when she wasn't doing mobsters or miscellaneous other married celebrities.

In other words, SHE WAS A SLUT!

People look at me funny when I say this to them. Now, why can't more people put two-and-two together on this one? What does this have to do with exercise? I don't know. Here, let me throw this picture up and it might be more on topic...
Okay, the point of the rant-n'-ramble above is to point out that there is BULLSHIT! that should be pretty self evident if all of the facts were laid out there and a conclusion was drawn based on the facts. You can make up your own reason why this doesn't happen. I've got two examples in mind of this. So, here two BULLSHIT! ideas that I think ought to be more evident than they are.

Anyone else seen this one on Facebook too?We know where this one is coming from too, just like the kipping pull-up phenomenon. To start off with some common ground, I fully admit that there are people whose fat-making arsenal is equipped with too much bread. To go to this extreme, declaring that bread is the death of the human body, well, doesn't this fly in the face of roughly 30,000 years of human history?

Bread's been eaten that long, long-since declared, "the staff of life". Wheat farming is one of the crops that allowed humans to make the jump to living in a civil-organized society. Along the way, people managed to figure out that certain (but not all) bitter almonds, fly agaric mushrooms, and horse shoe crabs were deadly poisonous to eat yet somehow bread slipped by for all of these years.

Special thanks to Art De Vaney and Loren Cordain for showing humankind the error of its ways?

Okay, bread 30,000 years ago is probably much different than bread today. It would be a major improvement if we didn't eat so much of it in pre-digested, white form. We'd probably do ourselves a great service by eating more vegetable and less wheat. Still, I'm not about to abandon my grilled cheese sandwiches in fear of being slowly choked of life from something that civil societies have thrived on eating for millennium.

Here's a chunk of BULLSHIT! That's creeped into mainstream western society with increased speed lately...

This is one we as fellow fitness fanatics can all agree on. The whole fat-is-beautiful has got to be a classic case of mob rule. With 60% (or more) of the population sandwiched between Mexico and Canada waddling around life with a surplus of white andipose tissue, it was only a matter of time before they tried to convince the everyone that being "fluffy" was a mark of beauty.

I mentioned this in a previous blog: Is the end result of gluttonous eating and slothful living become something that we should be emulate? Is bad, over-the-top living sexy? Is promoting fat as something good really something that we want to teach our children? Or are these people hiding from these questions by changing the concept of beauty to cover their collectively humongous asses?

Besides, are many of these fat beauty queens pretty because they're fat or pretty in spite of being fat? Furthermore, why is fat being held as something sexy for women? If we're being fair then perhaps CK should start a ad campaign for their undies featuring fat guys!

Both of these BULLSHIT! have in common that they're bad ideas spread around by minority divisions of our greater culture. It's shitty group-think, devoid of analysis. We can come up with more rants about how cultish Paleo dieters and fat activists have become another time but for now I think that we can end this rant against BULLSHIT! by agreeing that it's a good idea to be a critical thinker and to be careful about who we tune into for our ideas and opinions.