Monday, January 9, 2012

Training Wheels for Real Training

There are a lot of reasons why we all keep strength training. The most universal reasons that we all do it is the soul-moving qualities that come with overcoming hard, physical challenges. We also learn to appreciate the importance of being physically capable. Life just sucks when we're weak and that fact can only be avoided for so long. I could keep going on and on about why it's awesome to pursue physical strength for reasons beyond just the physical realm but smarter, more insightful people have poured over that in countless blog entries all over all of the internets. I do have a question though. It's one that a few of my Friends have taken up the keyboard for answers and action on the question at hand:
Why does real strength training have to be so gender-specific?

Indeed, there are no good answers to this question outside of a really fucked up notion of beauty that claims that any sort of real strength builder strike down the mere identity of women and render them men at the slightest touch of a pull-up bar or a barbbell. Anyone who cares to do some honest research into the topic, beyond Traci Anderson and women's fitness magazines, will realize this.

Now, I freely admit that my opening paragraph should apply equally to both sexes should be free from judgement about how someone will look when they train to excel. It shouldn't matter how a person looks nearly as much as it does...but that's the way that the cards have been dealt. It's the somewhat unfortunate fact of life.

The last time I wrote on this topic, I said the following:

Maybe that's what we should be doing to begin with here: promoting real strength training for real health for the sake of being able to do real-life movement. Then, after we've got that mastered, maybe we can all learn to appreciate a healthy, strong body and learn to find it desirable, maybe even attractive.

So, that leaves me with one thought. If the notion of promoting a look that looks like strong-health as attractive, then what would someone use? The thought that crossed my mind is: do most people even know what that looks like anymore?

I freely admit that there isn't usually a dramatic difference in how a strong woman and an ordinary woman look. There are tell-tale signs. There are things that you don't usually see on women who do some sort of real strength training. These are things that I don't think most people probably wouldn't find attractive. Using the notion that what's attractive is what's strong and healthy, I think that these are points that we can all agree on.

Let's start easy: the muffin top. While I'll freely admit that this is more diet-related than exercise-related, I've always maintained that good training is the ultimate feedback on how good your diet is. Five rounds of The Magic 50, Girondas 8x8, some a nice super-set of pull-ups and push-ups will tell you that your binge eating the day before was really stupid far faster than walking on any contraption ever would. That ultimately translates to a far better body. Besides, doing workouts like this for a sustained period of time won't allow for lots of body fat. To succeed at this stuff, you have to lean out!

Moving onto an actual show of muscle on a woman, I'd have to single out the skinny thighs. I think that men instinctively show off their upper bodies because they know that's what defines them as powerful men. Women have the power in the legs on a pound-for-pound basis more then men do. It's one of the few places where women can have some muscle definition and show it off without the "man" label. First image found on Google when I typed, "model legs".

So, there's no reason for women's legs to only meet at the knees. It could be said that it's actually incredibly feminine to have this display of strength on a woman!

Another, more subtle problem area that bothers me about women is the winged shouldler blades. How many times do we see this look on women...For some reason, ribs poking out the sides is prime tabloid material for actresses who are to skinny but this one somehow gets a pass. It's still bones sticking out of the skin where they shouldn't be sticking out! Furthermore, it's an unhealthy posture issue that begs for some stronger muscles in the right places.

I cringe to even bring up using attraction as a method of selling strength training to the other sex. Ever-changing notions of beauty have lead generations of women to do some very bizarre, and dangerously unhealthy things to their bodies. The reason why even mention it is that it worked so well for men 120 years ago.

I believe it was Lionel Strongfort who commented that for every person who wanted to be strong like Eugen Sandow, 20 just wanted to look like him. Indeed, if you do a Google Image search of Sandow, you'll find that most of the pictures of him out that exist have him showing off his body more than his lifting prowess. We can argue about the limitations of how much sex appeal should sell strength training all day but it's hard to deny that it works and it certainly has it's place. If anything, it's like training wheels: Something that gets you started on the road to better things. Things like the stuff I described at the beginning of this entry.


Ben said...

Justin - Hello. I have been BW training for about 2 years.

I have some questions, hopefully you can help - at least you can tell me where I may be off and what to do to correct some things that I perceive as troublesome.

First of all - where I am at:

I started at 165, 5' 8". I am now 151. That was largely diet. I am not trying to bulk up too much. Putting on 10 lbs of muscle would be good.

At peak - here's where I am.

11 full pull ups.
10 closed hand push ups.
3 sets of 20 hanging leg lifts (bent).
Plank for 1:30.
3 pistol squats on dominant (left) leg and 2 on right.
3 sets of 20 "third world squats" (butt to heels, heels flat on floor). These take the wind out of me.
5 back bridges - 5 seconds each (not on neck)

I mix things up such as deep incline push ups, one arm assisted pull ups, side planks, regular push ups.
The above gives an idea of what I can do fresh. Usually do a max set of each item, then 3 or 4 more sets, dwindling in numbers to "failure".

Now my questions:
I switched up to "full range HSPU" on cinder blocks. Couldn't do even one. Got to about 2 - but then found I had lost all my regular HSPUs. Could do only 2. So switched back and got back up to 9. My concern is that as soon as I have done a few of these - I of course get tired and so can't train both. Do I lose the benefits of the HSPU by doing the "full range" ones? Any insight on it would help. And what the heck is the difference in muscles used on these? To go from 8 or 9 HSPU to ZERO full range on a move that almost seems identical?

Next question: With all of this- I can't do anything approximating a flag (side lever). I start these and my shoulders pretty much fail on me instantly. Its the bottom shoulder. Either side left or right fails. I have a feeling it is how the shoulder sits or the angle. (Or maybe I just haven't got the strength?) I've looked at videos on the net but can't seem to see how it goes. What doesn't make sense is I have strength in pull ups, push ups, HSPU but zero on this move. Any suggestions would help on how to strengthen the shoulder for this move. I see it as a very weak link.

Pull ups - keeping tight shoulders. I started to do this recently - but oddly enough it seems (but may not be) "weaker" as in, my lats are doing much less work. If I go "all the way down" there's a massive activation of the back muscles and lats to get up. If these "all the way down" are done slowly will I give myself future shoulder issues anyhow? (I can do 9 "all the way down" and pumped out 11 "with shoulders tight").

Push ups/plank/HSPU - top position - maybe this is pointless but in the top position one can give it an extra couple of inches right at the shoulder and really shove upwards. Is this necessary for completion of the rep? I honestly can't tell. Any benefit to strength and posture?

Other information is I have/had 2 injuries. Nothing major. One was about 4 months ago - made the mistake of trying to test myself on ab roll outs. Went too far and strained my back muscles in lower back. These have recovered basically now (no structural injury) just a slow healing lower back. Can do planks and the HSPUs and bridges fine and these don't bother it at all. And strained right shoulder from a bizarre way I hit a ball playing volleyball - sent shoulder in a direction it really wasn't supposed to go. Talked to a doctor who said it was basically a sprain. Aside from the flag issue above, it tires faster than my left side. Posture not too good, medium shoulder hunch and inward roll from computer work).

I'm basically self taught for these past 2 years. No coach but the Internet. Thank you very much. Keep up the good work and any help you can provide I'd gladly take!

Justin_PS said...

Wow, you're loquacious!

1. Inches count when it comes to increasing the ROM on HSPU's and jumping directly onto cinder blocks is a big step. As increase the reps up over 15-20, you're better off increasing the range. The more ROM, the better.

2. You need to practice what's called the clutch flag before you go to a full-blown flag. Convict Conditioning 2 has a great section devoted to mastering this move if you've got $40.00 to spare.

3. When it comes to your shoulders and pull-ups, keep one thing in mind: your shoulder blades naturally want to rotate a little as they move up and down. Anything that impedes that is bad.


ben said...

Wow! Thanks for being so quick.

So, let me make sure I got this:

1 - Get my HSPU numbers to 15-20 - then go for full range, and take it on a good gradient?

2 - hmmmm.... not got the 40.00 to spare :) and still working on the other drills in CC1. Will master those - then get to CC2. Might see about the clutch flags to see if I can get anywhere.

3 - I really think I didn't get what you meant here. So going down all the way (ergo - shoulder blades moving where they want to go) is fine and you don't foresee an issue? Sorry but maybe I'm missing the more important data on these. It just seemed to me that I get so much more out of really letting my shoulders all the way down (not fully letting the tendons do all the work - I still have some tension - but the joint is extended). Sorry if that sounds complicated and hard to answer. (or if I'm being thick.)

4 - OK! Won't do that.

Again -thanks v much for your coaching and I'll keep reading your past blog posts (already spent several hours :) :)

Justin_PS said...

Okay, that was kind of confusing of an answer, looking back on it. Get your reps up. Make sure you feel like you're proficient with HSPU's. Then, look for something to do them off of. Don't jump right to a cinder block. 8 inches is too high. Start out with 2 inches of elevation. Work up to cinder blocks.

We're trying to talk about something that's easier to undertand with art. A picture would is truly worth a thousand words. Just put it this way: don't let your detls hit your ears or try to completely immobilize your shoulder blades. If you're somewhere in the middle of these two extremes, you're good to go.

ben said...

ok! And I think I understand now on both.

Keep up the blog - lovin' it.