Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Cut the bullshit with Swings!

The swing must have reached some sort of horrible Bieber-like point of market over-saturation by now.  I often wonder how many books and certifications can the world possibly be out there for a movement that I learned by myself, out of one book within a few tries with it.  When I got around to having my form checked out by a sort-of real expert on teaching swings, I found out that I was doing it right all along. I didn't need to pay three-figures to find that out. 

Yeah, the swing is useful.  pre-ACL failure, I did swings often.  I have no doubts it's a useful exercise  that was thrown in the dust-bin of lifting history prematurely.  It's a great posterior chain movement.  It's just overhyped, not well-understood, and often horribly performed.  There are lots of things about the swing that just annoy me about the subculture's relationship with the swing that just have to be cleaned up, dried off, and ironed out so hype can be separated from fact. 

First of all, the swing doesn't need to be done with kettlebells.  If you can put a heavy object between your legs, hold it with your hands, then you can swing it.  The first objects I ever swinged with were rocks.  I'm also fond of conventional, two hand of swings with sandbags over kettlebells.  When I kettlebell swing, I usually do it with two KB's.  In fact, the traditional object to swing wasn't even kettlebells.  Back around the turn of the century, 1900, the Olympics featured dumbbell swings.

Which brings us to another interesting point about swing movements.  If you are looking for proof that we've gotten weaker now than we were back then and things aren't what they used to be,then you could easily use swing exercises as proof.  Today, we think of swings as a conditioning exercise (which is just another way of saying that they kind of suck woodpecker eggs and are only good for people who are too weak to lift real weights).  Back 80-120 years ago, they were a max strength movement that ended up with the weight overhead.  John Grimek Routinely would do swings with a 200 lbs dumbbell. 
...or two-hundred pound ones!
In other words, if you're swinging for 5, 10 minutes on end with 500 reps to a set, in all likelihood you really are a weak excuse for what used to be called a man.  I'm not implying that swings always have to be done for low, max strength reps and they have to end with the weight overhead.  I usually do them for 20-30 reps, or 30-60 seconds if I have a timer, with whatever weight makes me want to die by the final moments of my set.  Like I said before, that usually means either a 90 lbs sandbag or two-55 lbs KB's. 

A very poorly known, but highly valuable exercise variation are lateral swings.  These are (were...FUCK!) second-favorite way to swing with a kettlebell.  A video is in the order to explain this one...
What the hell is with that beard?  Whatever... they're doing it right and it's hard to find a good video demonstrating this one.  What passes as a lateral swing on youtube is a complete joke!
Once again, use some serious weight!  If you can do them for what would be considered high reps by any other movement's standards, then use a heavier KB for crying out loud!  This is one swing that I prefer a KB for. 

AGAIN... do these with some serious weight!!  I know I've spend a half-decade on this site telling you that you don't always need big weights to get strong but even I have to admit that you just have to go heavier sometimes to get results.  This is the sometimes.  Swings aren't so damn special that they can fly in the face the fact that once you get well into high rep territory that you need to find a way to make the movement harder.   BW training suffers from this exact problematic line of thinking.   Bodyweight movement-form can be easily modified to become more difficult.   In the case of swings, you'll likely have to add weight.  So, quit pussy-footing around.  I don't have time to devote 10 minutes to one movement, even one set, over and over again.  I don't really have the inclination to either.  There's more to be gained from the swing lifts than what the market is selling with the current dogma. 

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Let's Make a New Rule: If you're going to curl, you'd better press too

There can be little doubt and disagreement that the bicep curl long ago denegreated into the vainest weight training movement in existence.  We've been subjected to a 40 year assault on our eyes where wave after wave of Arnold wannabes re-reading recycled Muscle and Fitness trash articles on how to make huge biceps using god knows how many flavors of curls.  Modern living has only made matters worse by deluging the internets with cell phone self pictures of every Jersey Shore wannabe flexing their biceps on Facebook wall photos. 

Something has to give here.

The answer to this madness, like so may other answers in matters of strength, is to simply look farther back than Arnold, back before gay men got the idea to masquerade as artistic photographers to the bodybuilding world in droves.  Stop when you get back to the 1920's to a guy named Hermann Goerner.  Goerner is one of rare strongmen who was roundly respected by nearly every major figure in the fledgling weight training world of his time.  Finding information (especially reliable information) about the strongmen and weightlifters of those days is tricky.   You almost always find one calling the other a phony.  That didn't seem to exist in regard to the big man with the Htiler Moustache.  Just about anyone who had contact with him considered him to be the strongest man that ever lived. 

He was one of the few strength luminaries not named Doug Heburn who can be excused for an upper-body strength training emphasis.  World War I took its toll on Goerner's body, leaving him with one eye and legs full of metal shards for the rest of his life.  By most accounts, his lift of choice was a combination of biceps curl and press work.  Ususally starting out with 55 lbs kettlebells and moving up incrementally until he got to the 110 lbs ones, he'd swing them overhead, lower them to the shoulder, press them overhead, lower them down, curl them and repeat (he varied between single and double kettlebell work but it almost always was the same basic action:  swing, press, curl).   I haven't implemented the swinging work into my training but I've come to appreciate the curl-press combination immensely. 

...Wait a second!  Swing a 110 lbs kettlebell OVERHEAD? 

In addition to being proof that kettlebell lifting isn't what it used to be, it's also a great way to get some serious upper body work.  If it worked for Goerner, it'll work for you!  This is the way that curling should be done:  with pressing work.  The weight training world is finally beginning to pull it's collective head out of its ass when it comes to neglecting pressing.   Back 110 years ago, if you weren't pressing, or at least putting weight overhead somehow, you just weren't strong.  

How did this press not hurt like a motherfucker?  Perhaps even Russian pot bellies are stronger than American ones!
This movement mixture can be upgraded further by combing another golden oldie with a recent pressing movement that the Russians actually got right.  If you dare say that you got bored with Hermann Goerner's pet lifting, I've got this to slap your stupid ass into eating those heretical words:  Combine Zottman Curls with Sots pressing. 

In other words, do a supinating curl of the weight(s), drop into a deep squat, then press the weight(s )overhead.  Then, stand up and do it all over again.  I use this one when I'm at home, working in my low-ceiling basement with dumbbbells.  Were I to standing press with those, I'd put the weights through the ceiling.  Out of anger, the thought has crossed my mind. 

How to implement these into a workout is totally up to you.  I enjoy pre-written programs about as much as I enjoy the Jersey Shore but I'll share a few ideas anyway.  I normally like to do these in a pyramid set, increasing the weight I press and curl as I decrease the reps.   Then, decrease the weight and increase the reps.  I've also used them as a finisher but if I find out that you're using tiny weights for high reps to tone, well...

Either way, this is a great, old school set of movements that should become more popular and taken more seriously than it is.  I recently found out somewhere that Bert Assirati was a fan of this curl-press movement as well.  Frankly, if two of the biggest, most powerful men to walk Europe in the 1920's were doing this, I think that's more than enough justification for you to do them as well. 

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Bitching about The Summer Heat?

So, it's mostly in the low 90's here in Florida where I've been sentenced to stay for the foreseeable future with 60-80% humidity on any given afternoon.  Inside the garage is even worse.  Since the air conditioning exhaust runs through there too, it makes the already hotter-than-outside garage even more unbearable.  There I am, on the floor of the garage, with my hands squeezed inside the handle of my kettlebell doing Lat Pullovers.  My knuckles grind into one another and my back is picking up all kinds of dirt and dead insects off the floor because I'm sweating so hard as I move the KB through my sets.  I'd prefer to move this whole outfit outside but with my ACL in my left leg barely repaired, I don't chance carrying the large chunk of metal outside.  So, I do this all in the garage, hoping those ants I'm killing aren't the kind that bite and that spider in the corner the size of a my palm stays put. 

This is the first time I've ever written about this.  No, it's not a complaint but a wake-up call.  From one hardened mind to another, I'm sure that you'd love nothing more than to reach through your computer screen and grab those people on the other side who is complaining about how hot the summer is and tell them to shut the hell up and get to working out. 

This is classic a sign of lack of intensity.  Remember what that was when you train?  If you don't you might  need to be spanked with a spiked baseball bat.  That's when you do stuff that takes you past what's physically (and mentally) comfortable in your training.  We should also know that we need to push things past comfortable and into painful when we train.  If you didn't get that, spank yourself again with the studded baseball bat. 

So, since you're already there taking yourself to Intense-town, what difference does it make if the landscape is hot, sticky, humid, dirty, smelly and generally as miserable as the burn in your biceps and upper back while you're there?  You're supposed to be in a zone where you are forcing yourself to disregard the stresses you're putting yourself under and continue working.  The miserable backdrop to this scene is just matches the pain of the action.  This is why I've always loved the gyms with concrete floors, working out in basements and garages, and martial arts schools that are rough around the edges.  Anything to the contrary is Planet Fitness.

Clean, climate-controlled comfort is for bedtime.  If you're bitching about the weather and mitigating training, then you're just doing it wrong. 

Friday, August 2, 2013

Resurecting Push-up Cocktails

Prior to letting one of Florida's better orthopedic surgeons do his best on my knee, I had to change up how I worked out my body with a useless leg.  If you've never done anything to injure your leg in a manner that prohibits carrying around weight, you cannot comprehend how bad this sucks for training.  It's not just the fact that you can't (shouldn't...) do leg training.  It also severely inhibits exercise selection because you are also limited by the lack of ability to set up your exercises.  So, it brings any former BW-only trainer far closer to their roots. 

In other words, this wasn't a tremendous problem for me.  I knew I could find ways to train around this.  I just had to reactivate this part of my brain. 

I've discussed this in a past entry:  some people who work out too often with lots of stuff, just the way they like it, pigeon-holing themselves with their training.  If you want to make 72.35% of gym rats wet their pants, cry like babies, and go into bizzare siezures, just take away their bench and watch the ensuing hilarity. 

When it came to my chest workouts, I took another track.  Of all the body parts that will make you look ridiculous for falling in love with one movement to train it, it's got to be the chest.  The pecs can move in so many directions and at so many angles that it's just flat-out stupid or lazy to rely on one movement for training.  Consequently, training the chest with one movement is also incomplete.  You're better off with a few different movements. 

Remember the time crunch thing?  Regardless of whether or not I am in a hurry or not, I still like to do a lot of work in less time.  I don't like resting much when I train.  So, when I tore my ACL, I gravitated to combining differing chest movements in one set.  That way I could satisfy the whole, "different angles, different ways," thing. 

The first combo that I started doing was combining BW flyes with push-ups on my suspension rig.  Both of these were done slowly and going as deep as possible, especially the push-up at the bottom.   By the end of this set, I usually feel like my pectoral muscles are going to tear off my breast plate and run away to find some easier, functional training.  The less-obvious benefit to this set is the ab training.  By the end of the set, it's hard to hold my midsection in place.  Of course, I had to do this all on one foot.  That added to the fun. 

The second combo that I picked up after not doing for a long time was what I loosely called clock push-ups.  I start out by doing some wide, wider than shoulder-width, hand stance push-ups.  Then, I walk my hands to the right three paces the the right (or left, doesn't matter), keep my feet in place, and do another set of hands-shoulder width apart.  Repeat the hand-walking and finish up with hands together.  As the hands get closer together, the range increases, making the push-ups harder as you get further into the set.  This really slashes down on how many push-ups you can do. 

Before I did both of these, I usually threw in some dips on the suspension rig.  I did these for no other reason than I'm humiliated by how much I suck at them.  As an added bonus, it's yet another direction to hit the chest. 

I've read a fair amount of BW training resources.  Blending together two different movements into the same set doesn't come up very often.  That's a mistake we don't have to make.   There are no rule that say that we have to do the same movement in the same set.  So, feel free to change it up.