Saturday, May 18, 2013

Shooting My Mouth Off: Youtube-internet judge edition!

The pain killers must really be kicking in.  Or, maybe sleeping and living on a couch for days in essentially one position is starting to get on my nerves.  Whatever it is, I feel a strange compulsion to let my inner asshole out and figuratively wear a shirt that I've long avoided...

This is a real T-shirt...and get it here!
Maybe it's because I'd kick a loved one upside the head just to be able to get back to bent pressing, hack squatting, or at least some truck pushing.  I love to move...not some pointless flailing but with some sense of control and purpose.  I blew my knee out from lack of control (missed a step).  I don't see the point in doing a movement, BW or with a heavy object, with the intent of just getting it done at all cost.  The whole point, as far as I'm concerned, is to get stronger from the move.  You don't get stronger if you get hurt.  You don't get stronger by taking shortcuts just for the sake of getting the  move done. 

So it only makes sense when I see someone picking up something way too heavy, with their body simultaneously convulsing like they're being electrocuted and bending like an overloaded beer trailer at a Cinco De Mayo party, I'm not really that impressed.  In fact, just downright hideous.  Lifting like that isn't impressive and I'll tell you why.  There's such a thing known as absolute strength and that's using 100% of your muscles.  At any given time, you barely use a third of your power, even if you think you're using it all.  Your mind blocks most of the power subconsciously because it's for emergency use only.  Your tendons and ligaments probably won't hold up to that kind of contractile force.  If your mind senses a life or death situation, then it'll kick in.  After all, what good are in tact connective tissue on a corpse? 
So, in other words, your lifting past sensible physical limitations is both stupid (you're wrecking yourself)  and half-assed (you're still a mental midget because you can't harness your full muscular power) at the same time.  Nobody really admires someone lifting in such cartoonish mannerisms anyway.  What's impressive is lifting big shit and making it look like it's not that big. 

So, I've established that I'm no fan of lifting grotesquely past physical limitations.  I'm also not always a of a fan of modifying equipment to make lifting easier simply for the sake of moving more weight.  What I'm getting with this statement is some of the sandbag lifts I've seen.  Since I bought my Alpha Strong Sandbags two years ago, a day rarely goes by when I don't use either Thy Beast or, more recently, Thy Kraken.  Implicit in sandbag training is that the sand can shift with each lift, creating an awkward weight that isn't exactly the same each time you pick it up and put it down.  That movement is the cornerstone of sandbag training.  So, it baffles my mind to see people filling sandbags to the point where they are rigid and, even worse, finding a way to tie them up so the sand barely shifts at all.  
...I had a specific video in mind of an an Xpurt doing exactly this but it won't upload!  Shit!

I learned quickly that I had to learn how to do a clean if I wanted to get serious about training with sandbags.  I'd never done a barbell clean previously.  When I got around to doing one, with 135 lbs, I was surprised that it was much easier than cleaning my 87 lbs sandbag.  That's how much difference a shifting weight can make.   Sandbags aren't simply about how much they weigh.  It's about how much more they fight back when we attempt to lift them. 

In case you're wondering if I still do BW and if I still write about it yet then the answer is still yes to both and I've got some major peeves about what passes as rope climbing in some circles.   Unless you're Czech, there probably isn't any organized rope climbing competitions unless it's part of an obstacle course.  If there was one that I started, the goal would be to get up it as fast as possible, not counting the descent speed for anything.  The reason should be self-explanatory:  too easy to let gravity do the work for you.    That should count as much for rope climbing as a six-pack counts on a skinny guy. 
So, naturally, it drives me nuts to see someone climb a rope and then do some sort of controlled crash downwards, and then recording how fast they can go for the whole damn thing.  If there's no rope climbing competition federation, then it doesn't matter how fast you do the whole thing.  Fast therefore shouldn't be the point.  Once again, the point should be to get as strong as possible from climbing the rope.  To get the most out of the experience, go up fast and down slower. 

Maybe that's why I have a certain aversion to what competitive lifters of all stripes do for training.  The way I see it, it's all ass-backwards.  They all do different lifts but they all have the same thing in common:  they want to lift as much weight as possible with a few, chosen moves.  They define strength too narrowly.  When goals around movement become too focused, the mind looks for shortcuts.  These shortcuts always have a way of loosing the purpose of the exercise in the first place.  Perhaps this is more apparent to me as I watch my left thigh atrophy from weeks of being nothing more than a few dozen pounds of deadweight and my frustrated mind aches for physical stimulation beyond hobbling around on crutches. 

Yes, I'm currently reduced to being an internet couch judge.  If you're not, then for fucks sake don't take for granted that you can move, lift and climb.  Don't waste that ability on short-cuts.  

Or maybe I'm an asshole like the rest of them...

Friday, May 3, 2013

Objectively: What was awesome about the old school...and what kind of sucked!

Chances are pretty good that if you're reading this blog then you're just like me that you have a greater appreciation for the way that people strength trained 70+ years ago far more than the way that they trained now.  You're still in good company here since I agree that strength training of yesteryear was far more fun in its crude, rusty glory than today's highly sterilized, over-chromed class heavy health clubs.  There's just no comparison in my book.   It's important to keep in mind that while you will get no disagreement from me that things were better then than they are now, it wasn't perfect by any stretch of anyone's imagination.  There were some serious issues that we need to keep in mind when we look backwards to look at what direction we should move forwards.  Meanwhile, while we all generally in the latent superiority of the old days, it's odd how few people can articulate why they like those old days so much. 

I hope to shed some light on what made the Old School so good...and what should have been corrected, based on my observations. 

The BAD... Dude, where's my squat? 
One thing that leaps out at anyone who goes from "new" school to "old" school is how the now-ubiquitous squat was so often M.I.A from so many strength training literature.  It doesn't pop up much until the late 1920's and early 1930's.  The most notable mention of the squat I heard before was from Bert Asirati and Henry Steinborn in the 1920's.  Despite it's overwhelming acceptance as a necessary strength training movement now, it's still got a few detractors that consider it a knee-wrecker.  How did this whole thing happen? 

I've seen some pictures in various training sources that may shed some light on what was wrong then and how it still haunts the ignorant about the squat now.  One involved an old picture demonstrating how to Hack Squat.  I'm sure that my readers are well-aware of the fact that Hack Squats started out as a barbell movement which the iron game history credits the great George Hackenschmidt with developing...NOT A MACHINE-BASED MOVEMENT!  

Slap yourself if you didn't know that.  Then you can continue reading...

Back then, the squat was also known as the deep knee bend.    Nowadays we're advised to think of squatting less like a knee movement and more along the lines of a, "hips back, chest proud", movement.  Any nomenclature calling a squat a knee bend was probably a bad name but it describes pretty well what people 100 years ago were doing.   I wouldn't make a habit of doing too many of these.  I'm not surprised that so few did either.
I was surprised to learn that the squat that we know of now was more of a European phenomenon that this source credits the Immortal Henry "Milo" Steinborn with popularizing:  heels down, more of a butt-back than knees-forward movement.
 Things were getting better.  I didn't have the heart to crop the old leg press picture.  I wouldn't do that but it's still pretty nifty!
Perhaps people started amalgamating the hip lifting with the deep knee bend and eventually we got to the basic squat that we have now.  It seems that by the 1930's, everyone noteworthy was on board with the general awesomeness of the squat.  By doing so, this corrected a gaping hole in much of the strength training world. 

Antique TRX?
One thing that they did get horribly right back when the old-timers were getting the squat horribly wrong was the ample use of rope and rings in the gyms for upper body strength.  This made a lot of sense since weights were still ridiculously expensive and a lot of the strongmen came from gymnastic or acrobat backgrounds.   Regardless of whether it was an issue of frugality or familiarity, it was still a great choice because it's entirely possible to make a superbly-powerful upper body with such simple implements. 
Around the time we got things straightened out with the squat was also the time that the cost of weights began coming a bit more down to earth and the ropes and rings slowly came off the rafters at hardcore gyms.  It's been a long road to get them back into serious gyms these days.  Too often the reincarnations have been the ridiculously-overpriced TRX and the ropes get flailed on the ground rather than hung from ceilings in a dignified manner.  Still, they have their place and they're still solid strength training tools. 

See Anything Else Missing Above? 
Are kettlebells really, "old school", and "functional" because they're old and they mimic all sorts of real life work and sport situations?  Or, are they more practical than a lot of other training tools because they're kind of awkward and they are almost always lifted off the ground?   I still insist on replacing the term, "functional," with, "practical." If you want to make your strength training practical and far more relevant to real life endeavors of life, then start out with nearly everything on the ground and if you want it off the ground, lift it up off yourself.  

Very few things in life are as nicely balanced as a barbell and it's rarely put on a nice rack for you to access it better by one movement.  No, chances are it's below your knees, weird shaped, and requires two or three different movements to get it to where you want it to go.  While you do loose some bragging rights with the poundages you lift by conveniently putting the weight at a spot where you can lift it in a rack or cage, you also gain the ability to lift in manners that will help in real life. 

Conveniently, these three points about the old days nicely encapsulate what my pre-sprained knee training was all about:  Heavy emphasis on BW-based upper body movements combined with weight-based squatting, with every weight-based movement starting off with the weight the ground.  It's crude but it works as well now as it did back then.