Friday, June 28, 2013

Some things don't go together

According to the gadgets that track my modest Facebook page for the Bodyweight Files, most of you are around my age (32), give or take 5 years in one direction or another...and mostly male.  So, you're also, like me, the prime audience for the Spike Channel.  So, you were also probably a fan of The Deadliest Warrior.  Did any of you see that last, goofier-than-usual, episode where they pitted Vampires vs. Zombies?  Yeah, that was a gnarly episode and an oddball question was brought up somewhere in the episode:  what would happen if you created a vampire-zombie hybrid?  The zombie and vampire experts (God, that was a seriously stupid-but-fun episode) mutually agreed that nothing better would arise from that. 

Awesome!  You could disagree...but you'd be wrong!
We've never been at a shortage for people trying to combine shit that probably has no business being mixed together in the first place in our subculture.  Creating a new hybrid has moved the fitness business along for years with throughly mixed results.  Too often people forget, or don't bother to realize, that there are things that shouldn't be combined.  You don't get something better than what you started with.  Instead, you end up with some really lame-ass shit... or a lame-ass body.   

This has come up a few times in the intelligent scribbles of people I generally trust when they talk moving for the purpose of getting strong.  The first would be Jim Wendler.  He reposted on his Facebook feed about six screw-ups that he made in his training that he hopes nobody makes.  The one that caught my attention was the Good Morning, or, more specifically, loading up tons of plates on a good morning.  The normal thing to do with every weight training move is to move as much weight as possible.  This isn't the point of a good morning.  

The idea, as far as I'm concerned, is to get a good stretch of some important posterior chain muscles on the downward, eccentric part of the movement, followed with an nice, strong contraction on the concentric.  You're probably going to have a hard time with that if you use a substantial amount of weight.  Use too much weight and you really don't have a good morning anymore.  What you're left with is a sort-of-squat-sort-of-good-morning back-wrecker movement.  Furthermore, this movement is often times better done with more reps than less.  This is a prime example of when a good lift is at its best when it's not turned into a max effort movement.  Usually, adding more weight is a good thing with movement.  This is not one of those times. 

Another good piece of writing that graced my eyes was from a friend, Chip Conrad, writing about the overuse of volume in place of other forms of increasing intensity.  I think we all know where this method comes from.  I'm not totally against doing some higher (my definition of high reps begins after 30) reps to a set and I'm not against doing several sets of them, I do have a huge problem with doing lots and lots of high volume sets with an eye on the clock.  These two are about as good for the body as combining Oxy and alcohol.  The reasoning should be plain as day:  committing to a high volume invites some bending of good form here and there, just like committing to high velocity.  Manipulating two factors in a set that both have the potential to break down good form is a terrible idea. 
I'm not a huge form junkie.  I've said it before and I'll say it again:  good form is meant to help make you stronger and keep you safe.  The first allows some flexibility.  The second does not.  The odds are against you that you're going to be able to keep an eye on that fact when you're going as fast as possible over and over and over and over and over... That's why most of my fast-moving exercise choices are rarely done in sets of 5 or 10 and my high volume sets are done with an eye on controlling form for as long as possible. 

I've said before, but you probably know this already, is that there is probably nothing out there that hasn't been tried yet when it comes to strength training.  What works gets buried under a shitty pile of ridiculous gimmicks.  Since there is nothing really new, there's really no point of looking for what isn't there.  What you end up with is comparable to that zombie-vampire who doesn't realize it needs to get out of the sunlight after sucking blood and eating brains because it has no consciousness:  a stupid mistake. 

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Shooting my mouth off: because I can't shoot members of the AMA either

Hopefully, our collective heart rate elevated at the same time our gag reflexes were tested to their limits when the AMA stepped out of its collective mind and declared that obesity is actually a disease.  My strength-and-health page-heavy Facebook Feed exploded with debates about this decision.  Some of us thought it was a wise decision by the official definition of a disease.  Others saw this as a massive smack in the face of good sense and a major win for lazy stupidity. 

If you happen to be one of the former and won't be dissuaded that obesity is a disease, please feel free to immediately stop reading by blog, find a thick and long object, and swallow it sideways...
For those who stuck around to listen to me on my modest, cyber-podium, let's throw one thing up on the screen right about now:  The definition of a disease.  After all, just about every proponent of this change of heart by AMA has sighted this definition.  So, let's start clearing the air with what I found here:
  disease /dis·ease/ (dĭ-zēz´) any deviation from or interruption of the normal structure or function of any body part, organ, or system that is manifested by a characteristic set of symptoms and signs and whose etiology, pathology, and prognosis may be known or unknown. See also entries under syndrome.
So, the nuanced, bleeding-heart, sensitive, brain-dead, senseless, show-me-your-medical-qualifications-Justin-Paul AMA supporters will happily point out that since being fat causes a laundry list of diseases it fits the definition of a disease itself.  So, I'll pull my free-thinking mind out and sit on for just a second.  Let's say that getting fat/obesity is a disease.  So, how do we treat it?  How do we stop the body from getting fat? 

That's why we haven't seen an effective diet drug pill to prevent getting fat yet.  When we eat (too much, in this case), we provoke a lot of hormonal reactions that can trigger weight gain.  Insulin, cortisol, and leptin are three that jump to the top of the list. They aren't the only ones though.  Testosterone and estrogen alike, if they're not at the right levels, can trigger weight gain.   That's just five hormones that can affect whether or not you get fat.  The reason why an effective and safe diet-in-a-pill hasn't been created yet is that while one hormone can be manipulated to stop fat gain, all of the others can step in make you fat.  Trying to control of them with drugs is difficult...and dangerous. 

There's something that too many people miss when they talk about obesity as a disease in the following explanation:  if there are several different hormones that your body produces that can make you fat, isn't therefore getting fat when you eat too much a normal body reaction?  That, of course, is a resounding...

There is nothing...NOTHING!!!... deviating or interrupted when you eat too much and you get fat in your body's system.  That is what your body is meant to do.  Just because being too fat can make you prone to disease doesn't make it a disease itself.  That is what is so horribly fucking stupid about this vote is that normal, bodily function is now considered a disease.  By that rationality, there are a host of other normal things the body does that could be considered a disease. 

  • The most obvious that comes to my mind is getting a tan or being tanned.  Excessive tanning can cause skin cancer.  The body's normal reaction to exposure to UV rays is to darken the skin.  There is normal and not deviating from normal function of the skin when it tans.  If it's done too often and for too long, it can cause a disease.  Is a tan disease now because having a tan carries the potential for skin cancer? 

  • Or what about being horny?   If you have sex, you can certainly get a lot of tasty and wonderful diseases from that too.  Is the desire to fuck a lot a sign of a diseased body since you can get AIDS on your herpes from sex?

  • I suppose you could make the case that having big muscles is a disease too.  The things we have to do to thicken up our bodies with muscle mass carries the possibility of disrupting normal body functions.   
Yes, this is all ridiculous but no more ridiculous than the doctor's union (let's not kid ourselves, the American Medical Association is nothing more, at its core, than a doctor's union) just did.  In continuation with the notion of not kidding ourselves, let's just be blunt and realize that for decades, most doctors didn't have enough of a clue about how to treat a human body unless it involved drugs.  Around the early 1900's, doctors used to tell people that weight training could bind up the joints, causing them to stop moving and that exercise would use up all of the beats that the human heart is capable of producing in its lifetime prematurely.  Things haven't improved with this vote to call getting fat a disorder.  

Of course, this is all very convenient for the overwhelming majority of the population of the USA and the drug manufacturers that service this pile of fat citizenry.  They won't take the notion that a genuine fat-loss medication is dangerous to pursue lying down and the people that will buy it want no disturbance in their lying down time.  The AMA may have just made a two groups of people incredibly happy with this vote. 

Maybe we should declare laziness and stupidity diseases.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Training around my Bad Knee

So, here I am:  I've got a torn ACL in a left knee along with a hairline tear in my meniscus and bone bruises.  It's still swollen too much to straighten, several weeks after I fell at work.  I've been on crutches since then and I watch my left quadriceps shrivel into a straw from lack of use.   That's been particularly distressing considering how much time I spent awake at 5:00 am so I could push my pick-up truck on the road where I reside lately.  In other words, it's been nearly a month and a half of nearly unmitigated suck as I've tried to maintain some semblance of a normal life. 
Kind of looks like a meat donut. royally sucks!
Relevant to why you're here:  my training has changed radically.  Basically, I can't (or should I say shouldn't?) train my legs, lower back and do much in the way of abdominal work either.  Failure to adhere to these rules will either cause my knee to make these disturbing clicking noises, pain, or the sensation that my knee will collapse on me  Prior to this hideous set-back, I trained like the proud primate that I am.  I did as much standing  or hanging from something as I could, avoiding almost everything sitting or lying down like it was the scourge of humanity.   Clearly, I've had to adjust. 

Now I've had to do what I've spent years avoiding:  training like a dog.  I have to sit or lay down a lot more if I have any expectations of maintaining a (somewhat) daily regimen of sweat and pain.  I could just play dead and not train.   Yeah, that's not really my style. After all, it's just one leg that's screwed up.  So what if I can't squat?  I've still got my upper body intact.  That was what I thought after the first week of living on the couch while trying to rest my knee. I figured I could attack my weights with some of my original enthusiasm for muscular awareness via pain and suffering. 

That was a mistake.  After doubling up on what I planned on doing at the beginning of the workout, I could barely keep myself upright and moving on crutches.  I learned from that experience.  I have to try to leave something in the tank so I can at least move around afterwards.  After all, my upper body has to move the rest of me for the forseeable future and going too hard makes me move like a drunk afterwards.

Note to myself:  Don't get drunk when I'm still on crutches.  It'll make me move like I've done too much pressing. 

One issue with weights is that I can't use very imposing quantities of weight since I have to be mindful about how I can get it into position.  So, I am left with figuring out how to find stuff I can do that provides a challenge without a big chunk of weight.  So, I have to do mostly upper body stuff and embrace the concept of not going 115.625%.   So, what have I been doing?

Al Kavadlo has a good explanation of  this movement same place I scrounged this picture
 For some reason, when this all happened, Lat pullovers jumped into my head.  That struck me as a pretty comprehensive movement that I could do on the ground with a  kettlebell.  The pullover seems to be poised to make a comeback in popularity since I've been seeing people mention it a bit more here and there.  The pullover used to be an incredibly popular move back in the turn of the 20th century for weight trainers to get a barbell off the ground and into a position where they could do the equally-forgotten floor press.  Obviously, the rise in the popularity of the bench press prompted a receeding interest in the pullover, despite the fact that Frank Zane used this move religiously with legendary results.

Another that I thought of was a press variation that Zydrunas Savikas allegedly does where he sits down with this legs straight in front of him.  I had to modify that just a bit since I can't straighten my left leg even on the ground, but it worked out just the same.  I just put my larger sandbag under both my knees and press my smaller sandbag for higher reps.  The legs in front positioning makes smaller weights feel bigger than they are.  In other words, its a press variation that will wash the douchebag out of your system.  It's also good for getting rid of that bad habit of leaning back to get the weight overhead.  Getting your upper body more parallel to the ground will always make a press easier but it's not always spine-friendly.  Try that with this press variation and you'll end up flat on your back.

Bodyweight's a little different these days too.  Kewl trainer and gym owner Chip told me that I'd end up becoming a pull-up junkie with my leg being bad. He doesn't seem to have been wrong either.  Although I've shied away from going high volume.  I've re-examined oddball variations of pull-ups that limit me to moderate volume.  
  1. Typewriter/around the world pull-ups aka the most humiliating pull-up I attempt to do.  These are the ones that once getting to the top of the bar, you shift your bodyweight from one arm, over to the other, back to the middle, and down. 
  2. Swinger pull-ups...or the reason why I've torn every callus on my hands at least twice.  This is a dandy if you want to test grip strength on a regular thickness pull-up bar.  At the bottom of the pull-up, let go with one hand and hang there (or swing around if you want to) for a second before grabbing the bar, pulling up, and repeating the process with the other hand.  The only drawback is the sacrifices to the callus Gods that I make when I do this one.  Still, it's as much fun as it is brutal on the grip.
  3. Or, just a plain vanilla close-grip pull-up, slowing down the upwards pull, holding for a second at the top, then repeating the process. 
Regardless of which I do, I end up super-setting them with straight bar dips.  After all, the park where I'm set up working has a pull-up bar and then another bar next to it, lower to the ground.  I figured it was a natural for such a dip variation.  Besides, before this all went down, I had progressed to getting two muscle-ups in a row with a modest, non-Crossfit kip.  Clearly kipping is out of the question now but I figured straight bar dips might help me hold onto my muscle-up capabilities.  Time will tell. 
Another Al pic to the rescue...
I've tried to throw in a lot of work on my upper back and shoulders.  It's not simply because it's a part of my body that I can train without consequence to my knee.  I noticed that its almost unavoidable to not spend a lot of time leaning over in a slouched manner when you've got crutches.  So, I figured that this would help a little with my posture. 

Which brings me to something else that I wish had been explained to me in the hospital when I got my crutches:  how to adjust them properly!  If you ever find yourself in my position, never rest crutches in your armpits!  The pad are meant to be just below, around where lat begins to flare out.  So, adjust to that height.  Pinch that between your torso and your arms.  The handles should be adjusted so they are at the junction of the wrist and hands when your arms are at your sides.  If you spend any amount of time moving with crutches, do yourself a favor and thicken the handles up.  I used athletic tape on mine.  You can buy extra pads too for this purpose.

Overall, this all sucks and I eagerly await my surgery.  Life has to be adjusted accordingly and I spend a lot of time thinking about what I'm going to do before I have to do it since I don't move so well right now.   My training has followed suit.  It's not what I want to do but it's what I can do and I'm going to make the most of it.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Hey, I just realized that I haven't chimed in about prison workouts yet...

It's positively amazing how much working out in a place that most of us haven't been, nor want to go,  has become so unbelievable popular in the past seven years.  You can't visit a forum, buy fitness books, or avoid a web site about prison workouts.  Even I've contributed to this, lending some of my fingertip push-up pictures to Convict Conditioning 2 (which, in my opinion, is more than enough reason to buy the book but maybe I'm biased). 

Full disclosure:  I've never been to prison, just like most of the people writing about prison workouts.  I do have some perspective on the topic.  Somehow, I've got  knack for befriending prison guards and ex-convicts alike.  My brother in-law is prison guard, as well as two good friends also work in corrections.  I've got one good friend and had at least five ex-employees that have done time in jail.   They all know that I'm a basement gorilla so we've all talked about working out.  This is what I've learned about working out in jail from them. 

First of all, just about ALL prisoners work out.  Very rarely do they get as huge and as intimidating as Charles Bronson is.  It's a way to pass the time.  Most of them do push-ups and crunches.  Lots of them.  So many, in fact, that they swear off crunches and push-ups when they get out.  Chances are if they weren't big into working out before they went to jail, they won't be big into it after jail.  Their level of sophistication with bodyweight training hinges on this fact.  One of the guys I used to work who spent too much time in and out of jail couldn't even do a pull-up. 

How big guys get in jail from working out is exactly the same as how big you get working out outside of jail:  how much food you eat.  It's not so simple to get surplus food in jail.  One of those guys who spent time in jail that I used to work with worked in the kitchen.  According to him, it was the most sought-after job in jail.  He gained 20 lbs in jail because he had access to extra food.  He was fond of training with 5 gallon pails, left over from the kitchen,  loaded with water or sand to work out.  He did a lot of shrugs, high pulls, curls, and farmers walking with pails. 

A prison guard friend of mine told me about another novel way that prisoners get extra food:  they trade it for blowjobs.  I thought he was joking.  He wasn't.  They can tell when they do a search of a con's cell and they find a bunch of extra food that they're not supposed to have and couldn't afford to buy.  If they don't cause trouble, then they get to keep it.  Awfully nice of them since they don't call it a job for no reason. 
 Worth swallowing cum for?  Yeah, prison sucks. 
Getting back to the exercise thing, just about every ex-con I ever knew had one thing in common:  prison training left them with the prototypical massive upper body with the tiny chicken legs.  The reason was explained by two different ex-employees where I work.  In jail, they spend a lot of time shirtless.  Having a massive upper body is key to showing that you're not one to be messed with.  It's also the reason why they get tattoos on their chest.  One guy told me that if you see a guy with a sloppy, obviously free-handed tattoo on their chest, chances are good that they spent time in jail.   So there is a heavily lopsided focus on the arms, chest and shoulders.  Some will even go to the extent of pumping themselves up before going out to the prison yard to look more intimidating.
Access to equipment is inconsistent and scattered.  It's not common for most prisons to have those beautiful, full equipped and furnished gyms that people complain about when they say that prison is getting too cushy these days.  Gym equipment is an unnecessary expense to a government agency that doesn't often get a lot of disposable budget money to work with.  From what I've heard, a lot of the equipment that ends up in jails is simply the stuff that commercial gyms are just trying to get rid of after they upgrade their equipment.  They'll simply donate it.  That's what ends up in jail:  the stuff you don't want to use anymore. 

While it's not considered a necessary budget item by prison bureau bean counters, the guards doing the dirty work generally like having gym equipment for the prisoners to use.  The same guy that told me about the entrepreneurial jail house food traders also introduced me to an interesting term: behavioral modification tools.   Basically, the guards use access to the gym as a reward for prisoners behaving themselves.  If they're good, then they get to use the gym.  This was about the time that he told me what all of my friends in corrections tell me:  when you're a prison guard, you're largely a glorified baby sitter. 

I had to ask if there was any truth to the whole notion of guards getting worried that prisoners work out to the point where they get too powerful to effectively control.  As it turned out, that was another myth.  As I said above, most guys who are huge in jail were huge outside of jail.  It was explained to me that con-control wasn't done with one guard trying to subdue one inmate.  It's usually several guards subduing one unruly inmate and few prisoners ever get strong enough to overpower five guards with batons and pepper spray. 

This is about the extent of what I know about working out in jail and unless I hear it second hand, that's all I'll ever find out about the topic.  While it's interesting to find out the extent that people with little access to so much of the stuff the modern fitness world considers necessary to get in shape can develop themselves, I'm not in a burning rush to emulate everything they do these days in jail.  Based on what I've gleaned from talking about prison work outs, it's an awful lot like just about every other strength click:  they do some things right and do other things wrong.  The minimalism is the take-away from their training.  You really don't need much to get strong.