Sunday, December 28, 2014

Upping My Axle Deadlifts

It's unknown to me if I got a bastardized version of the Armstrong Pull-up program or I bastardized it in my own, twisted head.  Either way, that was my first exposure to the notion of a pyramid set way back in 2006-2007.  Pyramid sets seem to be used in two ways.  The first uses weights and involves using lighter weights for higher reps.  Then, you increase the weight and drop the number of reps. The bodyweight version is simply to increase the reps in the set until you fail to hit the last number of reps in the last set.  I used it back in 2007 frequently with pull-ups.  While I didn't dramatically increase my single-set rep count, I did manage to maintain as I bulked up from 157 lbs to 180 lbs.

So, where did I bastardize the Armstrong thing (and pyramid setting)?  I added a drop set to the fun.  In other words, when I hit my max set, I would work my way back down doing the same sets that I used to work up to the max set.  I've done this with weights before as well just BW.  The latter formed one of my favorite, pressed-for-time and short on equipment that can be found here

Like I said, I don't know if this was innocent, bad recollection or my training-obsessed mind just looking to squeeze a lot of work into a bit of time.  Neither would surprise me

So, the Armstrong Program has been floating around for so long that it got its own web site not too long ago.  It seems to be that popular.  Other than that, pyramid setting seems to be relegated to the dust bin of the training universe, along with lat pull-overs and hyperextensions.  Like these two, there doesn't seem to be a good answer as to why. 

Florida's Strongest Man...and Deadlifts
Just like The Dungeon Spring Break Classic, Brevard, and the Bacon Beatdown strongman competitions, I had to forego doing Florida's Strongest Man.  Work and my body don't cooperate very often.  I suspected that this could happen but I trained for this competition as though I was going to do it just the same.  Among the events was a 325 lbs axle deadlift, for most reps, in one minute.  My previous deadlifting prowess was abysmal.  I just don't get much opportunity to train this lift.  So, I had to build up my numbers, and fast.  This show was only two months after my first show, and it was a heavy one.  So, I elected to pull the idea of pyramid-drop set hybrid out of my bag of tricks, turning my sunday in to my deadlift training days. 

Am I really going to Blog about DEADLIFTING???
Yeah, I know, by blogging about what amounts to my deadlift program, I'm about to jump into such crowded, mucky swamp of vanilla-like uniformity with the rest of the mostly-shitty strength training sites.  Just about all of them have a deadlift program.  Plus, I've generally sworn to not be like everyone else.  Still, I'm going there because:
  1. I tried it. 
  2. It worked.
  3. I appears that nobody else did it like this
Still, with strongman competitions increasingly becoming more alike one another (god forbid), you'll likely run across an axle deadlift event for reps, if strongman competition is your fancy.  After all, axle deadlift is cheap and fast to set-up.  Unfortunately, poverty and time constraints don't inspire the same creativity for strength sports that the do for me. 

So, the first thing I found out in those seven weeks was that the total volume worked best if kept to a total of 40-50 reps of deadlifting (excluding some warm-up sets; of which I don't do many).  I don't know why that was. It just worked out ridiculously well.  I made very regular progress.  I don't keep records either.  I do remember that the pyramid-drop sets looked something like this:
  1. 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-6-5-4-3-2-1
  2. 2-4-6-8-10-8-6-4-2
  3. 3-6-9-12-9-6-3
How well did this work?  Well, as I lamented above, I didn't get a chance to do the competition.  My friend, who has been competing for six years, told me 15 reps in this event would probably put me in contention to win the event.  The day of the show, I had such a burning desire to figure out what I could do in a minute.  So, I tested myself and this is what I came up with:
 
 
 
Now, keep in mind when I first started doing this after Tampa, I was only doing 315 lbs for 6 reps!   I have no idea how the rest of the show would have affected my deadlift performance.  This is all I have to go off of and I banged out 17 reps in a minute.  That would have tied me for second place in that event.  The guy who also got 17 reps, a friend of mine who I affectionately call "Rabbi,"  outweighs me by a very noticeable margin. 
 
The winner of the event got 21 reps.  FUCK!
 
But what about accessory work?

Fuck, do I really have go into that too???  Well, what is a deadlift program without accessory work, I guess.  Yes, I did have some guidelines for that too. Even at 50 reps, give or take, this deadlifting generally fried my spinal erector muscles.  So I chose two accessory lifts, one upper body and the other lower body.  Neither of these lifts would hit the lower back. 
 
For my upper body lift, I'd usually do pendalay rows with the axle.  After all, I had the bar already loaded.  I also did weighted pull-ups and bent presses (I can't be that normal) on occasion. rep ranges on the Pendalays were 5-7 reps.  Pull-ups were 10-15 reps.  The bent presses were two reps per side (lots of time under tension with just two reps).  All were done 3-6 sets. 
 
For the lower body, I grabbed two kettlebells (or a T-handle) and did swings.  15-20 reps for 4 sets.  I also stumbled onto this sort of sumo deadlift-squat hybrid that I have no idea what the name of it is.  It's right here, about 30 seconds in...
 
I'd also do that for about the same rep range as the swings.  Frankly, anything that hit the hamstrings and glutes will work well; just avoid hitting the lower back muscles again.  Remember, hit the upper body after the pyramid-drop set and then do the lower body stuff afterwards. 
 
That's as close as you're ever going to get to me being conventional in a blog entry with a "program"  for a long, long time hopefully.  It's also the most concrete proof I've found that this rep scheme works extremely well for popping up reps in a surprisingly shot period of time.  Frankly, it's so much fun for me that I'm still doing it on my deadlift Sundays.  My most recent exploit was 350 lbs for 8 reps.  That used to be my max three years ago when I started deadlifting.  This whole rep scheme just shows that you need to keep  your eyes and your mind open to many different training protocols, even if it's from the Bodyweight Crowd. 
 
"Rabbi"...Nice job, chico!
 
 


Friday, November 14, 2014

Building a Base

He takes his time, pondering the barbell on the rack.  Stalking around with an attempt at a self-assured swagger.  He pays meticulous attention to putting his belt.  He checks the tension carefully as he puts on his wrist wraps.  He chalks his hands up thoroughly so as to make sure that even the spaces between his fingers are dry and ready for the big lift.  He sets up the camera to catch the big moment.  Five minutes of preparation come down to this one, singular moment in the cage. 
 
ALL OF THIS WAS FOR A 120 LBS PRESS! 



Since I joined a gym, for the first time in nearly 14 years, I've seen such scenarios played out constantly by 20-something kids in between these walls with stunning regularity.  While I understand, and I try to keep in mind, that everyone starts somewhere, there's something missing in each of these over-suited up millenials struggling with baby-weights that I've seen grown women of average levels of fitness achieve.  It's what my buddy in the gym and I both agree on as we watch the above-mentioned man-child who wraps his wrists up for stability for the big push and follows up his press workout with pinch grip training lacks:  a complete lack of a base. 
 
He's not the first veteran lifter that I've heard complain that too many aspiring gym rats have no good training base anymore.  With the proliferation of the internet experts that read everything on Elite FTS and T-Nation but can't actually bring themselves to do a two-plate squat to proper depth, there's an ever-increasing pile of meat bags in nice gym clothing who are going to provide the fitness gym industry with a nice revenue stream of easy money.  They just don't get it and I think my buddy and I lament that at the rate they're going, they never will. 
 
So they need a base, but it got me thinking we chatted this up:  what exactly is a good base?  We threw a few ideas about the strength training horror-comedy show before us.  Still, it was an abbreviated conversation before we went our separate ways for the night. 
 
In the interest of making this constructive criticism (something tells me this person reads the blog and may be able to put together that I'm talking about him) since not trying to solve a problem while talking about it incessantly is nothing more than gossip, I decided to put my thoughts down as to what I think constitutes a good base for strength training. 
 
It isn't necessarily exercise selection...
Look up any article resembling building a good base for strength and I can almost guarantee you that you'll get some sort of list of exercises that are good for building a base of strength.  The problem is that most of these lists are lifts that I've almost never done on a regular basis since starting on this path almost a decade and a half ago.  Frankly, they're almost always competitive lifts for sports that I've never done and likely never will do.  Just because they're the basis of a strength sport doesn't make them the best base for all efforts to build strength.  There's a difference that's lost on lots of base-builders. 
 
Rather than rattle off specific exercises, I'd just rather simply leave it at making sure that you make sure to throw in some good pushing and pulling exercises, both for the upper body and lower body first and foremost.  Next, make sure there's some work for your midsection.  All of it (rectus abdominals, obliques, spinal erectors, and hip muscles).  Don't forget to get a dash of exercises that force your body to move rotationally.  Some carrying, dragging, and pulling of weights is also a remarkably good, simple-to-learn and easy way to build strength and conditioning. 
 
As long as you hit those categories up with some regularity, you should build a good beginner strength.  Don't think because I'm doing strongman and lifting weights more regularly that I believe that a good chunk of this can't be bodyweight.  I used BW-only for years and it got me to where I am now.  I wasn't doing specific events, I could easily be using handstand push-ups and pull-ups for strength training and get challenges out them. 
 
  ...But it is about doing as much of it as possible!
I've flat-out said that people take too much rest in between sets during workouts in a past entry.  That criticism also applies to our above-"lifter" taking five minutes to prepare for a tragically modest overhead press.  It shouldn't take that long BECAUSE HE SHOULDN'T NEED A LIFTING BELT AND WRIST WRAPS TO DO A PRESS LIKE THAT.  Since I'm too busy to determine if this was a max effort lift (I certainly hope it wasn't, this is not a small kid) I'll assume with such a modest amount of weight, it wasn't.  So, this stuff isn't helping make him stronger but allowing him to stay weak. 
 
Yes, support gear probably has it's place when approaching maximum strength lifts where the boundaries of the human body.  If properly used in conjunction with the body , it does help protect and strengthen during a lift.  Improperly used, it becomes a cast that does the work for the body.  If someone's building a base, then these implements have no use. 
 
While I abhor using high reps in bodyweight training in perpetuity, and I have for several years, I do admit that at the beginning, it definitely assisted in my ability to do more work.  The more work I could do, the closer I could get to maximum strength efforts without issues.  I have few doubts that all of my BW training helped may ability to handle large training volume, made my midsection (particularly my abdominals) powerful, bullet-proofed my shoulders and developed my grip. 

Ultimately, I think it's important to cultivate the ability to do a lot of work before doing a lot of maximum-effort work. 
 
One of my slices of broscience cake that I fed to the world years ago was that if you develop strong hips, shoulders and grip, you'll be a powerful person.  While I may not have done everything right in training to transition to strongman work (who does?) I do feel that since I had those three, combined with good work capacity, I was off to a good start.
 
Combined with HAVNG THE RIGHT FRAME OF MIND
Simply put:  too many people in the gym are just not comfortable with being uncomfortable.  That's why modern gyms look like they've been child-proofed by an OCD mother who just stole a foam padding truck.  The insistence with pristine skin isn't the only sign that people don't like to be uncomfortable in the gym.  The simple fact that our strength training-grasshopper  took five minutes to do a 120 lbs says it all.  He had no rush to get to lifting and he had no desire to push himself to lift with any sort of purpose.  Instead, bullshitting with others and playing compulsively with a phone were all so much more...comfortable. 
 
It takes time to adjust to forcing the body to do things that are intense and uncomfortable.  Still, that's what it takes to be good at training.  It also doesn't hurt if you learn to enjoy the process of training.  That's why I'm such a wing nut with my strength training movement selections.  I enjoy lifting weird objects in different ways.  As long as I do it with intensity and purpose, I still get strong.  Not everything has to be deadlift, bench and squat.  If you get strong while enjoying what you're doing, then who cares how you did it?  That will go a long way towards doing it with conviction. 

Of course, this all has to be combined with good food and rest.  Base building is pointless if those two parts aren't in order.  After all, at best, you may only have 45 minutes per day to devote to training.  While you can get a lot done in that time frame, it will be unraveled if the other 23 hours and 15 minutes of the day don't do something to support that other 3/4-hour. 

Hopefully this skull of mush gets his shit together and gets his training sorted out sooner or later.  Since this initial lift, I've offered whatever advice/words that I've seen relevant to him at key training times.  After all, without a solution to criticism, then it's all mean-girl-like complaining and gossip with gym clothing and body odor.  With a little luck,  these millenials will figure what a good base is all out. 
 
 
 
 


Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Got a Minute? Let's talk about timing and your training...



No, I'm not writing an article about how he got so big, especially since he hasn't told anyone how he did it...
For the readers who have seen both, "The Dark Knight," and the, "The Dark Knight Rises," I've got a question for you:  which of these movies was longer?  As a die-hard fan of anything that Christopher Nolan directs, I eagerly anticipated, and thoroughly adored, both movies.  However, I was baffled by one, common criticism of the last one:  the movie felt too long.  That question was a little bit of a trick question.  The Dark Knight Rises is only about ten minutes longer.  Christopher Nolan simply manipulated the timeline of events in the Dark Knight much more than the Dark Knight Rises.  So, since the story line wasn't being told in order, it seemed shorter than it really was. 

Christopher Nolan is widely regarded as a pioneer in movie making for his ability for juggling multiple timelines on film, making him a master at manipulating the feeling of time in movies.  That's a skill so few who try to build their bodies (rather than movies) seem good at. 

If anything, the sense of timing in training is totally screwed up.  People seem to have no idea when to rush and when to wait.  Patience is horribly mis-applied.  This poorly-manipulated use of rushing and patience is something that I see frequently screwing up routines in the short term and goals over a longer period of time.  While I will throw an Atlas stone at any reader who dares call me an expert, I think I've got my sense of timing down when it comes to my training.  I think it's about time someone sort this all out. 

Time Between Sets
This should be pretty simple but people love sticking their faces in the mud, opening their eyes, and looking for an answer:  rest as much as you need to and no more than that.  Maybe it's because people try to oversimplify, trying to find a rest period that's good for all movements.  The news flash for these people is that there isn't one.  You'll need more rest between maximum effort lifts. You'll use less for conditioning routines. You'll want to be a bit more generous on new movements so you can learn them rather than build strength out of them.  The less technical a movement usually requires less rest. 

Whatever you're doing or what you're looking to achieve out of it, just get enough rest out of the time between sets so you can do your next set.  No more than that.  If you need more than five minutes between sets you're either doing something that is far beyond your physical capabilities or you're just plain, fucking wasting your time by being lazy or unfocused.  Feelings of passing out and vomiting, or trying to make a joint work right after you did too much, are as much of a waste of time as chatting with other gym lazy-asses (like yourself) while posting selfies that nobody cares about to Instagram.  You're in the gym to move.  So, do whatever you can to keep yourself moving.  When you look to move as much as possible, you'll need some rest.  Take it since it's needed to keep yourself going.  Then go. 

Time to Reach Your Goals
In a short period of time, you're likely to hear an interview I did where I stress the overwhelming significance of being patient when reaching strength and fitness goals.  While I generally walk around my gym pushing millenials to get their asses moving and, you know, maybe exercise once every five minutes, I can't stand it when people are in a huge rush to become 500 lbs deadlifters, first place strongmen-competitors, or get 18" arms.  I agree that the majority of fitness and strength rules are pretty bendable.  One that I firmly believe isn't is that anything worthwhile transformation with your body will take time.  By time, I mean months and years.  Everything from fat loss to muscle and strength gain has to be done with the same amount of time you'll do in jail if you commit a felony. 

When I tried to gain some muscle mass seven years ago, it took me 9 months to put on 27 lbs of muscle.  I did it again this year and it took me six months to put on 15 lbs.  When I wanted to start bent pressing back in 2009, I started out with a 35 lbs kettlebell.  After five years, I'm started bent pressing a 150 lbs sandbag.  I had to wait nearly one year after I got it in my head to do my first strongman competition. 

If you look at the majority of the people who are telling  you that you can get results fast are either trying to sell you something or sell you on the notion that they are so much more awesome than you are.  Both are equally full of shit.  In between exercises, life is going on.  That alone is going to divert attention away from your goals.  You need time to learn how to do things right.  You need rest that you may not always get.  Then, there's the fact that a body will come up with reasons to resist changes in its current state.  You'll have to force yourself through all that. 

So, the takeaway from this is all pretty simple.  Make haste with your workouts and patiently wait for the results. 



Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Fall, get up, finish, learn something and don't forget to have some fun: Recapping my First Strongman Competition

If I had to join a gym, I was at least going to join one that kind of matched my sprained personality along with my disgust of cardio equipment even if an exercise bike was what I was joining the gym for in the first place.  As part of my ACL physical therapy, I needed to ride an exercise bike, forwards and backwards, for 15-30 minutes a day.  While that's about as fun to me as drinking gasoline, it's PT.  I didn't have to like it.  I just had to do it.

The Dungeon Gym had three cardio machines and the rest is weights and strength training equipment.  That equipment line-up runs parallel to my training belief system.  You go there to lift.  Most of the crew there were getting into strongman training and that training, as I sadly peddled my knee back into use, rubbed off on me.  As I progressed in PT, the notion of joining my new crew of friends in strongman became a thought and goal that propelled me along with my training. 

After a year, I finally got the opportunity to achieve that goal.   Last Saturday, I did my first strongman competition in Tampa, Florida, taking 6th in the Novice Division. 
 
Over the past year, I've acquired a reputation for my unfiltered jokes and my wildly unconventional approach to strength training.  My cohorts in chalk and sweat shouldn't have been surprised that I'd rolled up in Clearwater sporting these sunglasses. That guy in the middle is my dear friend Richard. He's as conventional in the gym as I am crazy.  I was so overjoyed to be here with him.  I was overjoyed just to be here.  It's been a long, long struggle to get to a point where I felt like I could take my body to such a proving grounds.  While I wanted to do well, I was also here to have some fun.  In my typical, inappropriate fashion, that's what I was setting out to do.
 
Who need steroids when you eat these kind of sandwiches?

Training for this show had it's ups and downs.  One of the major downsides, naturally, was my lower body training.  My knee PT was generally successful save for one issue:  My left knee doesn't hyperextend like it supposed to.  So, my lifting with my lower body was slighty uneven, my right legs moving faster and working more than the left.  This eventually led to a carousel of lumbar disc irritation and issues an IT band tightness.  Plus, any movement that forced a lot of hamstring activation would leave my bad knee sore for the next day or so.  Long story made short:  my heavy squat work was minimal for much of the summer and I zeroed out on the Hummer Tire squat.



My friend, who was also competing, said it best:  shake it off, it didn't happen.  Move on!
 

 
Which I ended up doing with some success in the next event:  a car deadlift hold for time, head-to-head with another competitor.  That competitor turned out to be a guy named Bryan.  I ended up beating him by a grand total of .06 seconds.  The humor wasn't lost on either of us as we did the dude embrace after finishing.  While most of my leg training was suboptimal for months at a time, the one thing that worked really well was barbell hack squatting.  This movement that I regularly did was a pretty close approximation to a car deadlift.  In reality, a car deadlift is more of a squat anyway. 


I sprinted over to my lane.  Bryan looked at me like I was nuts. 
I wasn't too far behind him...
That .06 second difference basically turned Bryan and I into short term rivals.  We went head-to-head on the medley run (225 lbs farmers handles, 180 lbs yoke, 250 lbs power stair, 125 lbs dumbbell press, chain press).  Had I not been so amped up on nerve juice and anticipation for my favorite event to train, I might have taken note that one of the farmers handle kept rolling away from me.  At least I would have realized that the pavement on that side that I was about to step into had a slight depression right off the starting pads.  As soon as I took a step into it, I fell with the handles.  Other than a scrapped elbow and jamming the tip of my thumb, I got back to my feet and managed to catch up with Bryan a little bit. 

 That's when inexperience and nerve juice got the better of me. I exploded off the ground with the yoke, locking it out and steadying it with surprising ease.  Unfortunately, I missed the down command and kept moving.  I had to go back and do it. 

...Now I am

 
 
 

Nobody knew what to make of this.  Apparently, someone wanted to have me disqualified
I missed one.  Just not this one.  The crowd went nuts!


"you're a fast little shit!"  Bryan
Bryan later told me that he was stunned when he saw me just behind him on the dumbbell press.  He figured that my redo on the yoke press combined with the power stair would give him an advantage.  Unfortunately, that wasn't the case.  While we both missed our first attempts with the circus Dumbbell (Bryan has some elbow issues; my jammed thumb weakened my grip on the dumbbell), I pulled ahead, throwing the Crossfit-like chain press easily and again edging him out. 

The last event I figured to be my strongest event:  keg tossing over a 13' bar (Four Quarter-kegs.  20, 25, 30 and 35 lbs).  What I didn't figure was how good everyone else would be.  I threw just before Bryan, who I didn't realize was a Highland Games thrower.  He one-handed his way through those fuckers in just over 21 seconds. 

 I drilled the hell out of the throws.  I regularly did heavy T-handle swings, double Kettlebell swings, and throws with my Alpha Strong Sandbag (40 lbs).  I got off to a very hot start, throwing the first three kegs 3-4' over the bar in around 18 seconds.  However, inexperience got the better of me.  As I was throwing,  I stopped taking the two steps backwards to get into a good position to throw the keg.  By the time I got to the 35 lbs, I was throwing too far away and my last keg bounced off the pole, forcing me to redo the throw and coming away with a 26 second finish time.  

 
 
 
Initially, I heard that I had came in 4th place.  After a few days, when the scores were finally posted, I had to readjust to just missing the top three.  While I told myself that I just wanted to have some fun and simply being able to do this was reward unto itself, I'm still a competitive person.  I couldn't simply just go to participate.  There's a part of me that wanted to win, even if I was cognizant of the fact that it may be unlikely on my first competition since I was going in knowing that my squatting practice had been marginal and thoroughly sub-par (I also had tweaked my lower back the week of the competition.  I spent the entire week trying to get rid of the back pain, which I did succeed at). 
 
What was particularly galling about the tire squats was that I previously trained for these back in April for another show that I wasn't able to do in Florida, hitting 350 lbs for two, 385 lbs for one, and narrowly missing 405 lbs.  So, failing at 365 lbs proved that I lost leg strength in the course of six months.  Still, I've gotten in front of the IT band syndrome and hitting the hyperextensions served the dual purpose of helping get my left knee closer to natural hyperextension and strengthening my lower back muscles.  I trust that if I get my knee to do that, most of my back and IT problems will dissipate.
 
The rest of my errors I felt were a combination of inexperience and nerves.  I will never do a moving event without checking the surface I'm walking on first.  Ever.  That fall cost me both on the farmers handles and the circus dumbbell.  I also should have paid closer attention to my down calls.  Finally, I need to make sure that I take the needed two steps back on my keg tosses.  The winner of the novice division, Alex, also pointed out something I hadn't thought of:  after asking me if I knew I could clear the bar with my throws (which I knew I could) why watch and see if they were going to clear?  That could have shaved some time off too. 
 
Still, there were bright points to take note of:
  • I correctly surmised that a barbell hack squat was likely to be very similar to a car deadlift.  As a result, the car went up pretty easily. 
  • Getting the farmers handles were initially a problem for me in training since I did so little heavy deadlifting due to my back.  So, what I did do instead was practice lighter deficit deadlifts and deficit-deadlifts with chains.  As a result, I was able to get the handles off the ground and do it reasonably quick. 
  • Despite some problems with the yoke in training, I mastered squatting underneath it and pressing as I drove upwards.  This made my two yoke presses fast.  I also correctly surmised that regular squat-pressing would aid in this.
  • While my thumb screwed with my grip on the circus dumbbell press, I still nailed it.  I'd been practicing this for over a year and this one implement in the medley finished the medley for 4 of the 10 competitors. 
  • Inexplicably, I didn't meet anyone who used swings to training for throwing kegs. Someone must have! Lots of the competitors needed start the keg at eye level in order to get the extra momentum to get the keg over the bar.  After months of swinging 100-150 lbs of weights, I started most of my throws at my knees.  Even that may have been unnecessary. 
 

I suppose I can only be so hard on myself.  This picture is about 13 months old. 
 
So, after popping my strongman cherry after a year of conceiving of doing such a competition, I'm tentatively setting my sites on Florida's Strongest man in Davenport, FL.  Overall, this day will go down as one of the best in my life and I couldn't be happier to take part.  

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Bench Pressing again...

The comment about mastering the pushup will make you rival or surpass any body builder or power lifter is so stupid. If this were the case every body builder and power lifter would be doing pushups instead of lifting weights. Even Body builders and power lifters train quite differently from each other. One utilizing Rep range from 8 -15 the other rep range 1-6. This whole functional strength argument is stupid too, to say someone that lifts weights isn't functionally strong? How is a pushup any more functional? If your building a house, carrying a baby, or doing garden work dropping down and doing 20 isn't going to help any more than bench press. I'd wager that most people that workout do it to look better and feel better. If your goals are to just generally be in better shape sure go for the pushup. It's even challenging enough for most new people to build some decent size and strength, but if you want the earth to move when you walk, the ability to push trees over, and for people to make sculptures of your body you better stack on some weights. -Brent
That fateful post from nearly seven years ago now still draws views and comments to my blog...

 
 
Things have changed over those years.  While I do look back on some of my old posts and sometimes find my past self outright wrong on a few occasions, this post still stands up.  Much of what I think about the bench press vs. the push up hasn't really changed all of that much.  There might be a very good reason for that.  That reason is that, in a lot of ways, the bench press encapsulates much of what I don't like about the strength training subculture that I inhabit. 
 
First, the bench press needs very specific stuff to perform.  You have to have a bench, a barbell and plates, sometimes lots of them.  In other words, you have to have a gym set-up in order to do it.  So much of what I do is based on the premise that you don't need a gym to work out in the first place.  Benching anchors you to the gym if you insist on doing it.
 
There are lots of people insist on doing it.  As I've ventured into strongman training, I've noticed that lots of people migrate over to it from powerlifting.  Some strongmen, in turn, seem to take a shocking amount of programming tips from powerlifting.   What lots of people therefore don't get is that working the chest doesn't simply mean doing the bench press.  I've said it before:  the pectoral major muscles are extremely versatile.  Any movement that requires moving your arms in front of your body back towards your centerline is using them.  So, you don't need to be glued to one movement that, in turn, glues you to the gym.  Since I have an aversion to being intentionally stuck to a physical location to train, you can bet your ass I have a problem being married to one movement, especially one that I hate that's part of a competition of have no desire to participate.
 
Frankly, there is NO GOOD REASON to be so glued to the bench press.  It's an incomplete upper body-push movement anyway.  If done by itself, it doesn't develop the shoulder and chest muscles in a balanced manner.  Push-ups can and do, which is why I prefer them (weighted these days).  One thing that some strongmen do get right is they move the bench press to an accessory movement to the overhead press.  There are a mess of chest exercises out there any why the more incomplete ones got selected as the go-to for chest training just boggles my mind. 
 
To top it all off, as I said above,  I just don't really enjoy bench pressing.  I don't really have a rhyme or reason for that other than it just isn't a compelling lift for me.  So, since I don't enjoy then why should I do it?  After all, it's not a lift in any competition that I'll ever do.  I can do others to get  complete upper body development.  Plus, I don't need to be at a gym that, aside from the past two years, I have extremely limited access to.  At the end of the day, there are more practical lifts for me to consume my time with.  I'll just stick to those. 
 
 
 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Check your special shoes at the door and get your head right

I should have been finishing up dead-last in the group, looking like a pasty weakling.   At 195 lbs, minimal direct strongman training experience, only two months of regular leg training, and a pair of totally gripless Chuck Taylor shoes I shouldn't have been doing much to write home about with a 12,000 lbs truck pull.  This was my second time ever attempting one...

While my technique was as ugly as I am stunningly handsome, on my second pull I tugged out the second best time of the day out of the group.  I ended up beating one of my best buddies at the gym by two seconds.  With his extra 30 lbs of extra weight, more strongman training experience, and a brand new set of rock climbing shoes to that savvy strongmen competitors utilize on truck pulling he should have left buried me. 

Questions about what shoes to use with what kind of lifting and training seem to come up as often as Kardashians show up in the public consciousness.  Like the Kardashians, as far as I'm concerned, they pop up far, FAR too often.  This has to be part of a larger marketing conspiracy that exploded way back in the 1980's when Nike teamed up with Michael Jordon and created the illusion that somehow shoes were the key to peak athletic performance.  Strength training chicanery simply must have followed suit. 

I mostly train with Chuck Taylors for two key reasons:  they're cheap and they're what I have.  With my limited funds and my near-constant traveling, I'm forced into strength training minimalism largely by necessity.  That has drawbacks that I largely don't mind.  Just like growing up poor teaches you more about living life than growing up privileged, training with nothing will teach force someone to make more out of less. 

As we were all playing around with pulling a truck, many of the guys in the group struggled with driving with their legs because they were up too far on their toes.  I explained to everyone that they need to think of their feet like their hands and get a good grip on the ground by making sure that with each step by planting as much of their foot on the ground (balls and toes of the foot) with each step.

Ever heard of chip-coated pavement?  It's pretty much gravel with not enough tar to call it real asphalt.  In other words, it's a little loose.  That's what I was pushing this truck on.  Either I get my footing right or put my teeth into the bumper when I slip!
 
I learned this from pushing work trucks in lousy driveways...wearing my Chucks.  Push heavy weights on such an unforgivingly-loose surface with a shoe that has does you no favors will force you to plant your feet one way:  the right way.  What would rock climbing shoes have done to fix that? 
I'm not completely slamming specialized shoes, or anything else for that matter in aiding weight training.  Where I in a competition and I had the means to buy a special pair of shoe for every event to maximize my chances of winning, I'd certainly do it!

Your work-out gear doesn't make you strong.  It didn't make Michael Jordon one of the most legendary athletes of all time and it won't make you fantastically strong.  Your head and your body are responsible for that.  If you don't have those two things in check then the only thing that your shoes buy you is credit card debt. 

SO TRAIN AND STOP WORRYING ABOUT SHIT THAT DOESN'T MATTER.
    

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Two of my Favorite gym equipment hacks

As soon as a crash-landed in a real gym way back in September, I quickly gained a reputation as being an unusual, unconventional, and just outright crazy guy in the gym.  Free from any restraints of being in a lifting sport at the moment and enriched with a decade, or so, of strength training improvisation I look at things differently.  These are a few tricks of my trade that I've employed lately.

Fat Gripz...or just thick grip training
It's easily been years since I've done anything resembling a normal-diameter bar for pull-ups with any regularity.  I've avoided them like I had an allergy to them...if I've even used a bar at all.  Venture far enough into this blog and you'll find numerous example of me using towels, balls, ropes, suspension rigs, or just a plain thick bar to do pull-ups with.  Early on in my training I developed a rich respect for training with some sort of grip challenge and couldn't conceive of a week going by without one. 

While I love adding grip challenges into my training, I only do grip training only when I can do no other form of work (ie:  CoC training when I'm in a plane or car).  At this point of life, I've got  a house falling apart and a child to make sure doesn't turn into a misbehaved, rabid baby gorilla in the manners department grip training-only isn't the most judicious use of my precious training time. 

I've been asked in the gym before how to train my grip.  Too many go out of their way to avoid using their hands in any meaningful manner and then ponder why they can't do shit when they're not sitting on comfortably-padded piece of a machinery.

The antidote is simple:  get some fat gripz.  I long avoided buying these because I never actually had a pair in my hands.  On their web site, they look like some sort of cheap shit, even when not deforming under the pressure of weight plates.
Yes, they are tougher than they look

That was a horrible misconception.  I tried a pair in Florida and loved them so much for months that I bumped up to the Extremes as soon as they became available.  They recommend these only if you have a lot of experience with standard fat gripping work (2-2 3/8" diameter) and I cannot disagree with that.  The big boys are brOOtal!  They sliced my Pull-ups from 20 reps on a 2 3/8" bar down to 13!  They also make a barbell curl with a set of plates stupid-difficult.  The latter makes a great stupid human challenge in a gym. 
Frankly, they are so humiliating to use that I refuse to be photographed with the stupid-small amounts of weight I can use while working out with them. 
Anyway, if you've got a light night with a particular movement then consider throwing some sort of grip challenge element into the training mixture.  Another advantage that few know about to fat grip work is that it's also easier on your calluses.  The fat handle's increased surface area won't put nearly the pressure on your precious hand skin and reduces the likelihood of a tear.   Should you tear a callus, super glue it back on, go back to bed, and the next day do some work in the gym with thick bar training. 

Or if your gym has a thick bar, then use it.  Look for ways to add grip work in anywhere you see an opening for it. 

25 lbs Plates
Next to using a stack of 5 lbs bumper plates on a barbell to hide the fact that you're weaker than a prepubescent girl, using 25 lbs plates when you could use 45's is the most reliable manner to look like a gym-douche.  Still, that's exactly what I did for the bulk of my squat work after coming off my ACL rehab work. 

...and I was picked on in a corresponding manner for using them. 

My choice squats these days have been belt squats and Zercher lifting (Deadlift-to-zercher squat...and back again).  For both of these lifts, I use a  prodigious stack of 25 lbs plates for one simple reason:  they're shorter than 45's.  While the few true adherents to squatting  (and generally shun off the leg press as an acceptable squat substitute) can't seem to step away from the squat cage, I enthusiastically start my barbells on the floor.  The shorter plates start everything lower, thus adding much-needed depth to belt squatting and creating a deficit for the deadlift portion of the Zercher lift. I've also used these for lateral/hockey deadlifts and barbell hack squats as well. 
Belt squatting.  This actually made my knee feel good while getting some quad strength back!
 
Or, they could be used for a conventional deficit deadlift.  If memory serves me correctly, you can get about 350 lbs on a bar with just quarter plates.  My hamstrings are still shit from lack of training due to my knee that led to some muscle tightness and imbalance that culminated in an irritated disc in my lumbar spine.  So, my hamstrings are crying for stimulation and this was their way of throwing a fit at me.  So, I've tried to wring as much hamstring action out of the conventional deadlift by doing them in medium volume with 25 lbs plates.  It's been sore going but it's working. 

What is comprehensible to me about gyms is how needlessly dogmatic everyone can be about how they train and what they train with.  There is as little deviation from norms as there is hell to pay for straying from those norms. 
A bit of the hell I caught for a video I did on belt squatting and a perfect example of how to make the ultimate douchebag:  throw a Masshole in South Florida and let him make a living perving out to figure model clients dumb enough to hire him. 

 
The rest of the gym world can go fuck themselves. Yes, some of the shit they do works and a lot of it doesn't.  There's plenty of perfectly good gym hacks that go unnoticed and unused because of the horrid lack of anything resembling free thought or imagination while training.  Don't fall prey to this.  Use what works well, even if it's a bit weird.  
 

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Fear and Respect the Sandbag Push-up

 
Is it better to be feared or respected? 
 
 

Is it too much to ask for both?
 
 
That above statement could easily apply to strengthening the chest and keeping the shoulders healthy simultaneously.   My bench press-pushup articles have become so heavily hit on by Google searches by now that they've also become the single biggest source of SPAM on my site.   For some reason, if people want strength and/or big pecs, they bench press and put up with shoulder pain until they can't.  If they want conditioning and healthy shoulders, they push-up and then pretend that conditioning is so much more important than strength. 
 
So, I ask:  IS IT TOO MUCH TO ASK FOR BOTH?
 
 For some reason, weighted push-ups elude just about everyone's mind as a great compromise to getting strong without turning the shoulder joint into tendon-graters.  That may well be due to the difficulty of loading up the body with weight to perform them.  The pull-up and the dip are more straightforward since an inexpensive and easy method of adding weight to them exists in nearly every serious gym:  the dip belt.  The push-up is a bit more tricky.  The weight cant hang from the torso.  Weighted vests are expensive with any serious amount of mass to them. 
 
Those are not the only means to weight a push-up.  I've used chains around my neck and had a friend load plates on my upper back (CAUTION:  use rubber coated or bumper plates.  they stay stacked much better!   Few sensations will induce un-needed panic like the feel of 3 plates falling off your back).  My choice pick has been sandbags.  Alpha Strong Sandbags.  These are the easiest weight I've found to get on the back alone and stay in place without beating the shit out of the body.
 
I've used the smaller, Beast sandbag (50-60 lbs) as well as the larger Kraken (135-to-who-the-fuck-knows-left-it-in-the-rain-again pounds).  The little guy is pretty simple to get into position since it can just be dangled around the neck.  I'm sure the fine readers remember this one from a several months ago...
 
 
That This was good for sets of 15-20 reps.  That can still build some strength and it's also a great neck and trap work-out simultaneously. 
 
Since being set free to try tempt fate with my knees again, I've resorted to throwing the big one on my back and doing push-ups pretty often.  Figuring out the best way to get that bulky blob of sand back there as efficiently as possible looked like a Three Stooges prank but I came up with the following sequence:
  • Clean the sandbag off the ground
  • place the sandbag on one shoulder while doing some twerking and holding the bag to the neck.
  • squat down and let the sandbag slide down the back a bit.
  • get into the push-up position at the bottom of the squat

Clearly, should have let this one slide farther down my back
Since I wasn't interested in challenging my midsection strength on either of these weighted push-ups, I usually spread my feet to impart a bit more stability.  Since there is no rule book to doing these sandbag push-ups, I also mess around with hand placement.  Regardless of where my hands go (wide or narrow) I don't like to flare my elbows out. 

On either of these push-ups I just demonstrated, getting rid of the weight is as easy as dropping one shoulder and letting it slide off. 

Since I brought up a key point of doing a push-up right, Another virtue of slinging some weight on the back and pushing some extra bodyweight off the ground is that it also can help clean up bad push-up form.  Rather than take the word of some wing-nut blogger on the internet, here's a guy who actually, successfully, trains people for a living on how to do one right:


See that around 7:26?  I'm kind of re-enacting the same thing with 135 lbs of sand instead of 135 lbs of super-cool, kick-ass woman.  It's not particularly feasible to do these sandbag push-ups with bad form.  Something will give out too soon.  So, I've found that I either have to do them right, or they just won't get done. 

Life is already too full of compromises and dogmatic adherence to traditions for no good reason.  There is no excuse for the bench presses hegemonic domination of chest training.  There's no reason why a push-up have to sit in the neglected strength-endurance-conditioning bin of tools, collecting figurative dust.  So, grab a sandbag and get your fear and respect in one move. 
 


Sunday, July 13, 2014

Getting Back to the Basics

If you spend enough time cruising around the internets in search of midget porn, the best deals on  anchor chain on ebay, and that ever-elusive Rob Zombie, "Fuck off", t-shirt like I do, you'll eventually come across some sort of training article that calls on the reader to return to the basics.  I like the basics and while my training has morphed dramatically in the past, several months since I've actually been in one spot long enough to join a gym, I still like to keep things simple. 

Simple training and getting back to basics.  That should be easy to do.  It's also an understandable sentiment for me to relate to.  After all, the history of the past 40 years of strength training was kind of bizarre.  For some reason, we decided that we needed all of this...



Because this...

Was somehow inadequate for the job of building a strong body.

Somehow worked for her.
A call to get rid of machinery seems totally natural.  After all, the contemporary house of strength and fitness is such a hopeless cluster-fuck of implements chained to training so mind-numbingly dull and boring McFitness gym owners have to install TV's just to get people to stay there for an hour.  Something had to give in and someone had to demand an end to the clutter. 

So, we need to get back to basics but that also raises an interesting question:  does anyone still know what that is anymore?  I've heard several renditions of what the basics are in strength training.  Depending on which source you choose to worship as the best source of the basics, that could break down into two categories:

1.  Moving simply with lots of objects.  This is the most common one that you'll likely see.  While it's not McFitness as we know it in equipment overload and excess, this category of, "basic but brutal," still needs mats, barbells, dumbbells, racks, some odd objects, etc.  From there, it's basic exercises, usually the "big four" with some accessory movements. 

2.  Moving complexly with less objects.  Here you'll get some weird movements to make up for the lack of training equipment.  This tends to be the refuge of Penitentiary strength training, Parkour, Bodyweight guys, etc. 

We can, and may, debate which of thee basic approaches is the best answer to making gyms better, there's more to this issue than just how we move and we use to move to get stronger.  It relates back to those TV's to soothe the monotony of being in the latest rendition of a gym.  It's about what Steve Pulcinella touches on a bit here: 

 
 
and here...
 
 
 
To further steal other ideas so I don't have to compel myself to actually write well,  getting back to basics is largely all about is my buddy Chip's summation:  train hard, eat well, rest hard.  While you're doing those, make sure you're doing something that you enjoy doing!  I've got news for people:  if you don't enjoy what you're doing, you're going to be hard pressed to do it hard.  You're just going to be compelled by the boredom to get it over with as fast as possible, thereby missing the party (and results).  Basics have far less to do with the equipment you use and even the exercises you choose to do.  It's mostly about the attitude that you bring to what you're doing.  The two outlines for basic training I put up above will both produce results.  Simply pick one, add Chip's big three and don't forget what Steve said in the last video. 

You don't need a glorified scrap pile with pads to get results.  You just need to get busy with something you enjoy doing. 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Getting Big Right With Stew

I totally understand the desire to get huge.  I've made two honest attempts in my life to accumulate more than 20 lbs of mass on my genetically-robbed frame.  It's got to be the biggest reason why anyone with testicles ever attempts to strength train.  Whenever I write about it here, they're my most popular posts.  What I don't understand is why there is so much mystery about how to get big.  It's simpler than the collective IQ of the riders on the little, yellow bus:  eat more and train a lot... and get some rest (yeah, I fuck that one up, just like you do too). 

So, after basically getting past that pesky physical therapy shit that left my left leg looking like a soda straw with scars, I decided to make the jump up to 200 lbs.  All of that flabby mass that used to wave hello to me in the bathroom mirror as I walked in cooperated and along with the food and leg work, I gained some legitimate mass pretty quickly.  Afterwards, I settled into a nice, steady pound-per-week gain and delighted as my upper back began its steady rejection of size medium t-shirts (unless I wanted to sport the skin-tight douchebag look). 

That was when I was in Florida.  I left around mid-April while the General Contractor I work for proceeded to screw Charlotte County (long story).   When I got home, things hit some snags.  There was that back issue left over from muscle imbalances from babying my leg, letting my hip muscles tighten up.  Then there was that cold that everyone in Florida got that left me with a cough so brutal that if I ate too much and got a coughing fit I'd have to lay down to prevent blowing chunks. 

The biggest problem of all was my diet.  I had a nice system going down in Florida for eating and I let it lapse when I got back due to lack of time to cook for myself.  While I haven't slacked on the high protein nuts for snacks that worked so well seven years ago, I did stop making soups and stews. 

Yes, I got the idea from this article by Jamie Lewis. 
 
That has been a mistake.  While I'm on the brink of 200 lbs, I admit that some of it has been fat gain, more than I cared to see.  I can't share the same distain for abdominal definition that a lot of the strongmen competitors that I interact with have.  I'd rather get a good overhead press from having strong muscles rather than growing a gut.  I still have people to be sexy for, after all.  Upon closer inspection of the matter at hand, I understand why stew worked so well for a nice, lean mass gain...
 
  1. De-naturing and easy-digesting!  No, I'm not going to rip off Jamie that latently.  Yeah, the meat gets de-natured with such a long, slow and low cook.  That makes it more digestible.  Actually, it makes everything in the stew more digestible.  That's really important because, as Vince Gironda pointed out years ago, it's not what you eat that make you big, it's what you can absorb.  Considering that my digestive tract works as well as drunk blind man driving a  heavily-abused Yugo in a F-1 Grand Prix, this is extremely important.  
  2. Garlic and Onions!  Pick a stew.  Any stew.  From anywhere.  I can almost guarantee you that it either has onions and/or garlic in it.  These two vegetables suffer from not being green enough to be considered nutritional powerhouses, or even thought of as vegetables at all, but they have some ridiculously-important benefits to the aspiring muscular man and they all revolve around both having high concentrations of Sulfur-based compounds in both.  These have two notable advantages.  The first is that they play a role in raising testosterone levels (provided that you're eating a high fat diet).  The second is that they play a role in joint health by helping regeneration of tendons, ligaments, and cartilage.  
  3. Did I mention a lot of protein?  It's very easy to get a lot of protein into a single meal with a stew or a soup.  Most of my favorite recipes have 60-90 grams of protein in just 8 fluid ounces.   Keep in mind that I'll often eat a 32-58 ounces of stew/soup in one sitting.
No, I'm not citing studies.  This is a blog after all.  If you want to verify this, you'll just have to cut into your porn-watching time to find out...
 
 
What To Do In The Kitchen
 
I've tried out at least ten different soup and stew recipes in that past, several months.  Regardless of which I've tried, there are four tips that work for just about any of them:

  • Double the meat content, at least, and always
  • Triple the spices, at least
  • Use fresh herbs, even when they specify dry ones
  • Be careful about adding extra vegetables.   That will water down the flavors
I also prefer to make stews that have a very high protein content in relation to carbs and fats.  That way, I can adjust the entire meal's macro ratios by adding something fatty or high in carbs.  Some of my personal favorites are:
  1. Borscht (use the first tip listed above on this one.  BIG TIME)
  2. Bacon, Beef and Lentil Stew (throw a few bay leaves into this one)
The routine in Florida was two make two-three of these on a Saturday or Sunday.  These could easily provide a weeks worth of lunches, and a few dinners here and there.  I'd also throw in either some crackers or whole meal bread to mop things up as well as get my carbs in.  This Greek Yogurt works remarkably well as a replacement for sour cream in any recipe that calls for it with the added benefit of having far more protein. 

Best of all, just about all of these stews and soups can be made on a pretty modest budget too while getting a lot of very easily digestible calories and protein.  If you can't grow on a steady of these you probably can't grow on anything. 

There's a good reason why despite drastically different cultures with vastly different foods to work with in every corner of the world all have at least one, or several different stews or soups in their cuisines.  This is the sure-fire way to get inexpensive, nutritious dishes in the diet.  This has fallen into a sewer pipe in the past, several decades in the strength training world.  Consider this entry a suggestion and a stern warning that forgetting this style of cooking should be making it into your diet on a regular basis if muscle-building is a concern to you. 



Sunday, May 25, 2014

The Costs of Gaining Muscle Mass

I've never been huge.  Ever.  I doubt I'll ever get to anyone, even my own, standard of being huge.  Puberty and genetics were depressing let-downs, leaving me at 5'10" and 147-157 lbs for a good chunk of my early adult years.  That's a nearly-unfathomable disappointment to me considering my dad clocks in at 80 lbs bigger than my at an inch shorter.  I was clearly let down by genetics and if I wanted to have the physique of an adult male, I'd have to do it myself.  So, back in 2007, I started bulking up to 180 lbs.  It took me most of the year (and I had to gain a lot of it back after a stomach bug I caught in Peru) to do it but I got there.  This year, after my knee was back to 85%, I came to the inescapable conclusion that 200 lbs was were I wanted to be with my body. 

I'm not going to go on about the details about how to do it again.  I've done that several times in the past here.  Plus, I'm doing this more for my own personal satisfaction than to prove a point like I was trying to do 7 years ago.  Lastly, there are piles of articles all detailing how to train and eat to get big.  I've got my little stack to the right.  Despite all the writing about getting big, there are things about it that don't get written about very often, if at all.  So, I decided to write down some thoughts and observations on the topic of gaining that I thought may be of some use to the reader should they ever partake in personal muscular expansion.

I did say muscular expansion...
A time or two in the past I've been beaten down by people about how I suck at gaining mass since I don't gain much, don't gain very fast, and haven't gain much at all.  By the time I'm done with this bulk, I'll have succeeded in gaining around 43 pounds of mass in the past 7 years, yet still just 2 bills in weight. 

That's a sign of either ignorance or arrogance.  I've been greeted by answers to the effect of, "dude, I gained 35 lbs in one summer," by arguably powerlifting's foremost gossip-hound/prima-donna.  That one was arrogance getting in the way of good sense.  One thing I've learned about manipulating body weight, be it fat loss or muscle gain, is that fast changes in the size of the body are never good.  Fast gain is fat gain in the bulking game.  I personally like to see a 1 lbs gain per week, at most.  If I gain faster than that, then I'm certain I'm gaining fat.   That's not my goal and I hope it's not yours. 

Furthermore, weight gain isn't a function of training and body mass just happens.  It requires eating.  Lots of it.  Any and all discussion about getting big must begin with food.  It's never just exercise alone. 

So, how do you I know when I'm gaining muscle?
Since I've only made the decision to bulk twice in my life, I've not made any effort to buy anything to calculate body fat while I'm bulking.  Instead, I go by my upper back, glutes and thighs.  After all, I'm a guy and like most guys, I gain fat in the stomach area first.  So, if my pants don't fit in the waist, I'm getting fat.  If my pants don't fit in the ass or the thighs, I'm gaining muscle.  Lately, I've pretty much grown out of medium t-shirts while relegating myself to cargo this and carpenter cut that. 

This might be a good time to let you know that in addition to spending more money on food, you may want to make sure you've got some coin to invest in new clothes.  I love clothes shopping as much as that time I feel outside the gym two months after surgery.  Both are painful experiences. Which brings me to my next point...

This is never fun...most of the time it's uncomfortable
Tell any non-gym rat layman about how you're trying to gain some mass and you'll be greeted with some sort of, "must be nice.." , reply.  Sure, it's a dream come true if your dreams are filled with aches and pains for months on end. 

This is an uncomfortable process on all fronts that muscle gain is approached from.  Listen to Clint Darden talk about gaining mass and he brings up force feeding frequently.  I can relate.  I've had times were I eat so much that I have to lay down on my RIGHT side to keep myself from throwing up (Your stomach curls to the right side of your body.  By lying on the right side, food will settle farther away from your esophagus, lessening the desire to puke).  A friend of mine who likely gains about as easily as I do relates to hating food after trying to bulk.  I can sort of relate.  Eating becomes a job that you have do if you want to gain.  If you don't see it as a chore, and you're not gaining, you're not eating enough. 

Of course, you're adding raw materials to your body to build tissue.  If you're not doing enough hard work, you'll just end up fat.  Too often I see anemic workloads coupled with heavy eating.  Then people wonder why they're fat.   You've got to train your ass off if you're going to climb up over 4,000 calories a day and not get fat.  Remember I mentioned glutes, quads and upper back?  Yeah, those are going to be getting bigger (if you're gaining correctly) and correspondingly SORE. 

So, I've just elucidated you to many of the negatives to gaining mass.  It's not the fun timed mouth-stretching eating free-for-all with lots of lifting that people make it out to be.  It's got side effects and a generally uncomfortable process for extended periods of time that most civilians won't or can't comprehend.   I'm a hobby strength trainer and like everyone else in our subculture, I like the feel, training capabilities, and look of a bigger, stronger body. Every so often, I get the urge to get a bit bigger, just like you. 

There are no free passes to this show.  If you didn't know the price of admission, now you do. 

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Quit being Dumb...

The idea for this article has swam around in my brain for a while now.  Unfortunately, you haven't seen it sooner, or any other stuff from me in a while, because I've been too busy largely enjoying the mindlessness of internet entertainment.  While I do enjoy writing, sharing a meme on Facebook that sort of echoes what I think is so much easier to do.  I don't have to be bothered with trying to be articulate or original.  Click, click, done... half-ass thought transmission completed. 
A recent example of the extent of my thoughtfulness on FB lately...

The lifting world at large has been far, far ahead of the written world in brain-free activity.
Strength training has been in a nearly 60 year spiral towards getting dumber.  That was the take-away that I got after I read This article by Peary Radar which was written when I was chewing on Legos and struggling to not shit my pants.  Apparently, powerlifting as an organized lifting competition became reality because not everyone was really interested in Olympic Weightlifting. 

The O-lifts are well-known to be technical lifts.  The require more coordination and timing than powerlifts.  Radar himself admitted as much.  By contrast, the squat, deadlift and bench press can be learned in a much shorter period of time.

The differences between these two styles of lifting go back farther than the formation of the competitions themselves.  There has always seemed to be two ways to lift stuff:  either you can do it with coordination, timing and speed (Athleticism).  Or you can do it with pure muscular strength.   Crack open some of Alan Calvert's 110 year old ranting and you can see how he considered bent pressing trickery since it required considerable skill and overhead pressing a better lift because it built, and tested, brute strength. The  patron saint of junkyard weight training, Ed Zercher, was likely a victim of lack of a place to show off his strength because while very strong, he was a mediocre O-lifter.   So, while power lifters lacked a sport to participate in, they were around and simply waiting for their venue to form. 
God bless this skinny bastard for coming up with such a fun way to lift...

Just like the invention of the internet, power lifting obviously didn't intend to start a dumb-assing effect in the barely-formative years of the larger subculture but I submit to the reader that it most certainly did.  Nobody likes to admit it but American powerlifting sponged off a lot of lifters away from Olympic Lifting, exactly as Bob Hoffman thought it would.  It's certainly a much simpler form of lifting.  So, the mold was set that people would lift weights in droves as long as it didn't require too much skill. 

I don't think it's coincidental that a mere 10-15 years later, weight machines became a big business, dragging gyms along with them.  The only thing that could be easier than powerlifting with a barbell was to lift without a barbell.  After all, there is as much IQ required to use a machine as there is to have a reality TV show on the E! Network.

...and we wonder why we make no progress here!

I'm fond of saying that things can only be made so simple.  After a certain level of simplification with all things in life, including strength training, you get to the point where things get harder because you're trying too hard to make them too easy. 

Strength training isn't really as technical and IQ-dependent as seminar pimps would have you believe.  Sure, there are some pretty technical lifts out there but as a whole, most strength training movements are pretty easy to learn as long as you don't have an ADHD-riddled mind that was recently lobotomized.

What happens when we try to remove too much of the skill requirements out of lifting in order to make lifting simple to do is we don't get strong.  Sure there are strong humans that have used machinery and low-IQ movements to build up somewhat-impressive bodies here and there but that shit only can take anyone so far. 
Crossfit may have taken this whole dumbing down effect a step farther:  they seem to enjoy taking movements that require skill and removing those key pointers from execution.  There isn't much to learn about doing a pull-up and even doing those key points is just to cumbersome for them...
 

 
 Since I threw the picture up, let's beat up on people who can't be inconvenienced to become proficient with pull-ups.  Pull-ups don't require too much instruction.  I love to tell people, "think of bending the bar on your chest on the way up and pushing the bar away from you on the way down."   Simple, not easy.  Things don't get easier by kipping every, single rep.  It just shred your labrums.   Saying screw it and telling yourself that pulling the entire stack on the Lat Machine is just as good just makes you weaker. 
 
Just bite the bullet and do the fucking pull-ups...Correctly!
 
Squats have been accurately described by people smarter than me as, "easy to learn, hard to master."   Mastery takes time but learning, once again, is simple:  chest proud, hips back, knees out.  That's three cues that covers most squatting.  That's not so, damn difficult that you have to go running to the leg press.   Quit being an idiot or pretending to be stronger than you are and just SQUAT.  
 
So, yes, you need a little bit of skill to get strong.  This isn't trigonometry but it isn't mindless either.  If you're going to build power, you need to use your head in your respective gym for something other than a hat-holder.