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. 
 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.