Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Lesser-known Advantages of Bodyweight Training

If readers have been stopping by and been a bit disappointed by the lack of purity in the content of my bodyweight-based blog since I jumped into the deep end of the strongman pool, I'd advise you to buy a gallon of distilled water...and shove it. 

Okay, maybe there is a bit of a point there.  I don't do a full-blown bodyweight blog any more than I train BW-only.  As I've branched out I still don't forget my roots.  Those have to be into some grounds of practicality and a strength trainer can't get any more practical than a BW training. 
This blog has always been about acknowledging that training has to mold around the rest of your life.  Getting strong can only encroach on your job, family, sleep and porn time so much. 

So, BW has a lot of advantages dealing with the pragmatism to any strength trainer.  The question is what are those advantages?  I do have three in mind that you may not realize. I'll start out with  performance-oriented one, moving to the less obvious, life molding shit. 

Need mid-section strength? You need BW
Filed under things I wished I'd saved a link to years ago was a video or picture of Derek Poundstone doing ab wheel rollouts (on his knees) .  While those athletes will likely make mountains out of mole hills debating the usefulness of direct ab work, those who agree you need some ab work will probably end up doing something BW-oriented. 

Why that is so is actually pretty simple:  the best ab work is BW stuff.  Even better is that pretty much the solid majority of all basic BW movements demand some sort of strong abdominal activation to complete.   If reach down into the toilet bowl that is T-Nation and can stomach pulling out a Bret Contreras article, he did an interesting test on abdominal activation during popular ab exercises.  The ab wheel and pull-ups topped the list. 

Never one to back away from sounding like an expert that I'm not (all while never being shy about admitting that I'm not),  I think that a large part of the reason why BW ab exercises are so fucking good for strength is that they're all largely about contracting the abs to hold the back in place during execution.  That simple cue is the basis of using abs in just about every, single lift done. 

Bodyweight is the most House Friendly Strength Training
Not too long ago, I crossed going to Iron Sport Gym off my bucket list of places that I wished to go in the USA.  This place exceeded all of my lofty expectations of how awesome it would be with its stunningly low quantity of cardio equipment, squat cages that filled up before the few token pieces of cardio equipment, and the crotchety owner Steve Pulcinella.  It's simply about as perfect of a set-up place as I'd expect any real strength sports-oriented gym to be, complete with the ability, even the expectation I daresay, of moving huge ass weights while making grunting noises and dropping shit like a fucking boss, if needs be. 

That's how a gym should be.  That's not the rest of the world.  The rest of the world, such as your home, probably expects a bit more courtesy with the noise you make, the equipment you use, and where you use it.  Few things rile a wife up more than dropping an axle loaded with plates on the basement floor, shaking the walls a bit, and making the toddler asleep above wake up abruptly. 

For this reason, bodyweight is ideal.  Since your weight is your body, it doesn't need to be loaded onto anything and it's not like you're going to drop it on the floor.  A body doesn't have a distinct metallic clank every time its used either.  This makes it well-suited for training in places where you kind of have to accommodate the peace and quiet of other people. 

Bodyweight is More Time Efficient
Since my training became mostly weights, I'm constantly plagued with the sense that I'm just not getting very much at all done.  The more you need to change weights and equipment, the longer the whole training process takes.  Strongman is even worse.  Most strongman gyms have an event day on a weekend, largely because it's such a pain in the ass to drag out so much equipment and train.  The process goes quicker when there's a few more hands on deck. 

That's the elegance of training without weights or equipment.  With no weight and equipment changes, a lot more volume can be packed into a shorter time period.  Lots of strength training deals with the notion of building a strong base.  A fundamental of that initial base strength is the capability to do a lot of work.  I can't really find a better way to get that injecting a healthy dose of bodyweight.  One of my favorite BW routines involved a simple superset of pull-ups and handstand push-ups.  I managed to put well over 100 of each in 40 minutes.  

So, if this recently-rare entry into my blog hopefully imparts on you as you push away from you keyboard is that despite the world full of toys to get strong with, the places you have to do them, and the ways that you can use them, BW has some intensely pragmatic and useful benefits that even a n00b strongman like myself can still appreciate. 

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

So-and-so said this and this is what I think again: Is Nick turning into a grumpy, old man?

Yes, I'm back to blogging.  Apologies for the long, long layoff.  Someone commented that I better have a good excuse.  Well, I was lazy and I had no desire to remove my writers block.  Here's one I started writing but never finished up about 8 months ago...

For a guy who comes off as shocking well built, obviously strong as shit, and generally pretty spry, Nick McKinless certainly came off as a grumpy, old bastard.
Fuck it! Stop listening to the gifted, young people!
- Anyone under 35 has an advantage.
- Anyone gifted has an immense advantage.
- Despite body type nuances anyone under 35 can do anything and gain muscle EASIER than anyone over 35 plus.

These are truths.
If you want to get better listen to the coaches and trainers that are still gaining muscle, staying lean, keeping in shape and generally improving. These people are the real teachers.
By all means follow the 'pretty trainers' and the 'gym bunnies with nice butts etc' but for the love of god DO NOT LISTEN TO THEIR ADVICE!!!
In my twenties and thirties I really thought I knew it all. After all I had a 640lbs Deadlift, a 310lbs Bench and a 440lbs Squat. And I was good at some VERY off lifts. Hah! And you thought I was gifted. Nope! The deadlift soon went away once I started hitting the ground as a stuntman.
The point is training is EASY when you are young and gifted. And so you mess your bodies up with bad form, stupid programming, showing off on social media, program hopping and bad recovery methods. Go for it! But I promise you it will catch you up.
Let's see how you all look in your 40's, 50's, 60' and beyond...AND what you can lift.

Theoretically, I should disregard this grouchy-sounding ol' bastard since I'm under the age of 35 (as of this writing) except the guy has done just about everything that can be done to a body in the name of fun and games.  So, I shouldn't disagree with my elders.  Thing is, though, I don't.

We've all watched our favorite highy-paid athletes get to around the age of 30-34 and proceed to degenerate into overpaid and hollowed out versions of their old selves.  Its almost as though a light switch went off and they're just unable to turn it back on.  What happened is pretty much what Nick McKinless is bitching about above.

Being a teens or twenty-something athlete is a grand time.  Your body is still fresh and young, responding with aplomb to practically every stimulus in training that you throw at it with cheerful positivity.  While it feels like no wrong can be done, something happens around the late 20-mid 30's.  The body's new car smell wears off, so to speak.  Abusive movements that a new body was able to shake off with alacrity suddenly create aches and pains.  Or, as in my case, an injury happens that requires surgical repair.  Once cut into, you're never really the same. 

This isn't the end of the line but merely the point in an athletes' life where they are forced to accept that they just can't do anything they please without consequence.  The body still has plenty of life to it but now care and consideration have to be applied to training if they wish to proceed onward at a high level. 

This is why young lifters don't know shit.  Chances are high that at 23, they've never had to adjust to anything in their training.  When your body breaks, that's you really start learning about how to build it back up.   That kind of problem solving with human muscle just can't be duplicated with a mere strength goal built towards with a fresh, young body.  It requires so much more study and care.

I'm pretty sure my ACL tear was such a turning point.  After reconstructive surgery and PT, I had a soda straw for a left leg.  I maintained about a 180-185 lbs weight throughout the whole ordeal, most of it going to my upper body.  Once I re-started training with my legs, I was partially smart.  I used  a lot of sled work since it didn't put to much stress on my knee outside of muscular tension.  I did front squatted variations that forced me to use good squatting form (goblets, zerchers and belt squats).

I didn't do everything right though and proceeded to deadlifting (295 lbs for singles.  Yes life sucked).    Unfortunately, with my leg strength so imbalanced, I'd lock out the right leg first.  Eventually, this caused irritation in my lumbar discs, taking me out of the deadlifting game for a while longer. 

I focused mostly on squatting and quad strength.  this proceeded to bite me in the ass when all of the quad-dominant work gave me IT band pains. 

Then, the disc thing.  Again.  One week before my first strongman competition. 

I eventually realized that I still lacked the  natural hyperextension in my left knee.  That still caused my right leg to lock first.  So, I resorted to hyperextension work on a GHR to force that ligament to hyperextend a bit more naturally.  Of course, the extra spinal erector strength didn't hurt either.  I threw in more unilateral leg work, focusing on trying to focus on the muscular contraction each time I lifted something. 

Take a look at that list of issues from one knee surgery.  In one year's time, I had to figure out a way to bring my lower body strength back up, fix my back, rehabilitate my knee, and even out my leg strength.  I learned about the importance of having natural joint movement back, the importance of unilateral strength training, and working with and around pain.  At the end of it all, I came out stronger than I was before.  That's not a learning curve that can be replicated with a simple strength goal.   Dealing with a fragile body teaches someone the proper balance between strengthening without abusing.  You just don't know that line when you're young, fresh, and have no wear on your body. 
 ...off topic but you should really check this short that Nick made a while back


Saturday, June 13, 2015

My List is Better: The 5 Best Exercises Ever

I think that a fair share of my readers will agree that T-Nation over the years has degenerated into the strength website most like your refrigerator.  Sure, you'll glance at it (regardless if you'll admit to it or not) to see if there is anything interesting but you know there isn't; just the same shit as the last time you glanced in.  Still, every once in a while, someone puts something interesting in there.  You know, like a friend brought over some good beer and threw it in there much like Nick McKinless posted there what seems like too long ago.  If, you know, you had friends that nice...which you probably don't.

Okay, T-Nation pretty much sucks. 

Still,  I did read Dean Somerset's article, "The Five Best Exercises Ever."  It was a  reasonably well written piece.  I even agree with a good chunk of the movements listed as well as enjoying the historical perspectives.I also like that the movements were less specific to a particular execution with a specific implement.  Still, like any other internet fitness God, I think I have a better list and you're about to get bombarded with my rendition of the five best movements in history.  

Actually, I wouldn't change too many on the list.  I'm just going to give better reasoning as to why I think they're so good.  I'll even do it without wearing a polo shirt. 

Seriously, why do so many trainers and PT's wear polo shirts? 
Removing the Antiquity Requirement:  Squatting
From what my modest research over the years into physical culture history, the squat seems to be relatively new to hoisting for strength.  It seems to show up in Germany around the time that barbells started to catch on.  Somerset mandated in his inferior article that exercises had to be around for thousands of years.  Generally I'd agree but the squat has too consistently shown to build strong, massive legs, even entire bodies in general, for the past century and a half.

Just because the Romans weren't quite genius enough to use it can't take away from the fact that this was probably the best, single movement to become popularized in the past 150 years of lifting.  In fact, if you look at who were considered the real leaps forward in strength athletes in this period of time, most of them were also prodigious (for their times) squatters.  Hackenshmidt, Steinborn, Grimek, Anderson... Name an all-time great strength guy and you'll likely also name a great squatter.

Squatting alone may be the most convincing evidence that the modern strength athletes are better than their counterparts, if you chose to pick that fight. 

Rope Climbing
This is one I'll agree on for sure.  We all know that rope climbing is regarded as more advanced BW movement.  Someone usually has to be very proficient with pull-ups before even trying this.  Advanced bodyweight demands a high strength to bodyweight ratio.  That favors a person who is muscular and lean. 
Hey, Whiffet, challenge!  Top this, Mr Six Pack...

All lifting sports have their contingent who loves to be fat and strong, arguing that it gives them some sort of edge.  My chosen sport of strongman loves to hold up Zydruanas as the latest piece of evidence, disregarding the fact that prior to him the most of the WSM winners were all lean.  In fact,  at least 3/4 of the strongmen who won that title were all lean guys.  Historically, the strongest guys were usually the leanest guys.  

Did the they climb ropes?  Fuck if I know.  Still, I've never seen a fat ass get up a rope.  It's a lean, strong person's proposition all the way.  That's probably why rope climbing so consistently shows up throughout history as an exercise.   It builds lots of strength and promotes high strength-to-bodyweight ratio like few other movements do.

Who says drugs in training aren't useful?  Well, only people that like being wrong, I suppose.  Still, I'm not talking about  using the drug that the LAPD (circa 1990's) favorite drug to hate.  I'm simply consolidating all forms of weight training-bipedalism into one  acronym: Pushing, Pulling and Carrying. 

People love to talk about lifting weights all the time and even though strongman has nearly half of their events involving PCP, I still don't think this shit is given nearly enough attention.   PCP's are all pretty easy to learn, idiot resistant with execution and can serve dual roles of strength and conditioning.  If the strength gods would bless me, I'd do some sort of PCP every single day.

I've alternated between more upper body-dominant stuff like frame carries, overhead sandbag walking, famers handles, and weighted sled pulling.  Then, I've pushed trucks, dragged sleds, and used prowlers on days where I want to hit my legs.  Repeat process.  For weeks.  That's how valuable I think they should be to the strength world.  

Combining them makes good stuff even better.  I've done sled/prowler combos.  I've dragged sleds while carrying a sandbag on my shoulder.  I've seen beardo-extroardinaie Adam Wayne Caposella do a yoke with a sled.  Friend Chip Conrad did a sandbag shouldered-farmer carry.  There's as much versatility with weight-walking as there is good work for the body. 

Getting Shit off the Ground and Overhead
Another one that I agree that Dean got right.  There's a reason that this combination of movements essentially is the backbone of both modern strongman sport and early physical culture alike.  There really is a lot of limitations on your strength if you can't do this well.  Recall my broscience theory years ago:   if you have strong hips, back and grip, then you're good to go.  Ground-to-overhead lifting pretty usually hits all of this pretty hard, demanding that you have all three.  

A funny thing happened years ago in strength gyms. People got really, really focused on putting up insane lbs of weight.  While there's nothing wrong with that inherently.  What was wrong was that weights started getting less awkward.  They were pre-positioned in places to make them easier to lift more.  Putting them over the head was marginalized since, you know, its hard to do a lot of  iron over your head in a very short timeline. 

So, if you wanted to combat that asshole that said modern lifters are stronger because they squat,  you could retort that old time lifters took things off the ground and put them overhead with far more regularity.  While the modern gym-goers are starting to rediscover the utility of ground-to-overhead (giving birth to quaint phrases like "functional training"), the ancients knew it all along. 

Going back to what dead people you forgot all about after your tests in school, you'll see a common thread in Dean's and my list:  Asid from being rooted in manual labor, the implements needed to execute these strength movements are pretty rudimentary.  Chances are good that most of them you could do right now if you'd just stop fucking around on the internet, pushed away from the screen, and got moving.  In that regard, there are few strength movements that are more minimalistic than the push-up.  All you need is your body and the ground. 
...Or a stupid-popular, crazy old motherfucka for extra weight

Just because the rest of the strength world outside bodyweight training doesn't look at push-ups as strength moves doesn't mean they can't and don't build strength.  I've been pretty vocal about this lately.  They can throw weight onto every other strength movement.  Just throw some weight on push-ups too.  It's like they forgot that there is no rule book that says push-ups can't have weigtht. 
Chains, vests, sandbags, other humans...they've all been used in the past. They all work.  They've worked for years too, regardless if shaved apes of today forgot about that. 

This list also happens to summarize my training lately since I got home from Florida.   In this period of time, I've gotten bigger (10 lbs) and did my first no-zero strongman competition.  While I won't say that this qualifies me as an expert yet, I will call it definitive progress using stuff that's worked for millennia. 

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Weighty Matters: Combining Weights and Calisthenics II

About four years ago, I wrote one of my favorite blog entries about adding weight to common BW movements.  It's turned out to be one of my more popular entries.  While I'm opinionated I'm not dogmatic or without a sense of compromise. So, I imagine that my audience is much the same.  That might explain why an entry like that one, with its compromising tone, went over so well. 

As my training has given more into weights and strongman, I haven't forgotten the effectiveness of BW stuff.  Often times,  I weigh them down with heavy stuff.  Very recently, I finally got off my ass and showed off how I used a sandbag for heavy push-up work in lieu of both not having a place to bench press and despising the bench even if I did.  You can find that here.   Although ambition got the better of me momentarily by posting that video, laziness struck when I noted that I liked adding chain to one arm-push-ups but failed to post proof that I am awesomely clever enough to undertake such a movement. 
Such maneuvers are excellent ways to bring up questions of validity in training.  As I've stated in the past, I don't care to enslave myself to practicality when training.  If it's fun, I'll do it.  Still, there are methods to the madness.  One arm push-ups are a great way to hit those muscles that nobody gives a shit about because girls and gym bros don't tend to admire them.  You know, the serratus and all those lower shoulder blade chunks of meat that make you care about them via injury from lack of training.  In case your overpaid online coach never told you, working these muscles are why you do face pulls.
The next merger of iron and bodyweight that I've adored lately is double rope climbing with some junk chain that someone inexplicably stretched the piss out of (which should have taken tens of thousands of lbs to do) at work.  

Rope climbing kicks all kind of ass.  At the moment, I'm trying to goose my bodyweight up to the 215 lbs territory.   Doing BW during such attempts has served me well.  Things like this 30 lbs o' chain rope climb require a good strength to bodyweight ratio.  That's generally obtained by having a lower bodyfat percentage.  In other words, doing these while bulk generally keep getting too fat in check.  That may be brocience as fuck, I admit, but it's worked for me in the past. 
Note that on both of these, I've gone out of my way to use other methods to increase the difficulty.  Rings and two ropes will go a long way to making less weight more difficult.  I may be doing weighted BW but I'm not going to fall on the sword of only using adding weight to make stuff harder.  Plus, these aren't BW movements that often get the weighted treatment.  Take this as friendly reminder to not be afraid to take a different road that's slightly less traveled.  

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Massachusetts Strongest Man...improving with improvisation

Disgraceful to myself that I got so nervous about my latest strongman competition.  I had so little implement training time for this and it flat-out made me nervous.  I allowed my previous, luxuriously-outfitted gym to lull me into thinking that without implement time, I was going to bomb on this heavier Massachusetts Strongest Man Competition.  I was so tense that I needed some lower back work by the much-appreciated chiropractor on site at the competition. 

I didn't have a log and I hadn't touched a log in over a year.  I had no car deadlift set-up or a 500 lbs frame.   I do have sandbags, some kegs, a fire hydrant and just prior to the comp I scored an anchor chain.  With no place inside to train these and a winter that just didn't want let go of the ice all over my driveway,  it would seem that I was kind of screwed. 

Bullshit.  Such thinking was never part of my mindset prior to all of this and I was determined to not let it become that way again for this training cycle.  I'd just have to get creative, like I always have.  So what did I do and how did it call come out?  I'll elaborate...

The Log Press
Of all of the events I'd have to do, this was probably the most difficult to improvise for.  The log is technical and there isn't a great direct substitute.  Overhead pressing in my training environment is even more fraught with issues since I have a low-ceiling basement that only really allows the use of my kettlebells over standing overhead training.  I did do some overhead work outside before my driveway turned to pure ice and the frequent sub-zero temperatures made my fingers go numb. 

So, heavy, double kettlebell pressing was the only play I had.  I'd clean them and push-press away, doing heavy sets of 2-5 reps for as many sets as I could or had time for.  Then, I'd strip off some weight in ten lbs increments and do three sets of strict presses, taking off 10 lbs each set. 

My previous best on a log was 180 lbs, over a year ago when I was fresh off physical therapy restrictions but was training the log a couple of times per week.  I managed only one rep with 200 lbs.  This felt more like a technique issue since the one rep felt weirdly easy when I got it.  I didn't attempt more because my knee made one of those disturbing pop noises and I elected to stop since I still had a whole competition to complete.   Sixth place, but no zero.

The Car Deadlift
Without a doubt, this was by biggest success in spite of having no car deadlift frame to use.  Back in Tampa, I discovered that a barbell hack squat was very similar to a car deadlift.  So similar that I'm downright shocked that practically nobody uses them to train for it.  I guess it's a sign of the blind hegemony of modified powerlifting routines that dominate strongman programming.  Dumb shits. 

I think the reason why this so closely resembles the car deadlift lies in the fact that to successfully hack squat, you have to move your hips very quickly forward so the barbell doesn't smash into your hamstrings or your ass as you hoist it upwards.   That's the exact, same hip movement in the car deadlift. 

This was supposed to be a heavy car lift.  Unfortunately, the frame wasn't set up properly and it turned into a rep festival.  I took third place in this event, getting credited with 38 reps.  Carryover at its finest. 

Keg Carry and Chain Drag
I was disappointed with this one more than any other event.  I had the most implement time with this event and I didn't place well at all.  I had to run 50' with a 200 lbs keg and then grab the anchor chain and run 50' backwards.

This is what I was preparing for:  550 lbs drag here!

I planned this out pretty well.  Since I have stupid-long arms, I was going to use my knee to push the keg high up on my chest and grab it on both sides.  In practice runs, it worked beautifully.  I rigged up a tire sled with 150 lbs of chain to drag it by before I got my anchor chain.  Once I got my anchor chain, which weighed around 550 lbs, I figured out that I could go two seconds faster if I grabbed both ends of the chain and dragged. 

So, I figured I'd have this one sewn up. 

The disgruntled face of dashed plans...

I was the third slowest time.  The keg we ran with had a bizarre, two inch bulged rim that ran around the middle of the keg.  I didn't want to chance dropping the keg since It was obviously wider than my practice one.  The anchor chain was easily 200 lbs lighter and had a cut-off link at one end that wouldn't allow me to grab both ends.  So, this turned more into a test of foot speed than how much weight I could drag. 

Dude, where's the other 200 lbs?
500 lbs Frame Hold
I don't want to say that I have great grip strength, but I certainly have enough to do strongman.  That was definitely something I had going for me when I started the sport.  I thought I had placed worse than I really had on this one.  I got 31.3 seconds, coming in 4th for this event. 

When it comes to grip work, I've gotten to the point where I'd rather just throw in a grip element into my training movements where it doesn't hinder the progress of the overall set too much.  So, I high rep-deadlifted, hack squatted, rowed, and curled with my axle mostly.  Often times, I'd hold reps on my hacks and my deads for as long as possible.   I did a lot of rope climbing too.  So, while I beat myself up a bit for not holding longer, in the end I didn't do too bad on this one at all. 

Odd Object Load
This is another event that went pretty well for me too.  Initially, we were supposed to pick up, carry, and load a fire hydrant, a 200 lbs sandbag, a 200 lbs keg, and a 240 lbs atlas stone onto a 54" platform.  On the day of the show, the carry was eliminated (to save time) and a field stone was substituted for the hydrant (much to my chagrin). 

I do this kind of stuff all the time, both for work and for fun.  Plus, I also do a lot of Zercher Lifting to strengthen the muscles I'd use to load stuff.  Another mystery to me is why not that many strongmen throw in stiff-legged deadlift work into their training since so much of what we do involves getting shit off the ground in a stiff-legged fashion. 

While I took 4th in this event, I had some of the cleanest lifts.  Except for dropping the stone because I didn't get myself situated dead-center of the stone, I had the some of the technically-sound lifting in the show, it seemed.   The sandbag was left loose and that gave a lot of people fits.  Another fun part for others was the rule that the keg had to be stood up.  Neither bothered me. 

So, overall, I had  a weak event (the log) and a disappointing event (keg and chain) but the events I placed high were pretty well executed and I took 5th place out of 9.  As I got to the end of the competition, I realized that at 5'10" and 205 lbs, I was probably the smallest guy in this novice class.   The winner was 6'5" and 300 lbs.  Fittingly enough, he looks a little bit like Thor Bjornson.  

What I was happy with was this show was heavier than my first and I got no zeros.  I successfully strengthened up my lower body and also put on about 20 lbs since October.  At this point, I'm looking to do Granite State Strongest Man at the end of July as a Middleweight.  At this point, I think I'm done with being a novice and losing events for no other reason than I'm undersized.  I'd like to bump my weight up to 215ish lbs in the meantime.  I tried to get to this weight for this competition but the soreness from training and growing was just becoming a pain in the ass.  Clearly, bulking up should be done when I'm not in the middle of contest preparation. 

In the end, I had a ton of fun and I managed to progress despite being limited by the quantity of the gear I have.  That's been a goal of mine long before I took up the sport.  The affirmation that I can still do so is gratifying. 

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

So-and-so said and this is what I think: Alex and some anonymous person

There might be too decent of a chunk of my ego that's driven to let you know that I'm not a normal strength trainer.  That variation in strength training is easily explained by the simple fact that while I get acknowledgements (which polite manners dictate that I should accept with a, "thank you") to being strong, I came about that label by unconventional means.  Very simply:  I very rarely trained in gyms like other people around me do.  The past decade or so has been  very top heavy journey of improvisation to get to where I am today.  So, I don't see the same means, movements and methods as the answers to strength like everyone else does. 

Still, my ego has limits.   I abhor any notions that I'm an expert, even the mere thought that I might know what I'm doing.  I generally don't disagree with Alex Viada either so this one has me in some very strange territory:

Had an interesting conversation the other day regarding conveying information, with a certain person not "feeling" like an expert because nothing novel or earth shattering was conveyed during a training this individual gave.
People don't go to experts to be shocked- there are very few fields I've seen where you can speak to an expert and learn something you quite frankly didn't already know. In the time I spent in consulting, I certainly never told a client anything surprising... A coach, even an amazing coach, will rarely, if ever, tell you anything you didn't already "know". When's the last time you read a "10 things you need to fix about your squat" article written by a world-class squatter that told you anything you hadn't heard before?
What the experts will tell you, though, is what matters. They give you focus. They take those six hundred things you already know and tell you which matter the most, and in what order.
Is it right to disagree with a guy whose legs look like this?

I've relayed it before:  when I first started training in a gym in Florida (which lasted well over a year), I really did feel like I had landed on Mars.  My training was so, drastically different than what everyone else around me was doing that for the duration of my visit.  What I considered very important was very, very different from those around me.  WHAT I FOCUSED ON WAS DIFFERENT.  Naturally, you all know I got into strongman and I did it with some of these people.  So, what was so different between me and them in terms of what was and wasn't important that stuck out at me?

Change of movements just don't happen
Bodyweight long ago taught me that to make progress, I'd have to modify the form of the movement that I was doing, sometimes drastically, to keep making strength gains.  Even when I started touching weights, I usually worked with an object of limited ability to modify the weight.  So, once again, I'd change how I moved with it to get progress. 

That just doesn't happen a lot in gyms.  The moves stay pretty constant.  The accessories might change.  Weight just gets added.  The reasons are pretty simple:  competition.  That narrowly defines strength into specific lifts with the most weight.  Since these gyms will also have far more specially adapted environments to improving your performance in competitions, the need to change movements to make progress not necessary. 

up until strongman, I never competed in anything.  I never defined my strength that simply.  I couldn't.  Still, I got strong.  A friend of mine who set records in powerlifting at 20 years old in shirted benching acknowledged that the first time we trained together that I was.  Even now that I do strongman, I love the variety of different lifts in the sport.  So, training movements can vary and still have some success.  Or at least it should...

Powerlifting's foot print has been ENORMOUS
I said that strongman should have some variety to movements in training that I can enjoy but I was kind of surprised when I found out that training generally involved a weekend, "event day", while the rest of the training week often looks suspiciously like 5/3/1 or modified Westside.  Oh, wait, it often IS 5/3/1, Westside, or some other powerlifting-based programming. 

Even in amongst strongmen, everyone loves to talk about their total and their prowess in the three power lifts.  Even the bodybuilders do this.  At least with crossfit, you get a break from this comparison since they don't do them since they're not functional. 

Actually, their functionality in my chosen sport of strongman is questionable to a degree.  Lots of people talk about how wonderful of a base powerlifting can be for strongman but the truth is that there is no real basis to say what previous physical endeavor best prepares you for strongman.  Zydrunas, the consensus-best strongman at the moment, started powerlifting before doing strongman.  Yet, he has traded WSM and Arnold wins with Brian Shaw, who used to play BASKETBALL, as does the heir-apparent to both in WSM, Thor Bjornson.   Before the Zydrunas era, Pudzanowksi dominated strongman and he was an avid martial artist in his childhood years.   Strongman has been largely dominated by guys who never really did a lifting sport before they got into it! 

I never bothered with powerlifting since they have yet to build a cage, barbell, bench and plates that can easily fit in the back of a pick-up.  Plus, my morbid, almost-unreasonable, disgust for the bench press has been well-documented by myself.  So, clearly I have no plans to compete in powerlifting any time soon.  That doesn't seem to have hindered my strongman training too much.

It's surprising to me that such an increasingly marginalized lifting competition continues to be exert such influence since...

So, when you frequent a gym, it seems like you have to be in a group.  Ever notice that?  For purposes of brevity, let's just look at strength training.  You can do bodybuilding, powerlifting, strongman, Olympic weight lifting, or crossfit.  So, they all have their training protocols and their choice movements that they do to get to their definition of strength. 

Why?  Because I can!
What I find comical is how many people choose a branch on this tree, but never compete in any of the above.  So, riddle me this:  if you're not going to compete, then why not just do whatever you like to do to lift?  It's surprising to me how many empty headed dumb asses would bench religiously with powerlifters even with no intention of ever powerlifting, even if they weren't fond of benching.  I know I'm not the only one.  What I can't understand is if you don't like a specific lift, then why do it if there is no real need (competition)?

Yes, I will agree that some kind of squat and some kind of deadlift is important to integrate into any good strength training.  Yet, it doesn't have to be a back squat or a conventional deadlift.  Drew Spriggs brought this up in an excellent training article here about how to train for strongman without implements.  Note how many times he brought up stiff-legged deadlifting.  I don't see them done enough depite the obvious carryover.  Odd, since this form of deadlifting is probably more relevant to normal life than the conventional one we're all commanded to do because...POWERLIFTING

"people try so hard to be different from everyone else that they end up being the same as everyone else. Stop trying. Just be who you are. Wtf?! "

Yeah, those kind of people are clearly annoying, even in strength training.  So, I do different shit quite a bit because what's important in my situation to get strong is very different than the rest of the well-equipped world.   I enjoy odd and wacky but it usually has a point.  While I may not totally disagree with such a statement that Alex makes, I do think that too many people out there wearing the expert label don't have the right focus in matters of getting strong.  Their focus has a narrowed field of view.  Maybe they're just like the rest of us:  novices still learning. 

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Push-ups vs Bench Press: the former shows up in strongman?

Full Definition of CULT

1:  formal religious veneration :  worship
2:  a system of religious beliefs and ritual; also :  its body of adherents
3:  a religion regarded as unorthodox or spurious; also :  its body of adherents
4:  a system for the cure of disease based on dogma set forth by its promulgator cult
5a :  great devotion to a person, idea, object, movement, or work (as a film or book); especially :  such devotion regarded as a literary or intellectual fad
b:  the object of such devotion

c :  a usually small group of people characterized by such devotion

The definition, copied right out of Merriam-Websters,  must have been completed while in a gym.  The level at which each high school click-modeled strength sports will stay glued to their respective movements would impress Jim Jones (If he were around to be impressed).  One thing that they all kind of agree on the vital importance of the bench press for upper body development.  While my newfound sport will at least relegate this lift to an accessory status, I still guarantee that you could send them, as much as the rest of the strength athletes, into anaphylactic shock should you dare disregard the bench. 

There's plenty of reasons why I think that Ltrain is a fucking riot, even if all of them are formulated from a facebook interaction.  One such example is this little gem.


Unlike me, a barely year-long extra-don't-know-shit about strongman athlete, Matt pretty much makes every overhead press his bitch.  There's little room to doubt he's the best 175 lbs presser in the USA.  While he does use bench, he's gone without the bar, leaving chest Monday to the flex-Friday crowd.  Naturally, anyone who defies the cult edict about benching is going to earn my man-crush.

Anyone doing push-ups in strongman is rare.  If they're doing it, they're most likely most likely in a darkened room, just in front of the people watching bestiality porn.  They seem almost that far off-limits.  While I may have compromised and added weight to my push-ups a while back, I won't ever write them off.  I refuse to agree that they are an inferior exercise. 

A heavily weighted push up has been firmly in my routine since that article last July.   What I should have done was made a video of the whole ordeal since getting a sandbag to the back is best shown rather than described.  Apologies for my laziness on this front: 

Sadly, I've fallen to another form of laziness that pisses me off when working out in a group of Floridians:  being too much of a slug to get out (or put back) training gear.  I left that sandbag in my pick up truck after re-filling it.  It subsequently got cold and all the sand froze up.  I've been procrastinating about bringing it inside so it can thaw and I can start using it again.  So, when I need a weighted push-up, I've been doing one-arm push-ups with chains around my neck. That's firmly in my category of "exercises to do with embarrassingly little weight" since just a 20 lbs chain with a OAPU will tax my upper body to the limit with just 5-8 reps per arm.  Then, it's easy to put them away, so I can continue to be more Florida-like.
...and once again, I'm too lazy to shoot a video!

Of course, I do still stay true to my BW-only, no-weights roots often.  I even do some high rep push-up work as a finisher to pump some blood into my upper body push muscles.   I still use an old favorite that I haven't blogged about in years:  a 45 rep set of 15 wide, 15 standard, and 15 close-hand push-ups.  I've always loved this one because as you get deeper into the set and move the hands closer together, the distance to move the upper body gets longer.  That makes the set harder out of proportion to the number of reps I'm doing.   Hello, Triceps pump!

I had a friend in Florida who used to taunt me about becoming too much like a mainstream strongman, even using the word, "cult," to describe my entrance into the sport.  While comical, there are a few things I don't think that I'll ever do.  First, I'll never buy rehband shorts.  Second, i'll never let the bench become a regular part of my staple movements.  I just don't like it and I don't need it.   I need a strong chest but I don't need to go about it just like the cult of the bench press princesses go about it. 

Friday, March 20, 2015

If you're upper back is weak, you just outed yourself...

I'm sure that readers of my blog know that I'm generally a fan of keeping things involving my training somewhat simple.  After all, one of the whole points to my blogging is to show off to the world how much worthwhile training can be accomplished with less equipment than the rest of the world would have you believe.  This minimalist mindset often times leaks over to advice I dispense. 

So, that's probably why I find the deadlift form check videos on my facebook feed could throw me into a frothing rage if I had slightly less self control.  Simply put, deadlifting is taking shit off the floor.  Doing that properly isn't esoteric knowledge or missile-construction complex.  Still, this is weight training and people find a way to complicate things.  A few  reasons why people's deadlift sucks come up and one interests me at the moment:  upper back weakness. 
Me, doing 360 lbs for 12, not really giving a shit about getting form checked. 

Gyms, and their inhabitants, these days make me want to scratch my head...or smash their heads.  Just like collective senility set in about picking heavy things up properly off the ground has infected the houses of iron, so has the inability and lack of desire to work hard.  If anyone's wondering about how I connect the dots of lazy and bad pulling, it's simple:  if you're opining that your upper back is weak, you've just told the world you don't work hard enough. 

An upper back is made strong by a variety of movements.  You can build muscle back there with a shocking variety of rows, pull-ups, rope climbing, carrying heavy stuff, just about all deadlifting, lat pull-overs, etc.  Things that some people might consider to be THE BASICS

Next, most of this stuff works best if done in high volume.  Very simply put:  the upper back muscles can take a pounding.  So, to get them to grow and get strong, you've got to force them to do a lot of work.  Not only can they do a lot of work in a single session, it's possible to work them 3-4 times a week in such a fashion with  no detrimental effects.  

So, if the key to getting a strong upper back is doing the basic strength training movements with enough volume often enough, what other conclusion could be arrived at for having a weak one in the first place?  

Since I'm not in the blogging-business of mindlessly ranting about everyone's shitiness without giving solutions to the problems (to me that qualifies as being an asshole with no redeeming quality), I'll give you a few things that I like to do to keep my upper backs strong when I throw upper back work into my prayer sessions.

  • I heard about this from either Chip Conrad or Matt  Kroczaleski (I can't remember who; look I can spell his last name!):  100 pull-ups.  Do 100 pull-ups, however many sets but do 100.  Try to keep the time down to do it.  Being Matt Kroczaleski, he claims 5 sets of 20.  I generally do a set of 15 and 10 until I hit 100.  It ususally takes me around 12-14 minutes. 
  • I've blogged about my take on pyramid sets in the past.  I've also got a weighted pull-up take on things.  I'll normally start at 50 lbs pull-ups for 10.  Then, I'll add 10 lbs and drop off two reps until I get to 90 lbs (which would be for two reps).  Then, I'll do 90 for two until I can't do any more sets.  Then, I head back down. 
  • Pedlay Rows.  I love these with an axle.  Its pretty much the most idiot-proof row that can be done without machinery.  5-8 reps...until I just can't do any more sets (generally 8-12 sets). 
  • Double rope climbs.  Oh, this is a latest favorite of mine.   I've got two-1 inch ropes hanging in my garage.  Each hand has  rope.   I've got several ways I'll attack this.  Sometimes, I do just bodyweight, several trips up the rope.  Other times, I'll grab some 10 lbs chains, wrap them around m body, bandoleer style, and make trips up the rope, pyramid-style as described above with the weighted pulls.  Other times, I'll just put 20 lbs on and go up for five trips. 
  • Bent Pressing.  I'm still using a 100-110 lbs (either kb or db) for accessory work for my deadlifts.  I'll do three on each side, three times.  A bent press "rep" is a lot of time under tension.  So three sets of three on each side can be killer.
So, there's my normal variety of familiar with an odd twist or just flat-out odd.  You don't need to be this strange, even if I highly recommend it.  Just pick out a movement and do as much as your body will allow you to do...and a bit more after that.  I can't guarantee that this will fix your deadlift form since using your head doesn't come from upper back strength.  At the very least, I can hopefully instill a work ethic. 

Monday, February 23, 2015

Really Hard Stuff to do with embarassingly little weight II: Anderson Squats

So, there I was, standing with Cory and his wife, Rita in Clearwater, FL, chatting about my highly theatrical side press that you see in the background as well our mutual failures in the previous Hummer Tire Squats.  Cory's failure was for a different reason than mine.  He didn't have the bar centered properly on his back.  When he hit the boxes, the uneven weight distribution got him stuck.  I explained my previous fun that resulted in my zero.  He mentioned that one guy, and one guy only, managed to get off the boxes when he got stuck...and that guy may well be the best squatter in the whole competition. 

It's difficult to imagine how good this shit tasted!

That thought stuck with me long after the competition, no doubt because the more I look back, I wanted to get that 365 lbs set-up off those boxes more than I want Island Ice Cream to bring back their Maker's Mark Bourbon flavor.  Or, more specifically, I want that kind of capability.  Cory's a seasoned competitor; the kind of guy who when he talks about what a good squatter is, I pay attention.

Squats are beloved for a number of reasons all across the fruited plane of strength training.  The build mass, make you stronger at lots of strength tests, best way to make a nice firm, muscular ass (Yes, you, there is no better way.  Deal with it), and just one of the most favored ways to move an enormous amount of weight.  
Sure, she may have wrote an e-book of butt exercises but she still squats heavy. 

That last part is likely why the subject of why the bottom-started, Anderson squat is largely forgotten in strength training.  It's enormously difficult to do and likely needs to be done with less weight than most people can squat with starting the movement at the top with a FRONT squat, say nothing of the back squat.  It just goes to show how much your body depends on bouncing yourself out of the hole.  A box doesn't even come close to showing you this (chances are, you're box squatting wrong anyway).  It's not surprising to me that Anderson is likely the greatest squatter in history if he bottom-started his squats with regularity. 

One of the earliest lessons about bottom starting this squat was that depth isn't a huge consideration here.  I made the highly unusual mistake of thinking I was starting in a much too high squat and went far too low, practically ass to grass, and couldn't even start high 200's weights.  I learned that just starting just a bit below parallel is all that's necessary for this particular variation. 

Next, this is kind of a low-reps set kind of work.  I've done these for sets of two, all the way to sets of 8.  I much prefer the lower end.  When I do this movement, it feels like a movement best suited for creating a lot of power and strength.  Keep the reps low, the weight higher, and focus on making sure the subsequent reps are started from a dead stop.  Eliminate all bounce!

Yeah, I said keep the weight higher but note I didn't say heavy.  Heavy relative to this movement and the butt-hurt nobody will likely admit to when they first try this one out will likely cause some bullshitting.  Use modest weights on this one.  Really modest.  I was a high 300-low 400 lbs squatter before the back and IT band problems kicked in mid-2014 and when I got around to doing these after Clearwater, I was using 250-275 lbs.  Modesty will pay off, I'm sure.

How sure, I'm not sure.  I'm not about to speculate about how strong my legs will get from doing these.  It's far too soon to speculate.  I can only ponder the namesake of the bottom-started squat:  Paul Anderson.  As much as I read about him, I can't speculate about how often he did these.  I can only offer up an internet-expert (which means:  NOT an expert at all) opinion based on what I've read about him:
  • He was so powerful at the squat that as soon as he started lifting anything for the public, he was smashing world records. 
  • He was lifting so much weight that nobody was making barbells that could take the weight he was lifting, often resulting in him improvising equipment (also improvising out of poverty)
  • His squatting prowess would still make him an elite lifter even today.  This was with no absolutely no modern medicine or equipment.

In other words, Paul Anderson was able to generate ridiculous squatting power sixty years ago that, even to this day, most people can only match or beat with wraps and suits while starting out of a monolift.  that's obviously rare and unusual.  He also did it with marginal and improvised equipment.  I think that the case could be made that starting his lifts from the bottom likely contributed a large part to this. 

While I can find writing that indicates he did do squatting from the bottom position of the squat, there seems to be a lack of photography to prove it.  However, there are numerous pictures of him doing partial squats started from the bottom position.
Even if it doesn't, this has kind of become a personal goal.  It's a sort of personal redemption from Clearwater.  I'd love to be able to bottom start 365 lbs.  Best of all, It's a squat that I can do with the modest quantity of equipment and embarrassingly little weight I have to work with.  

Friday, February 20, 2015

So, How often should you train?

It's come to my attention that despite my frequent twists and turns in the nearly 8 years of blogging, I've still maintained some readers through my eccentric process of training.  One thing that has remained somewhat steady and constant is my insistence on maintaining some sort of daily training with no planned rest days. 

That's always a hand grenade waiting to be tossed into any highly important gathering of internet professional strength trainers.  Just like everyone has grime under their fingernails, everyone has an opinion about how often you must train and how many days you have to rest.  After all, this is all very serious shit and there is no room for disagreement amongst internet experts. 

I have pretty respectful and easy-going readers though, I must say.  I recently got a message that provoked the topic at hand:  how often should you train?
Hi. i'm reading all your blog when i have free time, since 2007. Even if is too mutch "no pain no gain" for me. (training everyday etc)I really appreciate the content and what you write... one thing that I did not understand is why you went from "no tools" to use the kettlebelsl (sic) and other "strongman stuff".continues to write please, it's good for my knowledge and motivation bye and greetings from Italy!

 Just like pretty much everything else in training, I believe in variation based personal preferences and capabilities.  I do keep up a pretty high volume, high frequency training schedule because that's what I'm capable of doing.  I view rest days much in the same light as I do rest in between sets (discussed here):  take as many as you need and no more than that. 

There's a reason why train so often and don't really plan rest days:  I don't need them nearly as much as the next guy does.  I can handle a high workload.  If you can't handle that kind of regular training, then take the rest you need to recuperate. Don't let anyone tell you how much or how little you need.  They don't walk around in your bag of bones after all. 

That's not to say that I don't take days off either.  In between my workouts, life happens.  I'm married, have a kid, a house, and a job that keeps me traveling somewhat regularly.  I would love to train every day if I could.  I just don't get the opportunity.  So, life often provides me with rest days, whether I like them or not. 

Also, take into consideration how you live your life in the other 22+ hours you're not training. Compare that to the other internet lifting gods who are about to execute you with an excessively dull butter knife for lifting so often.   Are they eating and sleeping properly, or at least doing both well enough relative to their training?  If they're doing it worse than you then it's a small wonder you can outwork them. 

The dreaded and indecisive-sounding, "it depends", answer to how often we should all be training has to be used.  In my non-expert opinion, it's far too relative to each person to answer with a boiler-plate number of sessions.  Answer it for yourself. 



Thursday, February 19, 2015

I'm Interesting enough to be interviewed. WHO KNEW?

So, somewhere around a week before my competition, this guy Rock Capuano got in touch with me to do an interview for his new podcast, "A Fitness Life".  Things went great...until he realized the audio was shit. 

Take two happened in November...didn't work again. 

Luckily, I'm a soul of patience and we had good banter back and forth so I didn't mind taking three.  Here was the result...


If you enjoyed this podcast, give his other ones a listen too.  Keep updated with what Rock has up his sleeves here:



Thank again, Rock, for allowing me to spout off on your podcasts...but did you have to use a five year old picture of me holding such a light kettlebell? 

Friday, February 6, 2015

So, What's Dangerous?

So, do you want to get some people on the internet pissed off in a hurry?  I've got two, wonderful suggestions.  The first one involves buying a big ass grill, adopting as many puppies and kittens from your local shelter as possible, and posting pictures of the ensuing barbeque that you have all over Instagram.  The second involves writing an article on any popular, hack fitness site complete with a list of exercises that are dangerous and should never be done.  I'm guessing most of the English-reading and speaking followers of my blog haven't acquired the taste for house pets (even though everything tastes good on a grill) so that would leave you to spout off about the dangerous stuff that people do in the gym.

Once in a great while, I am capable of looking past the bullshit that inhabits our little subculture of strength and see some merit in these contentious issues.  This just happens to be one of those times.  Yes, exercise can be dangerous.  I just happen to think that it's not as simple as, "this will break your skeleton to dust...DON'T DO IT".   So, the reasons why certain shit is or isn't a hazard change.  Here are the reasons why.  Some are pathetically obvious.  Others more subtle. 

Pathetically Obvious:  Not Done Right!
You'll see bread-and-butter exercises like the squat and the deadlift labeled as bad for you by medical professionals with reliability that even Rolex would envy.  The answer for this is pretty simple:  they get to deal with the people who did them wrong, fucked themselves up, and came to them to be un-fucked from their ignorance. 

My physical therapist told me that squats were bad for my knees.  My chiropractor told me that deadlifting was bad for my back.  Well, babies squat naturally and sit down with extreme reluctance.  Adults change this with modern habit.  In other words, we un-learn the squat...and often don't re-learn it properly.  It's downright stunning how few people I've seen in even a hardcore strength gym can't squat properly.  While I don't agree that back squatting is dangerous, I do agree that it's not good for someone who doesn't know how to squat anymore.  There's a key difference in how bad it is for you:  lack of  knowledge.

My friend Chip had the best take on deadlifting that I've heard to date.  It goes something like this:  deadlifting is picking something off the ground.  You have know how to do that properly.  So, labeling the deadlift as dangerous and suggesting avoidance is impractical as the day is long for a human body who might actually have to move with purpose.  There's a perfectly good reason why your lumbar vertebras are the biggest of all the spine bones:  they're designed to take a lot of force from lifting stuff. 

Let me clue new readers into a simple fact that I've gone over several times over the years:  the medical community and the weight training community have had a very contentious relationship going back nearly 12 decades now.  Shockingly little information is shared between them and they both frequently bicker about what's best for a human body.  It's sad that your doctor probably has no fucking clue about proper exercise but that likely true. 

Almost as Obvious: Too Much!
Yeah, I'm sure this one has got to be neck-and-neck with doing good exercises with poor form in creating training injuries.   From kipping your way to high pull-up volume with torn labrums to deadlifting your way to bulged discs with excessive iron, gym dummies give the training naysayers plenty to complain about with dangerous exercises with their own brand of decedance .

Let me enlighten everyone here to a term in force development that few people know about and I don't mention enough to compensate for that:  absolute strength.  This is phenomenon when the brain fires 100% of the muscle fibers, rather than the roughly 33% you can consciously perceive firing.  This is held in reserve for emergency use only since it's also a tendon-shredding amount of power.  Hey, exploded connective tissue beats dying, right?

So, all of that effort to take a perfectly safe lift and turn it into an episode of social Darwinism is just flat-out pointless.  If you sense enough need, you can lift anything while breaking just about everything in your body in the process.  Doing it in a life-threatening situation is impressive.  Doing it for a PR is stupid.  If anything, it just gives ammo to those ignorant medical professionals who will have to screw and glue your body back together that real strength training is a fantastic revenue stream. 

Kind of Subtle, often ignored:  Imbalances
This is where the clear waters of what is and isn't dangerous becomes positively swampy. The fact remains that there are a lot of exercises that, done a bit too much, will lead to some sort of muscle imbalance.  That can be dangerous.  Back a few years ago, I  took up the maddening pastime of reading anatomy books to learn about the human body.  Most of this shit is memorization that's easily forgotten should you not use it on a daily basis but there were a few concepts that stuck with me.  One such example was tensegrity. 

One thing you have to keep in mind is that your skeleton is not machine-like in the sense that the bones do not directly interlock with one another at the joints.  Sure, there are some tendons that hold bone to bone but alignment is provided by tension from multiple muscles, pulling in multiple directions.   Proper muscle tension holds the body together.  Improper muscle tension breaks it down.

So, over development of the strength of certain muscles results in more tension, pulling joints in bad directions.  That's a huge reason I'm not a fan of the bench press.  This also explains why the face pull is so popular with savvy benchers.  It helps develop the shoulder muscles that the bench, even when done right, neglects.  That also explains why I like the push-up so much:  you don't need two exercises to develop healthy upper body pushing strength (aka:  inefficiency).  Still, a bench press can be okay, if you pull something to your face.

I learned this the hard way this past summer when I eschewed any lower body, posterior-chain work since it made my Frankenstein-knee hate the rest of my body.  Instead, I favored quad-dominant squatting, particularly the hip belt squat.  Over the summer, this approach helped me develop IT Band syndrome so bad that I couldn't do much at all with my legs for the final months before my Strongman Competition.  Most of this due to a movement generally considered a healthy alternative to squatting for a physically-compromised body. 

Now don't mistake this for some sort of rant from a skinny, polo-shirt-wearing, DYEL-esque personal trainer from the purple country part of the strength training world.  No, unlike them, I love to lift and otherwise train.  What I don't enjoy is...shit that inhibits my ability to train.  So, that will make me ponder the notion that there may well be shit I can do that's hurtful and therefore keeps me from hoisting.  Yes, there are dangers and they need to be identified to keep me from setting fire to things as an alternative form of stress reduction.  So, while reading such article about dangerous this-n-that on T-Nation are mostly painful, it does present an opportunity for introspection. 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Just a Few Things You Probably Don't Do But Should

There's got to be hundreds of ways to move for reasons of getting stronger.  I'll take liberty to assume that many only do a fraction of them.  The reasons are likely totally legitimate.   Maybe your half-assing trainer didn't program them for you.  I'm sure that lots of them don't help your bench. Nobody else around you does them so if you did, you'd violate that unspoken agreement of conformity.  Actually, that's a good word to describe a lot of why people do what they do in strength temple.  It's unfortunate that the answer to why to choose an exercise is, "TO GET STORNGER". 

The funny thing is, that seems to change between generations.  We don't lift the same since the test of strength have changed.  So, lifts have changed along with the times.  Being good at selected lifts doesn't necessarily make a persons strong, just strong at the lifts at hand.  There is a difference.  Some good ideas get lost like that.  Here's a list of those lifts, and things to train, that are best remembered. 

I strongly suspected my revolving door of IT Band tightness and lower back irritation was the result of my left knee not naturally hyperextending like it should back in September.  Early in my resumption of normal training, I'd lifted right-side dominant.  Even as I tired in later months, I'd still notice my right leg was still locking out faster.  I suspected I had to get my knee to move more like it should naturally. 

After looking at the glute-ham machine in the gym, I hit myself for not thinking of this sooner:  hyperextensions.  The set-up in this contraption would put some force on my knee somewhat similar to what I used to do in physical therapy and hopefully get my natural range of motion close enough to 100% back to stop the above-mentioned insanity. 
Vasily Kolotov.  That back cleavage should put to rest any arguments about the value of hyperextensions.
During research into the topic of hyperextensions, I stumbled onto this article.  Apparently, these were a Soviet favorite back in the 1970's to turn the spinal erectors into dueling telephone poles (I'd also like to draw attention to the fact that this was written long before Pavel was even potty trained so it's unlikely not THAT kind of Russian training secret.)

I didn't get too creative on this one.  The rep training scheme provided in the article was what I did (I conformed). While it did help my knee out, the training had another effect:  I haven't tweaked my back in any manner lifting since I started doing these. 

Vince Gironda's Pullups
Generally I can't stand bodybuilding. I like to confine flexing in my underwear to the privacy of my bathroom.  So, it does seem a bit odd that I generally have a highly favorable opinion of Vince Gironda since he's just about the biggest bodybuilding purist of his time.  There's just one thing:  the guy happened to be stupid-strong at the same time.  What else do you call a person who can do this?

From what I've read, the cranky, alcoholic, high-priest of bodybuilding favored doing pull-ups in which he brought his sternum, not his chin or chest, to the bar.  It kind of looks like a row combined with a pull-up.  It also looks like a ridiculously hard pull-up variation that most bar-humping, pull-up kippers will avoid like the plague.  That's unfortunate since this simple extra few inches makes the upper back want to explode.  It's the perfect example of, sometimes, a few extra inches can make all the difference in the world (ask your girlfriend). 

The best cue I've found to do pull up to the sternum is to simply throw the head all the way back.  Look straight up and pull.  Never bring your head up.  This is hard and be prepared to have a shocking, and embarrassing,  number of repetitions sliced off your sets.  That's probably why nobody does these anymore.  Don't mind that.  Just pull.  Allegedly, Gironda did four dozen of these to a set.  So, follow his lead (skip the alcohol) and get to work. 

The Bent Press
It doesn't take too long to read this blog to realize that I adore this lift.  I started doing this lift five years ago with a measly 35 lbs for one reason only:  it's fun and it looks cool.  It's a slow-grind lift that was done regularly in old strongman shows because it was visually appealing and a lot of weight can be lifted with one hand if the technique is mastered.  That's the rub right there:  it's also tricky to learn and very hard to find someone who know what they're doing with it. 

I never really assigned any practicality to doing such a lift.  It was just something that caught my attention to do and I did it because I enjoyed it.  As it turns out, there are two things that this lift has going for it.  The first would be Lat work.  Very simply put, the getting-under action of the bent press is a lot of upper back work.  Even two straight reps of this will fry the Lats.  There's a lot of time under tension with this lift. 

The second was brought to my attention by an article posted not too long ago:  thoracic mobility.  Very simply put:  we don't twist much any more when we train.  Sure, some will begrudgingly admit that's important.  Then, they will assign some sort of puny, boorish band-assisted mobility work that we'll disregard as soon as issues brought on by the lack of mobility are eradicated.  I've heard of an interesting alternative:  why not do a strength move that moves in the same manner as the rehab move you'll soon disregard?  At least we could have some fun, get strong, and stay moveable. 

In fact, that's something I can't beat my readers up with enough:  DO SOMETHING THAT YOU ENJOY DOING!  If you don't enjoy the lifts that you're performing, then don't do them.  Very, very few exercises are so important that you can't afford to not do them.  Unless you compete in a strength sport that dictates you do a specific lift, then there is no reason to follow the lead of others.  That's really why most don't know about the vast array of ways to exercise and get strong. 

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Just get it overhead

Continuation of blogging about shit that, in the past, I never used to do, seems oddly intriguing to me.  I spent the past half decade smashing keys about almost all bodyweight and not giving much of anything in routines.  After all, few things annoy me about our subculture quite like people who can't comprehend training without stuff, much less how to put together something as rudimentary as programming.  Both of these could be irrefutable proof that there just isn't enough thought out there going through people's minds when they decide their muscles need stimulation. 

So, I try to put some thought into my routines.  Once in a while, I find the thoughts produce a result that's worth sharing. Such is one of the workouts I did the Sunday after my first competition.  Apparently, I broke some sort of tradition that stipulates that you should do your best to mimic a statue in the subsequent days after a strongman competition.  Since I love to train as much as I like to kick the nuts of conventional training wisdom, I took my traditional goof-off day and did some kettlebell work. 

In case I haven't said it enough recently, I adore Ironmaster's kettlebells.  Not only are they square, (which really throws people off) but they also more than pay for themselves if you tried to buy a set of conventional kettlebells (ie a 35, 53, 70 and 97 lbs).  With the right pin set-up, its possible to adjust from 22-103 lbs with a nice, tight lock-up. 

Strongman appeals to my sense of practicality because so much of it is getting stuff off the ground and getting it overhead in one way or another.  There are many ways to do that, some more conventional then others.  So, that's what I decided my break from strongman training would do, even if I wasn't going to a traditional strongman implement. 

I hadn't done a kettlebell snatch since before I borrowed a piece of knee ligament from some random, dead guy.  Prior to having such a need for spare parts, I used to do these pretty heavy, sometimes up to 100 lbs.  Since I was still barely smart enough to do these with some caution, I did them with only 85 lbs. 

Next up, I grabbed two kettlebells, stacked 70 lbs on both and threw up some clean and presses.  Since my shoulder strength could use some work,  tried my damnest to not use any leg drive off the clean to press the KB overhead. 

Since that kind of fried my shoulders up but I still had a desire to do some overhead work, I rounded things out by adding more leg drive and doing double KB squat-presses.  This one I made a concerted effort to explode out of the hole and use that drive to push the KB's overhead.   I also do this movement only with weight I cannot press overhead.  That way, I have to add lots of leg drive. This movement helped me immeasurably in the yoke press part of my medley. 

This may have been one of the best routines I've ever put together for myself off the top of my head.  I've used the last two in tandem several times to keep getting shoulder work in even after they're fatigued.  I heard a strongman bring up an interesting point about his competition preparation.  He noted that for a while, he wasn't necessarily getting stronger, he was just coming up with different ways to move the weight in an effective manner.  That's kind of what I was aiming for with this workout:  practice getting weight off the ground and overhead in as many different ways as possible.

Mr "finding different ways".  Heard of him?
Of course, if one were to care about such things, this would also be an effective routine to make for a bigger ass and wider shoulders. It would beat the hell out waist training to achieve an hour glass figure.

These videos weren't demonstrations. They were actual sets. Yes, those are kettlebells. No they don't have to be done in high repetitions. I do all of these in low reps and as many sets of each as I can handle. That can change depending on how much manual labor I do but mostly in the 6-10 sets range, each. So, make a conscious point to throw off any preconceived notions about strength training that you have (When to train, strongman and kettlebells, kettlebells for high reps, etc) and put some creative thought into what you do.