Archive for December, 2007

The Way of the Weight Room

December 31, 2007

It’s that time of year again when everyone + dog is making resolutions. “I’m gonna lose weight”, “I’m going to get in shape”, etc. Nothing wrong with those things. IF you are serious and follow through. January is a time when
I will not step foot in a commercial gym except in the most off hours. I’ll train out on the freeway during rush hour if I have to. It’s not as busy as the club in January. When March rolls around you’d swear it was the rapture and only you and a few others are left here.

When I was but a mere 9th grader it was the same situation when track rolled around. Every year for 4 or 5 days the girls track coach would drag her team into the weight room, give them the requisite half hour of instructions and turn them loose. There were about two girls out of 30 that were serious. I’d give them the time of day and be helpful. The others no way.

Now you might think that’s harsh, but that was how I was indoctrinated into the ways of the weight room. I started lifting in eighth grade. There were a couple others in my grade that started lifting then too. They didn’t make it though and I did, for a reason. The other occupants of the weight room were a few sophomore’s and a couple juniors and seniors. They were much stronger than I was and in most situations would not have even associated with an eighth grader. But that is not the way of the weight room. The way of the weight room is to help anyone who comes seeking help. Seeking help is not you and your buddy stacking the lat pull machine and then hanging on it to see if you can make it move. That type of crap is mostly what my buddies did and what the girls track team did. Those things carry no weight in the weight room.

The older kids saw I was serious about what I was doing and took me under their wing. They were mostly good influences from a methodology standpoint. Most of them were training to become better athlete’s or simply bigger and stronger. They weren’t of the bodybuilder mindset and steroids weren’t even a consideration. The respect I earned in the weight room did not just live in the weight room, I was able to walk up to the same sophomore, junior and senior kids and talk to them anytime. I got some quizzical looks from my classmates and so did the older kids from their peers. Those looks went away when one of them would say, “he lifts with us”. That was the magical key. Weightlifting was the common thread that cut through age and grade barriers and put us all on the same level.

I held and still do everyone that has come after me to the same test. Show me your the least bit serious, even if you don’t know what the hell you are doing and I will help you. I’ve tutored many who have came after me to the ways of the weight room. If you’ve spent anytime lifting with me or others I’ve lifted with you will respect anyone who wants to learn and is putting in an effort. Social strata, financial status, your name, etc. don’t matter. If you live up to the way of the weight room you will be taught and benefit from it and hopefully one day instill the way in someone else.


Pull Your Own Weight

December 18, 2007

I ran across this article years ago and snipped it. It is a great article on pullups.

Pull Your Own Weight by Ed Thompson

In my experience and thorough observation and reading it is clear to me that the most neglected area of concern to the serious strength trainer in his ability to “pull his own weight.” I refer specifically to pulling movements which are devoid of lower body assistance, such as chinups.

Think about it. Many times the serious strength devotee will speak about the need to keep things basic. You will hear them say that to have a complete workout you need three types of exercises, a push, a pull and a squat. The push is often a military press, bench press or dips. The squat is usally a full back squat, parallel squat, front squat or some derivation thereof. The pull is most often in the form of a power clean, high pull, or deadlift.

Where does that leave us? Strength training is based on the foundation of isolation and intensification. Now I’m not talking about things like concentration curls, triceps pushdowns and the like, although they have their place as remedial tools when a weak link occasions itself. What I refer to is that we tend to get stronger at what we work at. How many times have you seen someone in the gym with a big bench press and a non existent sqaut. I have literally seen 400 lb benchers struggle to do a set of full squats with 185 lbs. Conversely, although much more seldomly, I have seen “squat monsters” doing darn close to 600 lbs on the squat who couldn’t do “squat” relatively speaking, on the bench press. My point is that we all have proclivities to work some movements harder than others and over time that is what we determine what our strengths are.

But herein, lies the rub. While a bench press isolates and intensifies the pushing prowess of the upper body, and squats develop the ponderous ability of the legs, hips, glutes, and lower back, popular pulling movements of even the most dedicated strength trainer tend to fall short because of the tremendous level of lower body influence on their execution.

Think about the following pulls: deadlifts, cleans, power cleans, snatches and high pulls all derive a tremendous amount of their impetus from the lower body.

Better than sixty-five percent of our musculature resides below our waistlines. Then there is our upper body of which the overwhelming majority of muscle mass is in our backs. For many of us this is a virtually untapped and under recognized treasure of strength. While it is true that the aforementioned pulling movements do work the back, it is also true that to a great extent they lack isolation and intensification because of hte heavy emphasis on the lower bodies contribution to pulling (which does not take place on pressing movements such as military presses, bench presses and dips which, while being compound movements, are isolated from the lower body allowing the process of intensification to take place.)

The question then, is how do we increase pure uppper body pulling ability, which will in turn influence the strength and power of our body as a total unit? Exercises such as bent-over row and T-bar rows, when looked at critically (especially when the trainee uses lots of weight) tend to become momentum drive, utilizing the legs to gain advanctage and thus robbing the back, and our pure upper body pulling apparatus of its full potential.

The answer is simple, yet brutal. Chin ups (underhand grip) and pull ups (overhand grip), rope climbing (without using the legs) and peg boards all allow for concentation on pure pulling strength devoid of lower body influence.

Many otherwise strong individuals have missed the mark on these critical movemetns. Over the years I have seen countless individauls capable of deadliftin in excess of 500 lbs, struggle to do ten dead hang pull ups. Excuses abound. Pull ups ( I use this term interchangeably with chin ups) are claimed to be the province of gymnasts, acrobats, people weighing under 165 lbs. and indivduals with “no real lower bodies, so it is easy for them to do pull ups.”

“I’m not good at pull ups because I am heavy.”

“I’m not good at pull ups because I have big legs.”

“I have a big deadlift, who needs to do pullups?”

Pull ups are a gut check. They are unglamorous and not often an “ego lift” for strength trainers. In a lot fo cases the ability to handle ones weight on puu ups is a good indication of ones state of body composition. It’s harder to do puu ups if you are lugging a lot of extra fat around. Of course even that is not definitive as we shall see in a moment. The biggest reason people are bad at pull ups is that they don’t do them because they are darn hard work.

The July 1972 (or close to it) edition of “Sports Illustrated Magazine” did a pre Olympic profile of weightlifting icon Vasily Alexeyev. The superheavyweight weightlifter from the former Soviet Union, often referred to as Uncle Vasily was reputed by the magazine to be able to do more than 32 pull ups at a bodyweight in the mid 300 lbs. range. Talk about pure pulling strength.

Undefeated heavyweight boxing champion Rocky Marciano was credited in his biography of routinely doing over 30 pull ups at a time as part of his training regimen (body weight in the 185 lbs. region.)

I have personally seen more than a few female athletes and strength trainers perform 10 to 15 pull ups at a time, routinely, from a dead hang. Who said women don’t have the potential for strong upper bodies.

“The Guiness Book of World Records” listed the world record of pull ups in a recent year at something over three hundred.

Strength and Health magazine at the end of the 70’s-beginning of the 80’s, did an article on a father and son tearm who specialized in pull ups. I am sketchy on the details but if memorey serves they could do over 60 pull ups a piece, and get this, the father was over sixty himself!!!

Stop rationizing and start pulling. Think of deadlifts, cleans, etc…as what they truly are, full body movmeents. Don’t rob yourself of pure upper body pulling power which will aid you in everything you do. From mountain climbing to grappling, upper body pulling power is key.

Here are some tips:

1. Before you run out and start buying all kinds of equipment for your home gym, erect a pull up bar (in a doorway) Make sure it is sturdy. This tiny investment takes up virtually no space and can provid you with the workout of your life.

2. Don’t use wraps or any grip aids other than chalf for pull ups.

3. Do all sorts of variations. Overhand, underhand, close grip etc… Be careful not to do overly wide grip pull ups or pull ups behind the neck as these can effect shoulder stability.

4. Make a goal of being able to do at least 20 dead hang pull ups, and meet that goal. You can do it.

5. Eventually work up to doing weighted pull ups.

6. Make a goal of being abel to do at least ONE one-arm pull up (no help from your other arm) with each arm. This will probably take years but it is an awesome feeling to be able to pull your entire bodyweight up by one arm. I once saw a man do TEN one arm pull ups in the gym. He weighed 140 lbs. but even so, what an incredible feat. I have been able to hit 3 reps at over 200 lbs. with my right arm

7. As with all strength achievements do not look for overnight success. You want to do thirty-five dead hang pull ups? Make a five year plan. You want to be able to do some one-arm pullups? Make a five year plan. The key…STICK TO IT!!!

8. Seek out a YMCA, high school gym or community center and learn how to climb a thick rope. Get supervision for this (we don’t want you falling) and learn both hand over hand climbing as well as reach-and-grab climbing (rope climbing for speed-takes a lot of pulling strength.)

9. Once you become proficient at pull ups and rope climbing, get a weight vest and wear it when you do your workouts. After a time you will be using a thirty pound vest (they usually have variable weights) and you will have forgotten it is there. Imagine what unweighted pull ups will feel like afterwards.

10. Work up to weighted pull ups above and beyond the weight of your vest using a dipping belt.

11. Erect a sturdy 2″ x 4″ in your home, not too long and well supported and do pullups by grabbing the beam at its greatest width.

12. Practice two arm and one arm static holds for time and with weight to increase your grip strength.

13. Hang by one hand and pinch grip a couple of weight plates in another. Who knows? Maybe one day you will be able to do a one arm pullup while pinch gripping weights in your other hand. What a feat that will be.

14. Quit rationalizing. Pull ups are essential to the well rounded strength athlete. Start your pulling strength plan today.

As with anything I’ve ever written, take what strikes a resonant chord of truth within you and discard the rest. Of course approach all training regimens with an open mind. “The mind is like a parachute. If it’s not open, it doesn’t work.” Make sure you have a doctor’s clearance before beginning any exercise routine. Get professional guidance (coach or good trainer) if you have any questions on form. For example, you need to fully extend the arms in pull ups with over relaxing the shoulder girdle. Exercise defensively for longevity in your training.

Good luck and good training.

GoAnimal – a New/Old Perspective

December 16, 2007

I ran across an incredibly interesting site. It’s the work of Frank Forencich. He has many articles and takes a unique approach to training. I would call it spot on and sorely needed information for anyone interested in fitness. Frank is a great writer and has two books out. There is a news letter and examples of exercises.

GoAnimal is an innovative approach to health and physical conditioning. The idea is that physical training needs to meet a few simple conditions: it’s got to have some relevance to human origins, it’s got to speak to the functional performance of the human body and it’s got to be fun. In other words, we need a paradigm for exercise and fitness that’s primal, practical and playful.

Check it out.

Do You Need Some Strend?

December 3, 2007

What the heck is Strend? “STREND is defined as a balance of upper body strength and cardiovascular endurance and comes from the first three letters of (more…)