Category Archives: bodybuilding

Bunch of Cheaters!

ilya

There are a lot of anti-“insert name” people out there who don’t like anything the other side does. When you come from a place where you don’t know how the other half lives, you end up with a very narrow perspective in life.

Many of us were raised in an era where there wasn’t internet or YouTube. All we had were books and magazines. They were called “Muscle & Fitness”, “Flex”, and other descriptive names. They were our Bibles for learning our sports. In bodybuilding, we learned how to do everything strictly. You didn’t cheat your muscles by swinging a dumbbell up with your curls. You wanted continuous tension on the muscle.

Then you had powerlifting, which was often a big part of the bodybuilding discussion. You lowered the bar strictly to your chest in a bench press. You don’t bounce it off your chest or do partial reps. You needed full extension for it to count.

But these know-it-alls who spent all this time with their noses buried in the magazines often weren’t proficient in other sports. And if they didn’t know what they were talking about, they mocked and ridiculed other sports. They still do.

Take Olympic weightlifting for example. It is in compete juxtaposition to powerlifting and bodybuilding (neither of which are Olympic sports). The goal is not to get big muscles or to do an isolated movement in a single range of motion. Actually, there aren’t a lot of rules at all, even though most know that they are technically much more difficult movements. In both the snatch and clean & jerk, the goal is to take the bar from ground to overhead in full extension without pressing it out. That’s about it. Yeah, you can’t touch your knees to elbows or touch a body part to the ground other than your feet. But that’s it. Simple eh?

The truth is, most of these know-it-alls would say that it is a sport for Cheaters! And yes, it is 100% cheating. You use a hook grip, which is a cheat where you wrap your thumb along the bar and wrap your other fingers around. You pull the bar up only as high as it needs to be before pulling your body under. And guess what, they bounce (or oscillate) out of the squat to get to standing. Cheating? Absolutely! But that’s not the end of it. Then you bounce the weight on your shoulders before split squatting under it to get to full extension (the Dip & Drive). Its completely cheating. And this is what the average muscle head thinks when they write comments on YouTube. Yeah, they’re all the experts, haha!!

In other circles, we call it performance. The controversy when the Fosbury Flop first happened in the high jump. Total cheating. When you find ways to reach new heights, sometimes you have to cheat (aka, find better ways to move your body in space).

kip4

In gymnastics, you soon learn how to kip to get above the bar. Its a skill little girls learn early on in their careers. Is it cheating? Yes, it is. But it gets you to where you need to be. Kipping is actually a thang. No, some crazy CrossFit’r didn’t invent it to make the masses of Planet Fitness gurus angry at them. But its the first thing you see in the comments. “That’s not a pull-up”. “They only do that because they are too weak to do a real pull-up”. “You’re turning off the activation in your lats. You’d get much more out of a strict pull-up”. Haha, so they say in the comments.

Yeah, you could do an Olympic clean & jerk strictly. It would look like this:

  1. Slowly deadlift the bar off the ground.
  2. Strictly curl the weight to your shoulders without any excess movement.
  3. Military press to full extension locking it out overhead with no knee bend.

But I guarantee they wouldn’t be lifting 233 kg like Ilya does (512 pounds for the know-it-alls). Instead of a brute force event, it turns into an art of speed and power. It becomes a study in kinesiology (body physics). It adds elastic and kinetic energy instead of just raw strength.

People who bash things like butterfly kipping pullups really aren’t aware of the goal. The goal is performance. If someone says, without any other assistance, hang at full extension and take your chin over the bar as many times as you can in two minutes, does it matter how you do it? The goal is to do it. So you do it as intellectually efficient as you possibly can. Its not done to make the YouTube know-it-all commenter happy. Performance is different from other aspects of sport and fitness.

Yes, you could keep your feet still and throw a discus. But you’re not going to throw it far. If your goal is to be stupid, then do that. I’d rather see Al Oerter spin his way to win an Olympic gold instead.

There is a place for momentum, speed, kinetics, and other cheating to get performance! And cheating is life. A strongman lifts an Atlas stone exactly how a mom would heave a bag of potatoes to a shelf. You’re not looking at strict movement in life. You do what is necessary to get the job done.

Workout Update: My plan is working!

I told someone the other day, as you get older, you always have something going wrong with your body. One day its a shoulder, the next its a knee. You just never know. But I know some young folks who are the same way, so its not exclusive to aging.

Today, I have zero issues. I am so happy for that. Yeah, maybe I’m not admitting to a lingering thing here or there, but nothing comes to mind as far as injuries.

I attribute much to my current lifestyle. I am working out intuitively and “playing” a lot more. Here is what a common workout looks like for me:

CARDIO
I often start (sometimes finish) my workout with a Heartbreaker WOD (workout of the day). For me, its always 21-15-9 repetitions of a couplet or triplet. They usually have a bodyweight movement or cardio aspect included. Here is a list of common exercises:

Strictly cardio: run, row, ski-erg (all for calories)
Bodyweight stuff: box jump, jumprope double unders, burpees, pullups, pushups, situps
Other ideas: med ball slams, wall balls, thrusters, Romanian deadlifts

Example: 21 calorie ski-erg, 21 kettlebell swings, 15 ski, 15 swings, 9 ski, 9 swings

OLYMPIC WEIGHTLIFTING
I listened to a podcast the other day and it rocked my world. Instead of following the common template of snatch work then clean & jerk work in the same day, you split the movements alternating every day (or session). So every other day I do one or the other type of movement. Here are some examples:

Snatch day: snatch (singles, doubles, …), pauses, hangs, presses, pulls, angel drops, Sots press, snatch balance, snatch from blocks, overhead squat, muscle snatch,…

Clean & Jerk day: c&j (1x, 2x, 3x,…), pauses, hangs, jerks, complexes, blocks,…

This has helped me spend more time on a movement and lets me do other things too.

ACCESSORY
This could include a CrossFit WOD. Or it could be a CrossFit skill to work on, like muscle ups, handstand pushups, pistols, etc… I may do Strongman, like yoke squats, farmer carries, or Atlas stone shoulders. Or it could be straight up BodyBuilding, which is becoming a favorite. The interesting thing about Bodybuilding is that it is done strictly with quality. It is opening up tightness and weakness that my other work doesn’t cover. And lastly, I may do powerlifting. I bench press at least once a week. Trap bar deadlifts is a staple of mine and I do this nearly daily. And squats are central to Olympic lifting.

PLAYING
Its good to live life outside of work and “working-out”. One of the central points in CrossFit is to play sports. It is what makes all the hard work functional. I often Hula Hoop as a warmup or just for fun. Belly hooping gets the heart going and makes you move in ways that opens your body. But also playing and dancing with the hoop in many ways is fun. I have a Pole, so I do some pole work often, which is fun and adds lots of strength and flexibility to the routine. Stand-up Paddle Boarding, running, biking, kayaking, slack-lining, yoga aerial swings and silks, and many other activities. And actually working outside, like trimming trees, mowing the lawn, building something, all uses muscles in different ways. And of course, I play yoga all the time. I teach yoga, I participate in online challenges, and I take as many classes that I can. It is central to all that I do. Self care with self massage or getting massages from a professional rounds it all out.

Be healthy and find what works for you. Maybe you don’t devote an hour or two every day, but maybe its 15 minutes of something that makes you feel good. Take the time to enjoy life.

To Rest or Not To Rest

samsthiti

That is the question.

I still hear the prevailing wisdom that says that you absolutely need to chill out and rest at regular intervals. As in, do nothing, sit, sleep, nada!

OK, I’m on board with that. But let me throw a few nuggets your way that may change your mind.

There is a lot we don’t know about rest, recovery, and DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness). If you think about it, there are several ways that we gain and grow from exercise. One is the predominant idea that if you get sore, you have broken your body down so much that when you heal, you’ll be stronger than before. Another idea is in creating physiological and mechanical efficiencies in your body. If you repeat a movement, like running, rowing, or lifting, your body builds neural frameworks that enable that to happen better. In addition, if it has a heart pumping element, then the heart is continually laying down new cells and those individual cells become more efficient at pumping blood. I believe this all to be true.

The latter case where you’ve had a neurological or physiological challenge that improves efficiency, its quite possible that less recovery is needed. There isn’t a structural component that needs to be “cleaned out”. But for the former, where it is possible that muscle breakdown has occurred, fibrin and collagen and healing lymphocytes are sent to the site of trauma and a more defined recovery needs to take place. Picture the arms that connect an old choo-choo train’s wheels to make them rotate. Each one of these arms is now clogged up with gunk, whether sludge, mud, or other debris. You can either sit and wait for the rain, wind, or other natural processes to wash the gunk away. Or, you can go in there and clean it up manually.

First of all, I’m a firm believer that sleep is the numero uno (#1) priority in recovery. You don’t get any bragging rights for sleeping less. If somebody tells you they function just fine with 4 or 5 hours of sleep a night, they are blowing smoke up your nether-regions. You need those repeated 90 minute cycles that lead to hormone growth producing REM sleep. Each cycle is progressively deeper and more effective. Without this, you’ll not grow or recover and you’ll likely end up sick and injured. Sleep, then nutrition, should be your first priorities. You can’t make hormones if you are not eating healthy fats, proteins, and carbs.

So back to the choo-choo train’s clogged levers. Old school exercisers and mothers around the world would tell you to rest (aka do nothing). In the old days, the doctor would put you in a cast and tell you not to move for weeks if you had broken something. Now, we know that leads to frozen shoulder types of ailments. Today, you can get a major hip replacement and the next day the doctor has you walking laps around the 5th floor of the hospital. Its a totally different mindset from what was previously thought.

ACTIVE RECOVERY should be your mantra today. If you feel sore from doing Murph (run 1 mile, 100 pullups, 200 pushups, 300 air squats, run 1 mile for time), the answer is not to lay down for 3 days and let your body recover naturally. You need active recovery. That is, go for a walk, a run, get a massage, take an Epsom salt bath, or, heaven forbid, do a workout.

The massage and bath are passive ways to recover. But they are very effective in that kneading those muscle fibers clears out the junk around the muscles. It also moves the lymph, which doesn’t have its own circulatory pumping mechanism. Lymph is what carries all those T-helper cells and other healing hormones. It also carries the bad stuff away, the toxins and broken bits of tissue. All of this makes sense in old school recovery and shouldn’t be overlooked today.

What is a newer concept is the active recovery. OK, maybe not that new. We know that running, riding your bike, walking your dog, or swimming can all be effective tools to recovery. They are doing the same things as passive recovery. What many haven’t explored, however, is the idea of actually working out again. I mean, you just broke down the muscles, how can you possibly go back and do more? But its true.

When I wrestled as a kid, I was always sore. But somehow, we’d run, do some exercises, and get our bodies warm only to go back on the mat and work at 100% every day. In Ashtanga Yoga, the Primary Series is called the healing series. When someone was tired or sore, the founder Pattabhi Jois would say “You Do!” And somehow, you get on your mat and find yourself all better again. There is something to hopping back on the horse and getting stuff done. Its not a macho or boneheaded kind of thing. It is a matter of physiology and mechanical efficiency. You gotta clean out those levers of the Choo-Choo.

Olympic weightlifters train up to 2 long sessions a day for 6 days a week. And remember, they only have two primary movements, the snatch and clean & jerk. Runners often run every day. And a carpenter swings a hammer every day. Get your sleep, eat well, and try to workout often. Travis Mash, coach and record holding powerlifter, says that youngsters may do better to take a day off now and then. But as you age, he says that we should lower the intensity slightly and workout more often, like every day! This keeps us well-oiled and functioning at full capacity.

Sleep, eat, and keep moving EVERY day!

Pleasing to the Eye

franco-back

Tho beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I’ll happily give my two cents worth.

First, the picture. This is Franco Columbo. He grew up into bodybuilding with his dear friend, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Both of their stories are incredible to read. Franco is from Sardinia, a large island off the coast of Italy. I’m not sure of all the languages he speaks, but definitely Italian, German, and English. He was an idol of mine partly because he was a short guy at 5’5″. He was a boxer and powerlifter. He also did strongman feats of strength, like bending steel bars and blowing up hot water bottles until they burst. Arnold convinced him to try bodybuilding and that’s what he is best known for. He was often competing against Arnold in the lightweight and heavyweight finals of Mr. Olympia and Mr. Universe contests. He eventually came to America where he became a chiropractor. I imagine he could give a person a good crack of the back. Look at those lats!

The reason I post this is that a man’s back is a huge indicator of strength in a man. I think it goes largely unnoticed to the untrained eye. Many see strong forearms or biceps, or maybe thick neck and traps. But its the lats that show a lot for me. If you’re standing behind a man who “works” for a living in the line at Subway, you can clearly see the strong back. You know he’s swung a sledge and lifts heavy stuff all day long.

When I was still fairly new to CrossFit, I went to a level I trainer certification in Atlanta. The seminar trainers were talking up front with big whiteboards to write on and a tall plyometric box for demonstrations. When they demo’d the first movement, the squat, none other than Christmas Abbott took off her layers and jumped up on the box. Men, women, crickets,…everyone’s jaws dropped! Yeah, I’ve never seen a woman that fit before, at least not in real life. But a very close second was one of my primary trainers. He was like a mini-Franco Columbo. The CF Trainers wore these red t-shirts. I thought his shirt would burst at the seams from his thick lats. I couldn’t help but stare. He was only 5’5″ too, but he must have had an X-Large Men’s shirt on. You could tell he had been doing deadlifts, pullups, and lots of rows. You can’t help but notice a strong, thick back.

For women, what I notice most are thick rhomboids and traps. I once went kayaking with a fellow CrossFitter and now CF Coach. I was paddling behind her and I couldn’t help but notice how strong her upper back was. I see this in lady rock climbers and my yoga students as well. Characteristically, when a lady walks into CrossFit, the most difficult movements for her are pull-ups. Its just a fact of life. But with development, the lats and upper back get stronger. Its a totally different kind of fitness to be able to climb. And it shows well for women. It also improves posture, which is an unknown that we don’t readily notice. But it makes for a very statuesque woman who stands tall with her shoulders back and heart open.

It could go without saying that the glutes are the biggest and strongest muscle in the human body. But I’m saying it here. You can’t go living a strong life without a nice, strong booty. It is the primary lever in our bodies. You see dudes at the gym who only do bench press and curls. They are missing out on the REAL strength of squats and deadlifts. I would say they aren’t really strong even though they may bench 315 pounds. All these young guys walk around with baggy jeans with an empty butt. And since we lose muscle mass as we age, old dudes especially have notably skinny legs and butt. As an old dude myself, its what I prioritize in life. The butt should be #1 on everyone’s list. It leads to a long healthy life.

Build that strong booty and back. I promise you, your work won’t go unnoticed.

Yoga Did Miracles for my Back

Medical Article on Back Relief Through Yoga

When I had a mid-life crisis (joking) and turned to ultra-marathon running, the result was a lot of back pain. I don’t mean just pain as in, take a pain pill and go to sleep. It meant I couldn’t lean over to tie my own shoes. If I laid on the couch, it took about 10 minutes to figure out how to get back up. Sitting and standing from the toilet was quite a chore. Being afraid of walking my 20 pound little dog since spotting a squirrel and tugging would result in intense pain, me letting go of the leash, and not being able to chase her down. I had to operate my vehicle with my left foot instead of my right because of intense sciatic pain. It was the most terrible kind of pain you can imagine.

I went to the back clinic and they gave me cortisone shots directed by x-ray to put the needle in the right place. The right place was my L4-L5 disk that was degenerating. The doctor showed me the CT-Scan and said, “see how your disk looks? This is how we’ll all look when we are 70 years old, but yours is happening now.” I also had slight stenosis and considerable pinching to my nerves.

The first physical therapist was no help at all. He prescribed bed rest, laying forward on a pillow as long as I could, and ice. Well, I had already been doing that. Then I went to a real PT who helped me. She did Manual Release Therapy (MRT), lots of nice adjustments, but mostly her prescription were exercises. And this is KEY!!!

Our skeletal system, even with dense connective tissue, would fall into a clump without muscles. You can have fairly major deficiencies in joints and back, but overcome it largely with strong muscles.

So she had me doing exercises to work the little finger muscles that go along the spine. Let me tell you, being “strong” is not enough. I was powerlifting with deadlifts and squats over 400 pounds. But then I’d twist under the dashboard to change a fuse and my back would go out. I couldn’t do anything for weeks and it took months to recover. And this happened yearly. What I didn’t have was asymmetrical strength. Like the strength you have for wrestling and gymnastics. Or strength like doing one handed lifts and strongman movements. But the best strength of all is YOGA!

There are old texts, Sutras and such, that say that there are 80,000 to 80 million poses in yoga. So when people think they invent new ones, they are kidding themselves. Every movement of the body has been done. All these twists, balances, and holds in odd positions strengthens every possible movement in your body. It is good for any sport and any body. It is clearly what solved my back problems. And yes, I still have an episode every couple of years, but nothing like I had before.

Think of the vertebrae in your spine like any other joint in the body. It needs strong support with muscles in all directions. If it is allowed to shift side to side or pinch in one direction, your nerves will not be happy. Yoga helps prevent drastic shifting of your spine.

Yoga is the best solution. But it also helps to lift weights, do your Zumba or other fitness, and do sports. Doing deadlifts and squats are not enough since they are too symmetrical and are not done with breath (you hold your breath in competitive lifting). You need to add single sided exercises with breathing; like one-armed lifts and presses with a dumbbell. You need to do side-to-side work, like side planks, oblique raises, and leg ab/adduction. You need lunges and pistols. Asymmetrical sports are good too: golf, softball, basketball, tennis. Anything where you are throwing, kicking, and twisting.

People rag on CrossFit all the time, so forget I even said that (or embrace the idea). Variety is key. You can’t do the same thing over and over and expect yourself to grow. And it is absolutely necessary for back health. You need to do different things. Yes, you can specialize in a sport, but add a ton of assistance work. If you are a Powerlifter, its OK to try a clean & jerk or pull a heavy sled now and then. You might even try a pull-up or, heaven forbid, try yoga! It won’t kill you. Add routine deep tissue massage or other bodywork and some cardio and you have health!

Yoga just might save your life.

I’m Not As Sore

As a yoga teacher, I continually have to consider my activities outside of teaching in order to demonstrate poses effectively. I have certain days and times plotted out to workout really hard. This usually involves heavy lifting and a CrossFit WOD (workout of the day) or two. Then I would have a few days to recover and allow the soreness to subside. I am no use to my students if my triceps cramp when I’m doing upward facing dog or my hammies seize during a forward fold.

I listen to a lot of podcasts and it makes me think about what I’m doing. Lately, I’ve felt the strength in my lifts has fallen. It all comes down to the squat for me. People like Travis Mash and Cory Gregory talk about squatting every day, and I’ve done that effectively in the past. So I’m back at it again. But its not only squats, its other exercises too.

Travis talks about younger athletes full of vigor and testosterone. They are able to get after it day in and day out. They still need a lot of rest and nutrition, but its easier for them to recover. For older athletes like myself, he actually says we should rest less, which is counter to current thinking. Instead, we need to do something every day. Maybe we don’t push the same intensity in a single workout, but we do heavy work every day. Its more about maintenance than actual growth.

My routine has really been working for me. I start with a warm-up, usually rowing, ski erging, or running. Then I go to squats. They may be back squats, front, overhead, Zercher, with chains, or any other variation. I don’t kill myself. I may do singles up to a max lift and stop. Or it may be a lighter weight for a set of 30. It may be a 5×5 of pause squats. The variations are endless. In between sets, I work on handstands and muscle ups on the rings. Then, I may do Olympic weightlifting or bodybuilding and try to finish with pulls, mostly with a trap bar.

The next day, I’m nicely toned but not really sore at all. I can jump right into it everyday. And I’m adapting to more volume each time. I’m learning I don’t have to kill myself and get sore all the time. Realistically, life gets busy at times and I take a mandatory rest day. But I don’t plan for rest days anymore. I just live instinctively. Try out this plan. But don’t sandbag your workouts. You can’t just go through the motions and expect to grow. You have to do the hard work.

Yoga is for Men too!

eagles-yoga

Actually (and somewhat unfortunately), yoga started its first several thousand years as men only. But once it came to the Western world with ground-breaking pioneers like Indra Devi, the first Woman of Yoga, it slowly became more female dominated in the U.S. The Father of Modern Yoga, Krishnamacharya, accepted Indra as a student and she spread the goodness to China, Hollywood USA, Mexico, and Argentina. But her promotion of yoga was out-shadowed in large part by colleagues like Pattabhi Jois, B.K.S. Iyengar, and T.K.V. Desikachar. If you read most texts like the Bhagavad Gita and other foundational yoga literature, it was a very male dominated arena. The last Century has seen major leaps and bounds with yoga, but mostly for women.

So, last night, I walk in to the studio and write down a few props on the sign-in sheet and I see 3 male names. Then, another man walks in for my class. I was like “hmmm, maybe I’ll have an all-male class for the first time ever.” The only other times I’ve had male dominated classes was when I offered karma yoga to the University of Illinois Army ROTC cadets and other Veterans programs. I would say that 100% of the time, I have mostly or all ladies in my classes.

In CrossFit, “mobility” reigns king in classes. And you see it in football and other athletics, but it doesn’t usually go by the name of “yoga.” The ideas of stretching and meditation go back 5,000 years with yoga, but somehow that moniker is frowned upon in certain circles. Maybe there is a male ego thing that prevents them from calling it something that is so female dominated in America. Images of designer leggings and brightly colored yoga mats don’t fit the jock mindset. Hopefully, those mental obstacles will change and we’ll find more acceptance in those communities. We find that history repeats itself over and over with these kinds of things.

When I first started running 5K and 10K races in the middle 1970’s, there weren’t many women runners. When a woman passed a man in a race, they say that you were “chicked”. It wasn’t super widely accepted to see women in races. You may recall images of the Boston Marathon where Roberta Gibb was denied acceptance to run in 1966 and was pulled from the course when she tried to jump in. It was a cultural thing that people (men) didn’t think women could run that far. Times have changed and we’ve even seen women like Pam Reed become the overall winner of the Badwater Ultramarathon in 2002, which is a 135 mile race across Death Valley in the middle of the Summer. But now, men struggle for the same acceptance in a woman’s world. Being completely confident in my manhood, I even ventured into other areas as well. I went to a pole dancing class a few weeks ago and was happily accepted among the 20 or so ladies that were in attendance. Nobody even looked twice at me. So I know how it feels to be in the minority.

Physically, men have more testosterone, on average weigh more, have bigger bone structures, and therefore more connective tissue and muscles. So it goes without saying that we need yoga so badly in our lives. I listen to many podcasts and read articles focusing on CrossFit, Olympic weightlifting, powerlifting, and strongman sports where mobility is continually discussed. It aids muscle lengthening, recovery, and performance. But this need hasn’t translated to yoga as much as I’d like. It is that alpha male mentality that gets in the way. But the few men I’ve seen wander into studios, the attitude shift toward openness to try new things has been a bonus for their quality of life. And it never hurts to be around such beautiful people.

Try it, you’ll like it. Maybe you’ll even love it!