Tag Archives: strength

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.

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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.

Topside Squats

squat_heavy

My latest ideas come from listening to Mash Mafia podcasts with Travis Mash. They were talking about isometrics for powerlifting. For example, if you had two sets of pins in a power rack, you limit the upward progression like for a bench press. You don’t even need a lot of weight on the bar. You press against the pins and hold for a number of seconds. It simulates a max lift like no other. They were also talking about slow negatives, lowering the bar through a movement at a very heavy weight.

The one they got me to thinking was doing walk-outs on the squat with some astronomical weight. Feeling a very heavy weight on the bar and standing there for 10 or 20 seconds (or more) is quite an overload. Olympic weightlifters do this with jerk recoveries. They rack a bar so you are almost at full extension with arms overhead. You might start in a shallow split squat or power jerk position with your feet. Then you walk to lockout and hold as long as you can. It gets you accustomed to locking out heavy weight.

So here is my plan:
I have a goal weight that I want to squat. I’ll take my safety pins up as high as they will go on my rack. I’ll walk out with my goal weight and squat to the pins and push back up. I’ll probably only drop a few inches into my squat. But it will program my body to know what that kind of weight feels like. Over time, I hope that I can do 5-10 reps at that weight. Once I can do that, I’ll drop the pins another notch and go a little deeper. Eventually, I’ll take it all the way down to full depth and have my goal accomplished.

The hesitance I would have about this, which is why I’ve not done it before, is that your muscle memory would take away from squat depth and overall flexibility. So, to counter this, I’ll always finish with some A2G (ass-to-ground) squats for reps to make sure I don’t lose my depth. And, I’ll only do the topside squats one day a week. I’ll get the neuromuscular trauma and then allow for full recovery. Plus, I’ll still be doing Olympic weightlifting and CrossFit movements anyway, along with lots of yoga. So there is no fear of losing proper squat depth.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

The Perfect Male

crossfit body

Yikes! At first glance, no problem. At second glance, we probably shouldn’t be talking about what perfect is or trying to fit someone else’s standard. However, allow me to wander.

To meet the demands of performance in competition at the CrossFit Games, there IS a law of averages. Yeah, this sometimes goes out the window with outliers, but the average doesn’t lie. The average clean & jerk in 2015 was 318 pounds. So athletes have at least a 405 deadlift and usually much more. A 365 squat is also a likely minimum. But they also need to be able to run at least a 6 minute mile, do 100 pullups with a 20 pound weight vest, and row a half-marathon. If you’re too small, you won’t lift the weight. If you are too large, you’ll die in the longer events. So what is the perfect male body size for CrossFit competition?

In the 2016 Games, the average height of male athletes was 5 foot 9 inches at a bodyweight of 194 pounds. Consider Rich Froning is 5’9″ and 200#, he fits this well. Mat Fraser, the reigning champion, is 5’7″ and 190#. Rich Froning carries about 11% bodyfat. I would imagine that, due to the workload and need for stamina into 30-45 minute events, having bodyfat reserves is a good thing. Bodyfat also allows for good recovery and hormone production. It wouldn’t pay to have 6% bodyfat in performance athletics. So, I suspect a good number of male CF athletes fit this profile.

So this comes to me. I’m a Master’s male athlete. I consider myself short, but I fit the profile of a CF athlete at 5’7″ height. I weighed in this morning at 190#. However, I am 4-6% higher in bodyfat on average compared to top Games competitors. Also, everyone loses muscle mass as they age, so I could afford to be in the 175-185# range to optimally perform in CrossFit.

Despite all of this, what am I going to do? Ummm, nothing. Other than eating clean, getting nutritious food, meeting protein demands to keep muscle mass (which means strength), and drinking lot of water, I’ll keep at what I’m doing. I still have cheat foods (or reward foods), but I could probably cut back on those a bit. I don’t really need french fries with a meal. I don’t need 3 donuts when 2 would feel just right. We have to enjoy life, right? As long as I’m doing the hard work, varying what I do, exploring time domains from a few minutes to an hour, keeping up with massage and yoga, and doing a variety of sports, then I should be fine. We’ll see about the Games Open competition next year.

 

The REAL Power Yoga

bodybuilder yoga

To tell you the truth, by the true definition of the word, there isn’t a REAL Power Yoga.

“Power” is the speed at which work is done on an object (Physics). This doesn’t even apply to the sport of PowerLifting. Power is not involved! If you are deadlifting 800 pounds, you are focusing on pulling that weight up, not at doing it quickly. We don’t hold a stopwatch and do a deadlift for time. That would be silly. That’s not the goal. If anything, that is closer to Olympic weightlifting. When you are lifting the bar in a clean and jerk or snatch, you pull it up quickly to get air under the bar as you drop as fast as you can under the bar. Weightlifting would be closer to “Power” lifting because there really is a speed component, though it still isn’t done for time.

The same is true with Yoga. In the classes I teach, we never forcefully move through a pose with speed. That would be both dangerous and ineffective. Yes, we do use “Strength”. You hold chaturanga or warrior 3 with a lot of strength. Arm balances and many inversions involve strength. Mayurasana and Navasana are held with strength. But “Power” is never involved. We aren’t doing any strengthening poses quickly.

If it were my choice, we would never call something Power Yoga. It is a misapplication of its meaning. Call it Strength Yoga. If its Ashtanga, just call it Ashtanga. But Power Yoga makes no sense at all

[meanwhile, I’m substitute teaching Power Yoga tomorrow, so I’ve been thinking about this]