Sunday, 28 August 2016

My two most used pieces of equipment



I thought this was an interesting idea for a post, and then tried to add up in my head which piece of equipment I used the most (at first I was thinking about just one piece of equipment). I considered number of times per week, and per workout to try and get to the equipment I used the most, as opposed to posting about which I enjoyed the most. So it’s not the barbell, or power rack or even pull up bar.

Once I narrowed down the list I thought I would post two things, one cheap and one a little more expensive. It also worked out well that they aren’t things that often get mentioned but I find super useful. So without further ado:

Foam Mats


I bought two sets of these from Mitre 10 (a big hardware store) for $20 per set of four and it was money very well spent. I have (hard) vinyl floors inside and a concrete floor in my garage/gym so these mats are super versatile for all sorts of movements you don’t really want to do on hard ground.

I use them for all kinds of work, abs and body line drills, knee prep, some wrist prep, stretching etc. I could use a cheap yoga mat but I find these to be quite handy and comfortable. Now before someone goes off about being soft; most of your workout should be about building the body, so there is a time and place for building some tolerance to hard ground when that is the focus. The rest of the time when the focus is elsewhere you should set up your environment to best target that aspect (when you’re working on abs, just work on that, not some mental toughness linked to your lower back skin).

I strongly recommend getting a set, its $20 well spent.

Also as a side note I use these mats a lot when working in my garage on various projects, either to protect them or me from the concrete floor.

I didn't have any photos of my ab work or body line drills, but you can see the mats under the rings as a (thin) safety mat.

Gym boss timer

I bought this long before I had a smart phone, but I still use it now. I paid $80-$90 for it and I consider that a lot of money but I think it was totally worth it. I use it for timing both work sets and rest intervals and find it far better than using a regular stop watch or even my phone.

I’m not trying to sell these so I won’t write an ad for it here, I will say that its small size and being able to clip it to my shirt or shorts is really handy for when I’m moving between equipment, especially when I’m doing handing grip work.

For these I would clip the timer to my shirt

So while there are free alternative available I consider this to be an excellent luxury item for my training.  

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Gymnastic training – Overcoming hurdles


I mentioned in my review of Gymnastic bodies that there are some mobility hurdles which can be really difficult to pass; in this post I’ll expand a bit more about what those hurdles are and how to work on them.

I found that in training gymnastics there were some very big hurdles which stopped me in my tracks and forced me to address them; sometimes this can take more than a year. I met these hurdles while using the Gymnastic Bodies courses, but I suspect in any system you use you will hit a hurdle of some kind. The three hurdles I encountered (in order of decreasing difficult) were a lack of mobility, a lack of strength and a lack of movement control.

I think a big part of this is that when doing standard weight training one can just put a little more weight on the bar each week. When you hit a plateau, de-load and work your way up again, or move to a different alternative movement for a while. You can get really strong just chipping away like this with fairly simple methods before you need to get a bit fancier than 3x10 and 5x5.

Gymnastics is quite different, a more difficult movement may require vastly more mobility, a new motor pattern, or you may uncover a weakness you never thought of. I suspect if you have your own coach you could overcome these hurdles a lot faster with individualised training and someone cracking the whip, but when you are on your own if can present quite a challenge.

The fact that these hurdles exist and can hold you up for up to a year or more can seem like a reason to steer clear of gymnastics style training but it should be the opposite. You should search out these hurdles; they expose you at your weakest and if treaded correctly will make you a great deal stronger.

Lack of mobility

Got to get the work in
In both Foundations and Handstand there are sections that I just cannot continue until I gain the required mobility. The strength components are easy, the mobility not so much. As I said in my first post I didn’t utilise the forum and the coaches there, but really these mobility sections just require some really solid work. You have to be consistent and push hard on your mobility but it’s still going to take a long time before you can get moving again.

I have also found there are some stretches I just couldn’t do to begin with. Some had regressions I could use and some didn’t. This left me floundering a little bit until I gained mobility though other stretches, until I was able to get into position to use the stretches I was having trouble with. This can be really frustrating but you have to stay the course, keep working hard and consistently to make progress. I also find that when you can finally do the stretch you previously couldn’t it opens up a huge area for rapid progression which is exciting and vindicates all your effort.

Lack of strength

This one is mostly a lack of strength endurance, which with simple exercises can be really frustrating. I talked about getting past this hurdle in my last post. This can take anywhere from a few weeks to over a year. It’s boring and frustrating but worth doing.


Lack of movement control

Not perfect but not bad
This rears its head when you encounter a movement you have never done before which may require a movement pattern you’re not familiar with. In strength training I have found the movement pattern may not even be complex, just totally novel and it’s enough to stop me in my tracks. For example when I was training Convict Conditioning 2 reached the first levels of the human flag, but I just couldn’t get it. I was strong enough, but I had never held that position isometricly and just couldn’t fire the muscles right. To finally ‘get’ the movement I did negatives. I would jump up above the position, and do my best to control the lowering. This took a month or more, but I was finally able to hold the position. In these circumstances I have found negatives and/or isometrics work well for building some familiarity with the movement pattern in questions, and for me it takes just over a month to finally get the movement before I can start to groove the pattern in.

So those are the areas which I have found to be difficult to overcome in my gymnastics training. They are frustration at the time, but hard work pays off and it makes improving all the sweeter. I’d be interested to know when hurdles you have encountered in your training and what you did or are currently doing to get past them.




Sunday, 7 August 2016

Gymnastics – Strength Endurance and more Volume.



I’m going to follow on from my last post reviewing theGymnastic Bodies courses and look at part of the course I struggle with an how I have overcome it/ am currently over coming it.

Something I didn’t explain in my last post was the structure of the training and the method behind it. In foundations each section of a workout is separated into two parts – The strength component e.g. a push up and its integrated mobility component. These are done like a super set with no rest. The idea here is to force the trainee to work on mobility and to test whether they have adequate mobility to continue with the program. Early in each section the reps are quite high (60, 20, 15, 10) depending on the exercise, once these are mastered more difficult exercises move into a lower rep range (10’s and 5’s). The idea behind this is to prepare the joints for the more difficult work. As I said in the last post this strength endurance range is something I really struggle with. Below I’ll outline three different methods I am currently using to get passed the strength endurance phase. The idea for this kind of approach I got from Legendarystrength.com

Extra strength work

This method seems to help me the most in being able to meet the rep requirements of the strength endurance phase. For instance when working on push ups I added bench dips into my workout week. Push ups were on Monday so on Thursday I added sets of bench dips. These were slightly more strength biased, and lower reps (but not too much lower). This allowed me to work a higher strength level, slightly lower rep range to round out my strength and feel stronger when doing my push ups. On another occasion I used a 70kg bench press for sets of ten, which also helped increase my push up strength endurance. The goal is to find a slightly harder exercise for slightly less reps to work on in a second workout each week. I wanted the exercise selection to be similar, but not the same, i.e. not weighted push ups. I think this helps to round out my strength, but I suggest experimenting to find what works best for you.

More volume

This method works well for me, those not quite as well as the extra strength work. I added extra volume in two ways. One is that straight after my prescribed number of reps and sets, I would add one more max set. Often I can only manage an extra 5 or so reps, but it all counts. I find this can assist me in adding 1 more rep to my last work set next week. It’s not much but slow progress is progress.

The other way I add more volume is at the end of my workout after all my planned exercises is to add 3-4 sets or 10-15 reps of whatever exercise I’m struggling with. So currently that means 3-4 sets 10-15 reps of extra decline ring rows. Again this just adds to my total extra volume within a range I can recover from.


Keep doing the basics

This last method doesn’t help with passing a section, but it forces me to maintain it. If I stopped doing the higher rep sets I quickly lose that level of strength endurance so when I have passed a particularly hard section (push ups) I keep it in my weekly workout as a staple. For me that means doing the top rep level of push ups, plus some extra volume every Thursday. This maintains my strength endurance and likely assists my work on my difficult exercises (at the very least is doesn’t harm it).

I have found these methods really helpful with getting over strength endurance roadblocks in the Gymnastic Bodies foundation course but you can also used these ideas in your own training to get a little extra strength endurance work and a little extra volume.

Sunday, 31 July 2016

Gymnastic Bodies Review


An interesting variation for me
I have a few different posts I want to do around gymnastics training but I think the best place to start is an overall review of Gymnastic bodies, the system I have been using for about two and a half years now (I have spoken about why I chose this style of training and some more about my goals here). Currently I have foundations 1 and 2, handstands 1 and the three stretching courses (link to them here). I will layout some pros and cons of each of these and some over all pros and cons. As always, I’m not getting paid for this, not making any money or otherwise.

Foundations

I’m really enjoying the course I have of these; I’m being exposed to a huge range of new progressions for strength, mobility and strength in different ranges of motion. It is an amazingly vast resource but not like other E-book type deals that just show 10 different grips for each normal exercise. It exposes your weaknesses and crushes you with them. In particular most of the starting levels are strength endurance based, which I really struggle with, this is both good and bad. I thought I had quite strong abs yet the simple levels were a struggle for me, but I get a little stronger every week and I’m still enjoying the basics over two years on, and still progressing. The course is set up to slowly build to some very impressive feats as a side effect of incredibly strong abs. On the other side I found it extremely difficult to progress with the bent arm strength elements, since I’m not really built for strength endurance I struggled to make progress. I ended up sneaking in some extra strength work to help me along, but I will expand on that in another post. I think this attention to strength endurance will really pay off later, but it is still a major struggle for someone like me who does better on something like 3-5 reps. (Maybe I’m just crying about being a unique snowflake). Where I have broken into more strength work (passed the strength endurance phase) I am flying through getting stronger and loving it.

Not a bounce down and back, this is a sustained hold
Now a note about my slow progress. The forum which you get access to when you buy the program is a pretty good resource with helpful coaches who will do a form check for you. I really haven’t utilised this at all, and I have spent a long time spinning my wheels because of that. I really have no one to blame but myself that. I am also planning a post about some of the hurdles in gymnastic training.

Handstands

This one looks amazing but I’m stuck not being able to progress due to a lack of shoulder mobility. Now part of this is what I mentioned before about not utilising the form checks, for instance I was using a 5-7kg bar for one of the movements, which was really much too heavy. If I have asked on the forum I probably would have switched to a lighter bar much sooner and been able to make progress but I didn’t, I spun my wheels for 6 months or more and made no progress. Now using a 2.5kg bar my mobility is progressing slowly, but well. For me with tight shoulders I really can’t do many of the exercises and progress, which is annoying, but it points out a huge hole that I need to work on. Foundations also has something like this where one of the elements requires quite a bit of mobility which is taking me a long time to gain (more on this in my post about hurdles in gymnastics training).

Stretch

Now a cynic might say that the mobility blocks in foundations and handstands are just to sell the stretch courses, I don’t believe this, but buying the courses is defiantly helping to accelerate my progress. Now you could buy someone else’s mobility course, or just do your own stretching, but for myself I had no idea where to start so buying these courses seemed like a good place to start. They have been really good in that someone tells me exactly what to do, how long to do it and how often, this is great for me. It is also set up quite well in that it builds up slowly so you can drop out when you can no longer keep up; this is kind of good and bad. The way the scaling in shown isn’t great (in my opinion for what it’s worth), that said I find within a few sessions you can do more and more of the work until you can work on everything in a reasonable manner.

Cost

Yes, these courses are somewhat expensive, but I would say they are either on par with or slightly cheaper than similar alternative programs. I think they are worth spending the money on, not just for someone like me using it as my main training, but for most people who either train themselves or train others. I think if you got just one good piece of information per course which you then added to your own training, or someone else’s, it would be worth the money. One piece that pushes you further or that you use over and over; you will likely find more, but just one should be enough. (I might write another post on this, maybe focusing on seminar type learning).

Again, not bouncing down, but a sustained hold
So to wrap up

Foundations: Really good, but you might need to sneak some strength work in if strength endurance isn’t your thing. Also you might need more mobility.

Handstand: Looks like if will be great but you need some serious shoulder mobility.

Stretch: I really like and recommend this program, it will probably be the single biggest factor in speeding up your progress. Now you don’t have to buy this course, but I think you need a really serious plan that you stick to, could be this, could be something else, could be your own, but you have to work on it.

Overall: I think the price is totally worth it and I started buying these when money was really tight for me. Also you have to stretch.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Technology that gets us outside


The fallen fawn, outside the tropical garden

With Pokemon Go taking over the world I thought I would do a post on technology that gets people outside. So here are just a few apps or pieces of technology I have found enjoyable in getting myself and others outside, exploring and exercising. 

Note: The photos in this post are from today’s walk around Auckland Domain, amazing parts of the domain I never knew existed.

While I don’t play Pokemon Go myself, my wife does and the game has been a great excuses to go outside for a walk around the park, or to take our dog (Jasper) to a larger park and wander around for 2-3 hours. We often used to take Jasper for a walk along a local beach, but we never walked down to our local park for a few laps. Today we went to the Auckland domain, and explored places I’d never been and others I never knew existed. Without there being Poke stops there we never would have gone. I had a lot of fun exploring some of these areas, and just walking around with my wife.

Incredible pitcher plants in the tropical garden
Geocaching is another activity/app which gets people out exploring their neighbourhood and others. If you have never heard of it, people hide small (or large) caches with trinkets and a book to sign somewhere and list the cache on an app which uses the GPS to mark the area. Then others use the app and GPS to find the cache. I have done a little geocaching in the few blocks around my home and it was really fun but I never quite got into it. I have however seen families out exploring looking for caches which I think is awesome family time.

Zombies Run! is the (free) app I use every time I go out for a run. This app maps my run, times it, gives me time splits and tells me pace, but that’s all boring stuff. The fun part is that it tells a story: you are runner five, sent on missions to scout, collect supplies, run experiments on the zombies etc all under the watchful eye of your radio operator who talks you through the missions (in between songs on your playlist). You also collect materials and supplies which you use to build your base. I really enjoy this app, the story is great, I really enjoy building my base and needing to get supplies pushes me to run further. Running would be so boring for me without this app.

Lastly I have recently bought myself a fitbit, I bought the surge because I really wanted the GPS but that’s not important. The fitbit has been great for pushing me to more around more during the day, and to see how much I can do in the weekends. I am really keen to see how far I walk and how many flights of stairs climbed on a big hike, but for the purpose of this article the daily step count has been great for getting my out wandering around. Often times I have been at 7-8 thousand steps, so I’ve walked a lap or two of the block before dinner to hit my 10,000 step goal.

The Valkyrie fountain

The point of this post wasn’t to get anyone into a particular app or piece of technology, just to show that these things can be used as a positive force. Technology is just a tool and we can and should use it wisely.