Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Conditioning Week Day 1 - Explosive Circuit

I did the following set of exercises 5 times, with 30 seconds rest between each. There was no reset between exercises, except to move between stations:

Plyometric Push Ups with a Clap - 10
Pistols (alternate leg) - 2 on each leg
Parallel Grip Pull Ups - 8, explosively
The Plank - 30 seconds
Handstand Pushups (explosively, going down only as far as I can to make this possible, which is not very far!) - 7
Burpees - 10

Time: 20 minutes

While I was working out, I couldn't help observing a fellow gym-goer as he did his own workout. To describe it as laid back would not do justice to his approach. His mobile phone got more of a workout than he did. Maybe today was 'thumbs' day for him.

Having punished myself severely with this routine, I left Thumb Guy and a row of cardio-heads to it. They were there when I arrived and they were there when I left.
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The Supplement Conspiracy

I am sceptical about the need for supplementation, specifically as it relates to training but equally as it relates to general health. Mark Sissons and Michael Eades do make some good arguments in favour of it, but I remain unconvinced that for me it's the right way to go. I prefer to focus on getting a high quality diet and let my body extract from that what it needs. Otherwise you get sucked into a kind of vortex of 'what ifs' that lead to an ever-increasing number of tablets sitting on front of you on the breakfast table each morning.

Rusty Moore has just published an interesting (and free!) paper in which he interviews a a couple of people who work, or have worked in the industry. Worth a read. You can download it by clicking on the picture to go to Rusty's post. ... Read more

Sunday, 29 March 2009

The Roosevelt Hotel, 45th and Madison, New York

Submitted By: Methuselah
Location: 45 East 45th Street @ Corner of Madison Avenue / New York, NY 10017 (map)
Website: http://www.theroosevelthotel.com
Workouts: from workout diary

This gym has a set of cardio machines, seen here in the picture. The set of dumbbells, also pictured, go up to 50lbs. Out of shot, on the right, there are a couple of benches, a pull-down machine and a cables machine that also has some high handles for doing pull ups. These handles are a little annoying because they are angled in such a way that neither chins, nor pull ups can be executed in the way most people would expect.

Yet in a way the awkward handles should be a welcome change - if we want to mix up our training and emulate the activities our ancestors would have engaged in, then the more variation the better. The trees they climbed did not have branches at the same angle.

There are towels, fruit and water in the room.

Also of note - this hotel has a set of back stairs that are accessible - and many, many floors. Perfect for stair jumps, provided you work out early enough to avoid pedestrians.

Update: 4th April 2009 - if you are in any way serious about training, don't expect to be able to use this gym properly. The roof is not high enough for someone 5'10" or taller to press the dumbbells above their head. In my training session today a dumbbell punched a hole in the roof!
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Raise-Assisted Handstand Push Ups Captured on Video

Swing-Assisted, Uneven Muscle Ups - 2 failures :-(
Jump-Assisted Muscle Ups - 1 (9-inch box)

Then I did this lot in no particular order - i.e. I did a deadlift, then the frog stand, then some pull-ups. Just mixed it around.

Raise-Assisted Hand Stand Push Ups
(three 20kg barbell plates) - 3 reps, then 2 (videoed myself doing this!)
Weighted Pull-Ups - 4@bodyweight, 2@10kg, 1@15kg, 1@20kg
Stiff-Legged Deadlift - 10@60kg, 2@100kg
Deadlift - 1@120kg, 1@130kg, failed@135kg
Frog Stand - 30s, good form

Finisher: 3 minutes on the runner @16kph, 1 minute on rower @ resistance 10 and max effort.

Time: 30 minutes.

I was disappointed by the muscle up failures - I think I have lost the 'knack'. It's all in the timing of the swing, I suspect. I will persevere. Regained some confidence with the jump-assisted version.

The rest of the main workout was another quite random, low-rep affair. I wanted to emphasise the back, so the focus was on the deadlift. This was the final workout of an easy week, so although there were a few failures, I made sure I was not fatiguing my muscles unduly.

The handstand push ups were easier than expected and I will move down to two 20k plates under my head next time. I suspect some of the progress is attributable to my finding the ideal positioning for my hands (shoulder width apart, maybe slightly wider) and best distance from wall (about a foot).

The finisher was not as intended. My goal had been to run a mile as fast as I could without fatiguing my legs too much - about 80% of max effort. I like to throw in middle distance runs or rows like this now and again. It hurts in a way I don't experience with sprinting and I feel it toughens me up a little. I like to feel I can tolerate sustained high effort too. Presumably we sometimes had to run for longer than 30 seconds to catch prey.

Anyway, my knee complained slightly at 3 minutes, so just to be safe I jumped off and finished with a rowing sprint. There was no shortage of pain during that, I can tell you.
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Wednesday, 25 March 2009

'Less is More' Day with Raise-Assisted Handstand Push Ups

Swing-Assisted, Uneven Muscle Ups - 1, then 2 failures.
Raise-Assisted Hand Stand Push Ups (three 20kg barbell plates) - 2 reps, then 1
Pistols - one on each leg, very low, slow and controlled. Two sets.
Dumbbell Snatch - on each arm - @28kg, @32kg, @32kg
Dumbbell Bench Press - 1@36kg (failed)
Random Ab Exercises:
- Standing Ab Rollouts with Dropped Knees (But using EZ Bar instead of dumbbells) - 5
- Front Lever Hanging Leg Raise - 1, holding the tuck for only a few seconds
- Standing Ab Rollouts with Dropped Knees (But using EZ Bar instead of dumbbells) - 5

Finisher: 50 yard sprint, 30 push ups, 15 burpees, 30 Seated Knee Raises. No rest, 100% effort.

Time: 30 minutes.

Inspired by Natural Messiah's excellent post highlighting that less is more, I made this morning even easier than the easy day it was supposed to be. I really just strolled around the gym doing 1 or 2-rep sets at heavy, but manageable weights. I made each rep count, but never came close to fatiguing any muscles.

The finisher was brief but intense, and I decided against a second set of the same sequence because I knew it would have taken my legs further than I wanted.

I was very pleased to find a method of quantifying my handstand push ups - Raise-Assisted Hand Stand Push Ups. By using barbell plates I will be able to do this in most gyms. It is especially handy that in my regular gym they have Olympic 10kg plates that are half the thickness of 20kg plates but the same diameter - so I can perhaps aim for a single rep with two 20 plates and a 10 under my head for next time.

I am tempted to try training like this for a few weeks to see if I make progress - concentrate on the same key bodyweight exercises, training with very low volume, never going to failure, but hitting the same exercises 3 times per week.
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Monday, 23 March 2009

My First Muscle Up!

Swing-Assisted, Uneven Muscle Ups - 1!
Hand Stand Push Ups - 3, 2, 1 - getting closer to the ground each time.
Dumbbell Bench Press - 1@34kg
Weighted Chin Ups - 4@15kg, 3@20kg, 1@35kg, 1@40kg
Random Ab Exercises:
- Front Lever Hanging Leg Raise - 1, holding the tuck for only a few seconds
- Hanging Leg Raise - 10
- Front Lever Hanging Leg Raise - 1, holding the tuck for only a few seconds
- Russian Twists - 15@10kg

Finisher: Single-Arm Dumbbell Swings - 25 per arm @ 20kg, then 30 seconds rest, then rowing machine for 30 seconds, resistance level 10, 100% effort (eyeballs out!)

This is an easy week, so I erred on the side of less rather than more. I focused on heavy weights but low reps and took more rest than usual. The finisher was short, but intense - I felt I could have done more.

I was determined to do a muscle up this morning, so I made it my first exercise after a brief warm up. Having seen people swing to help them out on these and also use an 'uneven' style so that the stronger arm provides the initial leverage, I wanted to try this. I succeeded! It was a messy affair and took just about everything I had, but I can now build on this.

I was also pleased with the handstand push up work, because I felt as though I was allowing my head to get a bit closer to the ground than previously - so that they may now appear more like a push up and less like a partial rep. Of course I am guessing as to how close I was actually getting. Maybe I should invest in a set of progressively thicker pieces of foam to put under my head ;-)

Once again, pretty much all body weight / gymnastics, but as you can see, I still couldn't resist throwing in a single rep with the dumbbells...
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Friday, 20 March 2009

Workout Diary: Pull Ups, Deadlift, Pistols, Rollouts

Pull Ups - 5 x 5
Pistols - 4 x 5
Stiff-Legged Deadlift - 5 x 5@110kg
Standing Ab Rollouts with Dropped Knees (But using EZ Bar instead of dumbbells) 3 x 10

No finisher - ran out of time! Those drop-knee rollouts are killers, so I was not left feeling unfulfilled.

I did a lot of swinging on the pull ups, which made them easier - I am trying to get a feel for how a pull up becomes a muscle up. I don't care about form provided it is a natural movement (did cavemen dangle their legs uselessly beneath them when climbing trees?)

The pistols went well, considering my concerns that my left knee might still be a little weak from a previous injury. Although it did niggle a little, I felt stable and am happy that in another week or so I will be back to full strength.

The ab rollouts with the EZ bar are becoming a favourite, as is the approach of dropping the knees from an initial standing rollout position. The EZ bar grip provides a better angle for the wrists and the knee dropping allows me to protect my back from arching, which is what normally happens when I attempt a full standing rollout. I am caught between being too strong with rollouts from the knees, but too weak for standing rollouts - the dropped knees method provides the flexibility to cheat only as much as I need to.
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Thursday, 19 March 2009

Bodyweight Bonanza (well, mostly)

Headstand - 3 consecutive, moving slowly into and out of it.
Planche - Frog Stand - 60 seconds - form on the last 10 seconds very shaky.
Front Lever Hanging Leg Raise - 4, holding the tuck front lever for 15 seconds each time
Jump-Assisted Muscle Ups on a Bar - 3 x 5 with the bar at nose height
One-Arm Dumbbell Bench Press - 2 x 3@30kg, 5@28kg

Finisher: tabata intervals on the rowing machine - one set at resistance level 7.

I did this workout yesterday. I was intending to do solely body weight exercises, but couldn't resist throwing in some dumbbell work at the end because it has been a while since I did any and I still can't let go of the (mistaken) belief that if I don't do them occasionally I will lose strength in spite of the other shoulder/chest work I do. In the absence of my training partner I had to do the single-arm version, otherwise I cannot get the weights up to start unless I go light. However, I am actually growing to like the single-arm approach - it feels more natural, somehow.

The muscle ups were a first for me. I feel a long way off being able to do an unassisted one, but also suspect that there is an element of technique involved which, once mastered, would take me closer than I feel as the moment.

This is supposed to be a hard week, but with my sleeping having not been great, I did not work as hard as planned. Although on paper this workout could have been tough, it was only moderately so, because I took it easy on the tabata finisher. Don't get me wrong, it did hurt, but a set of rowing machine tabata intervals can destroy a man if each 20-second interval is truly done at 100% - and I would say I was at 70-80% at best.

I did sleep well last night, though, so tomorrow's session should be a tough one unless I sleep badly tonight.
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Tuesday, 17 March 2009

My Monthly 300 Workout Progress Test

Location: Woodcock Sports Centre, Aston UniversityI try to do this regularly to chart progress. This time I beat my previous best by about 30 seconds.

I definately have more strength on the chin ups than before, which I expect is thanks to the weighted chin ups I have been doing - I was able to complete the first set of 25 in 3 goes (17, 6, 2) instead of last time's 4. I also managed 45 press ups before needing a break instead of 40 last time. ... Read more

Friday, 13 March 2009

Low Rep Weighted Pull Ups and Deadlift, Sprint Finisher

Weighted Pull Ups - 9@bodyweight, 4@5kg, 2@10kg, 1@15kg
Stiff-Legged Deadlift - 6@100kg, 4@110kg, 1@120kg
Ab Rollouts from the knees with Barbell (EZ Bar)
Set 1: 10 reps
Set 2: 30s holding steady in the outstretched position
Set 3: 5 reps, dropping the knees

Finisher: Upper Body Alternating Sprints - one round only - but that alone was a real killer and a great way to do some damage if you don't have much time! ... Read more

Woodcock Sports Centre, Aston University, Birmingham, UK

Submitted By: Methuselah
Location: Aston University, Birmingham, UK (map)
Website: http://www1.aston.ac.uk/prospective-students/sport/gym/
Workouts: from workout diary

Gym and Studio
At the time of writing, we have been a member of this gym for a few weeks. Having just moved from a gym where there is an emphasis on cardio, comfort and studio classes, this is a refreshing change.

The main benefit is that the annual subscription is half what it was at the previous gym, because we are paying for just the things we use - weights and machines. To swim, you pay extra. You bring your own towel. There are not hordes of 'assistants' touting for personal trainer business. The studios are not perennially occupied by leotard-clad pilates devotees. No offence.

And best of all, it is quiet at 7am when we arrive because, as we all know, students do not get up until lunchtime.

Equipment-wise, it has pretty much everything - Olympic free weights with no shortage of benches, bars and plates. And not the crappy, plastic bars we had at the old place. The bars weight 20kg, as they should. A set of fixed dumbbells up to 50kg, an EZ bar, and a cable machine. Plenty of bars for hanging, and a novel assisted pull up machine that allows your feet to go through a more natural range of motion. The usually-empty studio at the back is good for sprints (it's about 18 metres long) and a bigger hall behind has some seating that's great for jumping. Lots of cardio machines, of course.

The studio - good for sprints and rarely used in the morning

My only criticism? No set of fixed-weight short barbells, which are very useful for circuits. But we can use dumbbells easily enough. Oh - and you can't take cold showers. Otherwise, we like it.
Swimming Pool
The swimming pool is in the same building as the gym but appears to have been constructed 100 years previously. The row of alcoves on the upper right of the picture are actually the changing facilities. These small, brick-walled cubicles line the full length of the pool on both sides and are equipped with a single wooden bench and door big enough only to conceal ones most private areas. The unisex showers are a single, small, alcove at the end where I took the photo.

Aside from the Victorian feel and spartan changing facilities, the pool is fine and at about 30 metres long, just about the right size for sprint and underwater lengths. At our previous gym it was more like 25 metres which is a little small.

So far, my experience has been that at 7am it is possible to get enough space to swim fast lengths.
... Read more

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Workout Locations & Reviews

Whenever I train at a new gym, or find a location I can train that is not a gym - such as an activity area in a park - I will post the details, and add it to this embedded Google map. If you have been to the same gym or place, add a comment to that post.

Click on a placemark icon, then on the "Review" link to go to the post reviewing that workout location.

View Larger Map
Add Your Workout Location to the Map!
Please tell me about a gym or training location anywhere in the world you have used and I will add it to the map and create a post for it - you can let me know in the comments on this post or email me at paynowlivelater at gmail dot com - feel free to attach links or images. Remember to include the name and location to allow me to find it on the Google map. ... Read more

Low-Rep Dumbell Snatch and Tabata Burpees

Frog Stand - 30 seconds, good form
Dumbell Snatch - 3@28kg, 2@30kg, 1@32kg, failed@34kg
Front Lever Hanging Leg Raise - 3 sets of 1

Finisher: Tabata Intervals - Burpees

This was supposed to be an easy day but I could not resist the tabata burpees, as there was an empty studio and a clock with a second hand.

I was in the St Giles Hotel in Central London this morning, which is linked to the YMCA gym. They charged £4 to use it...but this was honestly the best gym I have ever trained in. It was huge. A James Bond villain-esque underground set up, located on 3 floors (-1, -2 and -3 in the lift!) A huge central atrium with balconies housing various machines, stretching mats, Swiss balls, weights room, studios and more. Using the full height of the atrium, a climbing wall with ropes and badminton and basketball courts. Off to one side, a pool. Of no interest to me, but nevertheless impressive - row after row of just about every cardio machine you can imagine. Okay, I might use the rower or runner for tabatas. ... Read more

YMCA Gym, London, UK

Submitted By: Methuselah
Location: 112 Great Russell Street London, UK WC1B 3NQ (map)
Website: http://www.ymcaclub.co.uk/index.html
Workouts: from workout diary

This gym is associated with the St Giles Hotel in Central London, which is where I was staying when I used it. As a hotel guest, it cost me £4 to use it, but the normal daily rate is £15. It is also a private members gym.

This was honestly the best gym I have ever trained in. It was huge - a James Bond villain-esque underground set up, located on 3 floors (-1, -2 and -3 in the lift!) A huge central atrium with balconies housing various machines, stretching mats, Swiss balls, weights room, studios and more. Using the full height of the atrium, a climbing wall with ropes and badminton and basketball courts. Off to one side, a pool. Of no interest to me, but nevertheless impressive - row after row of just about every cardio machine you can imagine. Okay, I might use the rower or runner for tabatas.

Needless to say, there was a wide selection of fixed weight dumbbells and barbells, although I do not recall seeing a full set of barbell plates and Olympic bars.
... Read more

Monday, 9 March 2009

Gymnastics for Shoulders and Weighted Chins

Location: Woodcock Sports Centre

Headstand - 3 consecutive, moving slowly into and out of it.
Planche - just messed around. Trying to get a feel for the tuck planche. Definitely not close yet. Did a 15 second frog stand with strict form to finish as a morale booster.
Handstand Push Ups - 5 then 3 then 2. Varied the depth. About 3 inches away from being able to do a full one.
Weighted Chin Ups - 5@15kg, 3@20kg, 1@30kg, 1@35kg
Ab Rollouts from the knees with Barbell - 2 x 10. The dumbbell plates do not rotate round the handle in the new gym, so used a bar instead (EZ bar, in fact) - which worked fine.

Finisher: rowing machine - 500 metres, fast - resistance level 7.

Last week was pretty hard, so I resolved to have an easy one this week. I am alternating easy week, hard week at the moment. The rule on an easy week is that whatever I am doing, I must always stop short of how far I would normally go. I must leave each exercise feeling as though I could have done more. It can be frustrating, but it pays dividends because you feel great for the rest of the day and over the week can feel your resources building up ready for the harder following week.

For example, as a finisher I would normally have done tabata rowing intervals, or 1000 metres as fast as I could.

Today was not at all frustrating, as it happens, because I did not sleep especially well over the weekend and a light session was just what I needed.
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Saturday, 7 March 2009

The Stolen Porsche Analogy

This has to be the most annoying conversation I find myself having with people.

This week I am trying to lose some body fat. Before Christmas I was 10%, yet now I am 12%. Since most of my training is with body weight exercises, I have certainly noticed the difference.

Here's the scenario: we're out, having a meal.

"Aren't you drinking?" someone might ask.


"Why not?"

"I am trying to lose some fat this week."

Incredulous look. "You? Trying to lose fat? But you don't need to!"

Inward sigh. "I do - I put on a load over Christmas and am trying to get back to where I was."

Typically, at this point, they are still not buying it, and start to enlist the support of others, who, naturally, are able to match their outrage.

So here's a story I have started using to explain this better.

Suppose you have a brand new Porsche. You drive around in it for a year. It's great. Around Christmas, someone steals the Porsche, but the insurance company replaces it with a Ford Mondeo. How would you feel? You would not be happy. But wait! All your friends are driving round in Mark 1 Fiestas - so it's okay, right?

It usually works.
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Friday, 6 March 2009

Upper Back and Legs - All Bodyweight

Hanging leg raises - 4 x 10
Pull ups - 25 total, in as few sets as possible. 8, 7, 5, 3, 2
Pistols - 2 x 3

Location: Woodcock Sports Centre

Finisher: stair jumps - using the seating in my new gym's hall, as shown in the photo on the stair jumps post. I did 5 sets. Each set was 10 consecutive reps where a rep means jumping the three steps in quick succession, then jogging back down to the bottom on the normal stairs to start the next rep immediately. I took 30 seconds rest between each set. Total time: 5:59. ... Read more

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Gymnastics, Dumbell Snatch and Non-Quad Circuit

Frog Stand - 55 seconds: good form for 45, then a slow collapse!
Front Lever Tuck - 60 seconds: 45 seconds of good form, then just about held on for a further 15
Dumbbell Snatch - 5 x 5 @ 28kg

Location: Woodcock Sports Centre

Finisher - 500 non-quad blaster - 13:14. I did the hyperextensions on the machine.

I designed the 500 non-quad blaster specifically to avoid aggravating my knee, which is a lot better than I expected after it went again on Monday, but still not perfect. The fact that I immediately elevated it and applied compression and ice for 30 minutes must have helped.

When I did the 400 upper body blaster last week, I found it hard to hurt myself, because I was not engaging any leg muscles at all. So I added the stiff-legged deadlifts to the new circuit in the hope they'd make the routine more demanding whilst avoiding the unwanted knee flexion. It worked - I was butchered by the end.
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Monday, 2 March 2009

Heavy Weights then Sprints...and the Knee Goes Again!

Weighted Chin-Ups - 2 x 8 then 1 x 7 @ 12.5kg
Stiff-Legged Deadlift - 1 x 3 @ 120kg then 2 x 8 @ 110kg
Dumbbell Bench Press - 2 x 10 then 1 x 8 @ 26kg

Location: Woodcock Sports Centre

Finisher: 5 x : Sprint 2 lengths of the studio (~40 metres) then 20 x seated knee raises. No rest.

I wanted to throw around some heavier weights this week, having done a light week last week of mainly bodyweight exercises. My knee was almost healed and responded well to the sprinting. Then, afterwards, I decided to do some stretching. I was in two minds, since there has been a lot of research recently suggesting its advantages have been overstated. Nevertheless, I felt a bit of stretching on the legs would be a good idea, to help the knee.

You could count on one hand the number of injuries I have had in the last 10 years that were bad enough to be worth mentioning. In almost every case it was stretching that was the cause; and so it was in this case. By not releasing my foot gently enough from a standing quad-stretch, I popped my medial collateral ligament across the knee-cap again and spend an agonising few seconds persuading it back. So I have slid back down the big snake to the bottom corner of the board and will need to spend another week carfeully nursing this back to health. I am not happy.
... Read more