Saturday, 30 August 2014

Overhead anchor points

I set up a pair of anchor points in my garage to hang rings and other training implements from when I first moved in, and I have just added two more pairs so I thought I would get some pictures of the process. It is very simple, the bolts cost $5 a pair and all that is needed is a drill and drill bit.

There were not too many bolt sizes for me to choose from, I choose a larger size (most others were quite small and would likely not support my weight). They did not come with weight ratings, so just use common sense, and if in doubt, go bigger.

Note the size of the drill bit vs bolt

The packet suggested a 5mm drill bit to drill the pilot holes, however I only had 6mm or larger. Compare the size of the drill bit to the size of the central part of the bolt, not the thread of the screw. Ideally the drill bit should be no bigger than this central part of the bolt. Any larger and the thread may not have enough material to bite into when screwed in.

I placed the bolts 500mm apart as this is the standard distance between Olympic rings. I measured and marked the centre of the overhead rafters and drilled a pilot hole the same length as the bolt. I used a large screwdriver as leverage to screw the bolt in. If this is too difficult I am told using a small amount of soap on thread will make it easier to screw in. I screw the bolt in approximately 10mm deeper than the thread. This is just preference once the thread is screwed in.

These anchor points are excellent for hanging rings, and any number of grip training implements. They are cheap and easy to set up, and it helps to have something to hang from indoors when it’s raining.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Why, how and consequences

This article has come out of many years of thinking about why I train, how I train and the consequences of this. I have taken many turns in writing this article so it is much more like talking aloud to myself. When I first started this blog my training revolved about the natural method, and the biggest influence of this was the philosophy of altruism. I decided I needed to be strong and useful so that if something were to happen, I would be better equipped to help myself, or others. I took ‘be strong to be useful’ to heart and begin strength training. I also took up parkour and martial arts. I have made this part of my core life philosophies; I will make myself strong, physically able and useful . . . even to a fault?
Not safe, but fun parkour training
A few years ago I started listening to the Paleo solution podcast, and heard Robb Wolf’s idea of the triple point. The elements of the triple point are health (moment to moment wellbeing), performance, and longevity. Using the triple point we can think of different physical endeavours e.g.:

-Extreme calorie restriction might lead to better longevity, but poor performance and health.

-Extreme performance will come at the expense of longevity and health.

-Optimising health (moment to moment) would mean undergoing no stress (read: training) which would mean low performance and eventually both longevity and health would suffer.

Note: The triple point is affected by nutrition, training, life stresses, environment etc but I will be discussing the affect training has.

After thinking a lot about this I feel as if a reasonably high level of performance should lead to very good longevity and optimised health over that longevity (though not moment to moment as the stress of training is rather high). I have put a lot of thought into the level of performance that would optimise the triple point, and at what level health and longevity would be negatively affected.
I’ve come to the tentative conclusion that it is not necessarily high performance which would negatively affect the others markers, but specialised performance. Too much strength training or endurance training negatively affects health and performance, but a blend of the two would likely optimise it. It would seem the generalist optimises the triple point, maybe even regardless of how high the performance is pushed.

I considered crossfit, as they appear to be generalists but anyone watching the crossfit games can see that level of performance is likely detrimental to health and longevity. I believe this is because regional and games level athletes are specialists in work capacity. The sheer volume of work required is detrimental. Maybe there is an upper limit on performance even for a generalist.

Precision to a rail is never easy
It is at this point I wonder where the line is between optimisation and detrimental performance, certainly it differs for individuals. I often think that the level of performance I am aiming for might cost me some health and longevity. Maybe having just a few performance goals might be okay, but to train the gymnastics, weight training and combative to a high level leads to a level of stress which affects longevity (and possible long term health). Or maybe it doesn’t, and what is considered high level is actually optimising the triple point. I don’t know. At any rate I feel that if the performance levels I am aiming for affect longevity, I will accept that. I believe the altruism of the natural method may include sacrificing some longevity for performance in order to protect yourself and others.

I think the performance affecting health and longevity is most likely true when training combative skills and any structural conditioning that goes along with it. I suspect training martial arts, particularly to a high level likely has a higher injury rate than weight training. One could easy be very fit and able with no martial arts training, and I suspect they would have better longevity. I chose to study martial arts in addition to weight training as it has its place in the natural method and could become necessary to protect myself or others. I’m not saying martial arts training is dangerous in any way, just more dangerous than not training. Unless you find yourself needing self defense skills, I’m not sure where this would fall into the triple point.

Largely the topic is a thought experiments for thinking about how we should train and live our lives in order to optimise the while experience. I want to optimise the triple point, but am willing to sacrifice if I need to because of the natural method philosophy. I suggest you think about the triple point and how your training, nutrition and life affect it.

Saturday, 2 August 2014

The Tao of Blair (fitness)

I first saw one of these type posts on The Bodyweightfiles and have decided to write my own. I intend this to be a constantly evolving point of view. I might be wrong on some things and later change my mind, but at this point in time these are my thoughts on training:

-Strength first. A high level of general strength will transfer over quickly to other strengths, rep ranges and strength endurance. A one arm push up will help build the muscle required to do 100 push ups, the reverse is not necessarily true. Having a strong squat should allow you to carry a load, or person for a longer distance that doing 50 light weight squats. I’m not saying you need to be a top level strongman, but you should aim to be extremely strong.

-Build your base with reps. While this might seem like a contradiction to my first point, these two should work together. Build a solid foundation of higher reps in simpler movements before moving on. For example sets of 15-20 push ups, then un-even push ups, then archer push ups before finally moving to one arm push ups. These higher reps help condition the muscles, tendons, ligaments etc and build a solid base to work on. From there I see higher rep sets as less valuable. This also hold true for powerlifting, sets of 8-10 can be incredibly helpful. (Note: I'm sure there is a place for high rep work, but I believe its few and far between)

-Progression is key. Have a plan and stick to it. These two go hand in hand. It doesn’t really matter what game you’re in (bodyweight, barbells, kettlebells, sandbags etc) you need to find some kind of way to monitor your progress. ‘Weight moved’ and ‘time’ are straight forward, try to move more weight in the same time, or try to move the same weight faster – simple. The problem is it can be really easy to let this slip away by doing random conditioning workouts. This is fine but have a bench mark (or several) which you come back to regularly. In the same vein, make a plan for where you want to go and how your workouts will get you there. Be it weight moved, or timed workout.

-Set high goals, and then work tirelessly towards them. It may be 1 pull up, or 20, or a one arm pull up. Set a high goal for yourself, and then make a plan to get there. Stick to your plan for at least a month (better 3) before considering a change. Search for different methods but at some point just put your head down and push forward with your own plan. Go for a month, then revisit where you’re at.

-More isn’t better, better is better (See Bodytribe). Strive for better, squat better and deeper before adding weight. Wait until a movement becomes easy before making it harder; don’t just push until you can only just make the higher movement. It is okay for a movement to feel easy after months of grinding add it, enjoy this for a week or two (or a month) before moving on. This is when the connective tissue recovers.

-Train your grip. Hang, lift fat bars, crush stuff, climb things. It’s fun and will help all of your lifts (even squats, just crush the bar as hard as you can).

-Run, a little. Try to go for a run once a week, under an hour, run as far as you can.  If you’re injured and can’t run consider cycling or swimming.

-You don’t need lots of equipment. I enjoy building things, but I could get away with none of it and still have a great training program. If you’re short on cash and or space prioritise a rings or a pull up bar. That is really all you need to get very strong.

-Get mobile. Don’t ignore your mobility or you will pay for it later. This is something I am currently dealing with, and regaining mobility is difficult so stay on top of it.

-Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. If you can’t do exactly what you planned on doing, just get something down, and don’t walk away altogether.  This sounds simple but it is so easy not to go for a run because you only have 20 minutes and you wanted an hour. Put your shoes on and run hard for 20 minutes, keep control of the habit. Or if you run out of time for your workout don’t sweat it, you will see it again next week, if you have time to make it up that’s great otherwise don’t stress (this is assuming you are otherwise very consistent).

-Learn some skills. Parkour, movnat, combative, swimming etc; get good at doing a lot of things.

-Do something every day. Even on a rest day get some movement in. It could be a walk, or easy run, some basic grip training, skipping rope, of some mobility work.

As you can see it’s all pretty basic and that I think is the beauty of it all. If in doubt just try to be better today, than yesterday. This won’t happen every day, but never stop trying.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

My Journey to fitness

For a long time I have been meaning to write this article, but just never got around to it.  Lately I’ve been thinking about it more often, so here goes:

I grew up as a chubby kid, never fat, just chubby.  I was even a chubby baby, my Mum told me as a baby everyone said I looked like the Michelin man. I think it was about 2010 (age 22) when I decided I wanted to get fitter, although at the time I had no idea what I meant by that. I think I weighed about 80-82kg and I felt like I was reasonable strong (I have always worked on and off in an aluminium window factory so I was always lifting heavy windows).

Skinny runner
As is fairly typical with these things I first started getting fitter by running. When I first tried I think I only ran about 500 meters then walked the next kilometre home. Around the same time I began doing press ups, and using my brothers set of dumbbells at night. I wasn’t sure what I was doing with them; I would just do movements I had seen before (curls, tricep extensions etc.). I think I built up to running approximately 5km.  I have no clue on the strength gains, if any.

I think it was late in 2010 or early 2011 I was linked to Marks Daily Apple, and from there the world of fitness exploded for me. I started doing the body weight program Mark had on his site at the time and made really good progress on that. I quickly built up from push ups to one arm push ups, started doing one leg squats (though not breaking parallel), close grip pull ups, handstand push ups, sprints etc. By also following much of the eating guidelines I dropped down to 70kg.  I was lean and muscular but fairly skinny.

In mid 2011 I started recording my workouts so I could follow the progress and to motivate myself to never take a day off. At this time I was trying to up my volume in an attempt to put on some weight, and maybe get up to 75kg, but my workouts were all over the place.  I would do one set of Australian pull ups, then a set of pull ups then a set of chin up.  I kind of had a plan.  It just wasn’t a very good one.

Getting better
I had recently started using kettlebells (16kg, then 24kg) and found My Mad Methods, a website on unconventional fitness including kettlebells and sandbags. I jumped in and tried 3 or 4 of their 4 week programs. These were a lot of fun and I probably got stronger doing them, but since I didn’t really have a good bench mark to test I have no idea how much these helped. During this time I would often get home quite late but I always pushed to get my workout in. That might mean getting home off the train at 6:30 and doing 30 minutes before dinner and homework (No days off). Or I would break up my sets and do them in the ad breaks, push ups, bridges and abs lend themselves well  to this.

It was at this point (late 2011, early 2012) that I was starting to formulate my ideas on training and develop a better plan for myself. I had read Convict Conditioning (“CC”), and had bought Mathew Palfrey’s sandbag e-book.  Each week would include a body weight strength workout, a sandbag strength workout, a sandbag conditioning workout, some running and sprinting. This worked out really well for me.  I worked my way through many of the CC progressions, got stronger with the sandbag, and got much better at running.

In 2013 I went back to university and decided this was my year to focus on strength workouts since I could make these short and monitor my progress to make sure I was getting better. I focused on basic movements, continuing some of the CC progressions.

Through 2013 I got much stronger in weighted pull ups, going from around 5x5r with 16kg up to 5x5r with 32kg. I also moved from overhead pressing 24kg 5x5r up to the same reps with 32kg.

Significantly I was able to see how well my strength transfers over to barbells which I had previously never used.  At that point, having bench pressed maybe 50 reps total in my life, I was able to bench 100kg (at 80kg body weight).  While not amazing it’s pretty good for minimal training. I was also able to work up to squatting 150kg quite quickly (also not amazing, but respectable).

Now it’s mid way through 2014 and I’ve been doing the Gymnastic Bodies Foundation course for nearly 6 months. I feel I have been making really good progress on this and I am really enjoying having a huge mountain of progressions to climb.

My plan moving forward is to finish the Foundations course and to have started Rings 1 course before I’m 30 (currently 26). I would also like to get into some more powerlifting to get some reasonable numbers without going too far down that rabbit hole.

Through this whole process I have learnt a lot about training and have formulated my own views on how one could (should) approach their training. I’ll lay these ideas out in my next post.  

More recently some higher level progressions.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Roof section of climbing wall

This last section of my climbing wall has taken over a year to finish but it’s finally done. I had one strip of 400mm x 2400mm plywood left over after building the massive hang board, campus board, and peg board. This strip of ply was always intended to be used as a roof climbing section for grip training, and as a possible section to traverse (along the hang board and on to the roof section).

This section was fairly straight forward to build; it runs parallel to the side wall of the garage and perpendicular to the hang board. I placed it in such a way so one can climb along the hang board then transfer to the roof section, or transfer between the roof section and the peg board. I allowed a 500mm gap between the peg board and the roof section to fit my head and shoulders, and approximately the same distance between the roof section and hang board. The ply was drilled in a similar fashion to the hang board (click the link to read more about the screws and t-nuts) the only difference is the holds are drilled 80mm from the sides of the roof section (not 100mm). This spacing places the holds further from the centre holds, spreading them out across the board. I mention this only because when I am looking to start a project I like to find other peoples measurements to help inform my own project. 

I used two lengths of 2x4 (45mmx90mm to be exact) to fasten the ply to the rafters. The 2x4 was cut to 2400mm, the same length as the plywood. These were spaced out so they would not be in the way of the t-nuts on the plywood which would block the rock holds. These were screwed to three rafters, 2 screws per rafter. I used large gauge 90mm long screws and feel very safe with these fixings. These screws were also counted sunk, so the ply would sit flush with the 2x4’s and not hit the screw heads. I used a 24mm drill bit for this. As a side note I found the 2x4’s to replicate monkey bars quite well, so there is an idea if you are low on money and material.

Spacing for t-nuts, and example of counter sinking
More pictures of spacing and counter sinking
Once the 2x4 was fixed in place the plywood was screwed in using the same spacing’s and fixings as the hang board (Link for more information).

Finished product and example of spacing away from the peg board

I’m very happy with the finished product, I spaced the 2x4s so that the ply would over hang, allowing me to traverse the roof section similar to monkey bars. I am also considering options for pinch training off the roof section for which I may just hold the exposed rafters while spotting myself with the roof section of ply. This opens up quite a few more grip training options for me. Once I buy some more rock holds I’ll add some more pictures. 

Using the 2x4's like monkey bars

Hanging from the ply and the rock holds