Tuesday, April 16, 2024

One-arm Pullup/Chinup Perspectives

Discussion between two accomplished calisthenics athletes on the one-arm pullup. They agree working on weighted pullups for some time before starting on assisted one-arm pullup training:

This guy shares his discoveries of the biomechanics of this movement which helped him achieve his one-arm pullup/chinup - for example, the angle of the chest to the bar. Interestingly, he too advises putting the assistance band directly under the working hand, and he also found pulleys not to be that useful.

Interesting video by Frinks who did a survey of people who achieved one-arm pullup. After Frinks and his friend collected survey data, their analysis found that those who successfully achieved a one-arm pullup were able to do weighted pullups with external load of about 75% of their bodyweight. After further research and testing, Frinks concludes that a weighted pullup with 60% bodyweight as external load is the recommended prerequisite before transitioning to one-arm pullup specific training. Among those who are still unable to perform a one-arm pullup/chinup, the highest external load they are using for weighted pullups is 90% bodyweight. The guys in the first video did not state what the external load should be before transitioning from weighted (bilateral) pullups to assisted one-arm pullups. The guy in the second video felt the external load should be 50% of bodyweight.

The One-Arm Pullup is an interesting skill I would like to achieve someday. Given my history of left elbow tendonitis, I would be content to put off the switch to assisted unilateral pullup training until the day I can do weighted pullups with external load of 75% of my bodyweight. Heck I might wait until I'm doing weighted pullups with 90% of my bodyweight. I plan to practice pullups, and eventually weighted pullups under the Easy Muscle program, because the load will generally not be high enough to be a danger to my tendons/joints. Achieving strength goals gets easier with muscle added on by a hypertrophy program like Easy Muscle. The guys in the above videos make good points regarding biomechanics and specificity of movement - the amount of strength required to achieve this skill can be diminished by learning and training the most efficient movement pattern. Still, there's no denying that possesing more strength, as measured by how much weight you can pull in weighted pullups, increases your odds of success in this skill.

In theory I might be able to speed up my progress in pullup strength by practicing overcoming isometrics with the lats in a stretched position. This could be done by wearing a dip belt, and securing a heavy kettlebell to the dip belt. The KB would have to be heavy enough to prevent me from being able to complete a full-range pullup - if my 32kg KB is not enough I'd just add another KB. Partial movement would be ok and might even be desirable because your CNS (central nervous system) allows your muscles to work harder if muscular effort produces even the slightest movement, and will put the brakes on the muscles if there is no movement at all no matter how hard the muscles work. The main thing is to pull hard and as far up as the weight will allow, and sustain the hold at that position for 6 seconds. It might be possible to rig the IsoMax bar to measure the force being applied via dip belt but it seems convoluted, plus the weight of the kettlebell(s) is already available for assessing the force being applied. So if I do my isometric pullup with a 32kg KB and manage to pull it up with me even just a few millimeters, I know I'm applying at least my bodyweight plus 32kg of force.

Then again, the lats will probably be getting some gains in strength, along with muscle mass, by just training under Easy Muscle. I might try this isometric idea with the KB the next time I do a Bruce Lee style isometric training block.

Monday, April 15, 2024

IsoMax 6x6: Week 2

Zercher Lunge performance has been good with the left leg. I finished the week with a PR of 109.6 lbs. Right leg performance did not quite match the left leg but that's ok. One or more of the glute muscles on the right side developed a soreness that persisted over more than one followup session. Another issue is by the 4th rep, I was too tired to figure out whatever body adjustments needed to be made to get the rear knee off the ground.

Overheard Press performance was also great, with max force logged in the 106-112 lb. range

Curl performance was decent. I'm holding back a little out of concern for my elbow tendonitis and low back. With all the attention paid to squeezing the glutes, working the abs hard, keeping the chest up, and initiating the pull from between the shoulder blades, rotating the shoulders out while pulling through the pinkies, risk to both issues is minimized. I don't feel any tendonitis effects immediately afterward at least. However I do start to feel the spinal erectors a bit if I let the glutes slack off. I want to make sure the abs do not give out at any point because if they do, bye by low back. The abs do work pretty hard in this exercise.

One change I made to how I do 6x6 is getting rid of the 1-rep max retest sessions. The reason to retest 1-rep max is to reset the target load. So if your 1-rep max test result is 100lbs, your target load would be 70%, or 70lbs. Later if you retest your 1-rep max, and it's now 110lbs, your new target load would be 70%, or 77lbs. Instead of giving up a regular training sessino for 1-rep max testing, I just decide when to increase my target load. So in the case of my overhead press, my initial 1-rep max was determinded by testing to be 102 lbs. AFter recording a 106lb. or higher max force for 2 sessions in a row, I decided to reset my training load to 70% of 106lbs, which is 74 lbs. I similarly raised my curl training load.

Monday, April 08, 2024

If I can press with 106 lbs. of isometric force, does that mean I can press a 53 lb. kettlebell?

The answer is no.

106 lbs. is roughly the weight of 2 24kg (approx. 53lbs) kettlebells. Because I've been getting close to 106 lbs. in my overhead press force during my IsoMax 6x6 sessions last week, I thought I'd take a look at my max force after every overhead press rep during today's morning 6x6 session. I hit a max force of 106lbs or higher for at least half the reps today.

So in the afternoon, I tried to press a 24kg kettlebell. I was able to press it about an inch upwards - or less... probably less. I was a bit disappointed but not surprised, because the force we can generate at the bottom of the overhead press is higher than the force we can generate at the middle position; and greater still than the force we can generate near the top (lockout) of the press. I discovered this within the first few months of training on my Isochain - my first overhead press (aka shoulder press) sessions were near the middle position, then one day I tried lowering the bar to a position close to the start of the press and was surprised to discover a significant different in pressing force.

Thus, scoring a 106lb. max force reading at bottom position just means I can press a 53lb. KB with one arm for only a short distance, which is what happened this afternoon... and it probably means my max force at the middle position is quite a bit less than 106 lbs. and thus not strong enough to press the KB to full lockout overhead. So the middle position is most likely a better position than the bottom for assessing my readiness for pressing a 53lb. KB with one arm. I set the IsoMax to Feedback mode and tried pressing as hard as I could, and it read a max force of only 68lbs. Max force reading at middle position is not a perfect assessment either, because a 16kg KB is about 35 lbs. and thus I should have - in theory - needed a 70lb. max force at middle position to press a 16kg KB. But in reality I was doing sets of 4-6 reps of 16kg KB presses while I was working through the ICT program. That's because when one is pressing a KB overhead, the KB is actually in motion at the middle position. The greater the velocity of the KB, the less force is needed to keep the KB moving. Thus I probably don't need to press with 106 lbs. of force at middle position to be able to press a 53 lb. KB - the actual required force will be less than that because the KB's velocity will not be zero at middle position, assuming I have the strength to even get it going as high as middle position. So it will be interesting to see how much max force I need to be able to generate at bottom position in order to send the KB upward at a high enough velocity so that I can press it all the way to lockout.

I'm not so concerned about the near-lockout position because current thinking in exercise science is fast concentric stimulates greater strength gains - when I get strong enough to press the KB explosively up to the middle position of the movement, it will likely have a high enough velocity at the near lockout position to require relatively lower force to keep it going all the way to lockout.

I will still do my main overhead press training at the bottom position because that is where the primary muscles (chest, triceps, anterior delts) are at their longest lengths, and as previouly mentioned, research found greatest hypertrophy and carryover to dynamic performance from isometric training with muscles at longest possible lengths. To assess readiness for pressing the 24kg KB, I'll try one overhead press rep in Feedback mode at the middle position once a week - maybe sooner if I see a sudden jump in bottom position performance.

Less disappointing results for today was performance in the Zercher Lunge with the toes of the rear foot pointing back so that the instep is touching the ground instead of the toes. Performance on the left leg dropped very slightly, while performance on the right leg, which had been lagging by as much as 15 lbs., improved to even with the left leg. I tried to keep the rear knee from touching the ground, but I don't think there's any real reason to do so, because then the exercise would be more like the bottom of a Shrimp Squat - one of the regressions for Shrimp Squat has both arms forward and the knee of the rear leg "kissing" the floor before standing back up. I'll probably experiment and see if there's any difference in force production.

IsoMax 6x6: Week 1

After 12 weeks of tossing a kettlebell for conditioning, it's been nice to change to isometric strength training with the IsoMax under the 6x6 program. Just apply as much force as possible for a few seconds, and repeat a few times per exercise, and finish the workout feeling energized rather than wiped out.

My disappointing ring dip test made me think about what I need to do to regain my previous skill with that exercise. So I decided to warm up with knee raises and reverse shrugs on the rings. I got the idea from Red Delta Project's video on how to achieve your first ring dip or improve your ring dip performance. These are the same exercises I practiced last year to regain the ring dip skill. This time though I'm not doing ring pushups because I'm already doing the isometric overhead press as part of this 6x6 training block.

In any case, I want to do Easy Muscle Schedule B for my next training block. Easy Muscle requires testing for repetition maxes in each of the scheduled exercises. The dip is one of the Schedule B exercises. In the case of the dip, rep max testing will determine whether or not the dip will be done with only bodyweight, or with a dip belt with added wieght, and if so how much added weight. I wouldn't mind doing Easy Muscle with bodyweight-only dips but I want to make sure my rep max test is not impacted by poor stability on the rings. Practicing knee raises and reverse shrugs on rings as part of my warmups for 6x6 should ensure my dip rep max won't be affected by stability issues on the rings.

I had forgotten how demanding 6 seconds of high effort in the Zercher Lunge position can be. I was sweating by the 3rd rep. Since I hadn't practiced training in this position for a while, I struggled a bit with balance and alignment. Adding extra challenge is the pressure on the toes of the back foot. Every video I've seen of the Zercher Lunge shows rear foot dorsiflexion (toes bending towards shin). I cannot find a reason to justify dorsiflexion of the back foot while practicing isometric Zercher Lunge. Thus I'm thinking of pointing the toes of the back foot to the rear, which would be much more comfortable for that back foot. Then pressure on the back toes would be one less thing to worry about - freeing my mind to focus more on keeping the chest up, squaring the hips, and maintaining balance.

My performance in the overhead press is in the 102 lb. range which is close to the goal of 106 lbs. This is about the weight of double 24kg kettlebells. On the day that I press at least 106 lbs. I will try to press a 24kg KB. It will be interesting to see if a 106 lb. press at the lowest possible position of the overhead press means I can dynamically press half that weight overhead with one arm.

My curl perfomance is in the 170lb. range. The high amount of force is probably the result of combining forces from the upper back, abs, and biceps. I feel the abs working harder than before. It will interesting to see if any increase in curl force will correlate with an increase in pullup rep max.

Friday, April 05, 2024

IsoMax 6x6: 1-Rep Max Testing

After 12 weeks of dynamic exercise for conditioning, fat-burning, and strength, I decided it was time for an isometric training block to give my joints a break. I chose the 6x6 program for strength, some hypertrophy, and hopefully tendon strength. Chrys Johnson has a good video explaining the what, why, etc. of 6x6.

1-Rep Max Test Results in Pounds:

Zercher Lunge - 80.4 (based on weaker leg scores)
Overhead Press - 103.4
Curl - 154.7

The plan is to do each exercise with the target muscles at the longest possible lengths, as inspired by recently published research that found greater carryover to dynamic performance, compared to isometric training at shorter muscle lengths. Thus the IsoMax strap numbers and body positions for the 3 exercises are:

Zercher Lunge - Strap #6 - I copied what Red Delta Project does in this video, except I don't use a weight vest, and the bar is set lower, to get my body as close as possible to the bottom of an ATG split squat, while still being able to get under the IsoMax bar. The quads and calf muscles are at a pretty good length

Overhead Press - Strap #20 - This is very close to the start position of the double kettlebell press. The triceps, anterior delts, and chest muscles are at a good stretch.

Curl - Strap #9 - The IsoMax bar is as low as possible, so it practically rests on the thighs. Thus the arms are close to straight, so that the biceps are at a pretty good length. To prevent any flareup of elbow tendonitis, I use the spiraling external rotation technique taught in this video. To protect the back, I imagine my chest being pulled up, and squeeze the glutes nice and hard, before I even begin pulling the bar. Finally to ensure bicep activation, I pull my elbows back. The combination of the external rotation technique, hard-working core (abs, glutes, etc.), and stretched biceps results in a 150-ish lb. force output, compared to when I first tried a bicep curl on the Isochain in late 2020 and was struggling to generate 30lbs. of force. People who prefer to isolate the biceps more in their training might consider what I'm doing to be cheating, but since I no longer feel isometric rowing is safe for my low back, this curl variation is all I have left for working on pulling strength, with as much force as possible. My pullup rep max is currently 8. It will be interesting to see if the rep max goes up after a couple of weeks of training with this isometric curl variation. In theory there should be an increase, because I use the same muscles (abs, external rotators, upper back, biceps) - especially in the upper half of the pullup - and the same spiraling external rotation technique when I do pullups. Presumably there will be some sort of relationship between any increase in max force in this curl, and repetition max - but data gathering will have to come later.

Monday, April 01, 2024

Kettlebell ICT: End of Program and Results

Completed Week 12, which is the final week of Kettlebell ICT, without incident. This program is based on research on Integrated Concurrent Training (ICT), which is also referred to as Integrated Concurrent Exercise. One of the findings is that ICT was found to burn body fat, especially stomach fat, without dieting. Thus as part of my test of this program, I did not make any special changes to my diet. My dietary habits haven't been perfectly clean, but I haven't been going overboard on unhealthy foods either.

Before I started Kettlebell ICT, my body was in good health. However, it had just recovered from a back injury so to be safe, I chose weights for the snatch, goblet squat, and row that were relatively light.


Bodyweight: approx. 5 lb. loss.
Arms: approx. quarter inch diameter gain

Waist (at navel): approx. 3/4" loss

Overhead Press: approx. 15lb. gain in max force

The objectives of the Kettlebell ICT program are to reduce bodyfat while maintaining or even increasing strength. The results show that both objectives were accomplished. I believe I can interpret the loss in bodyweight combined with reduction in waist diameter as signs of fat loss. Pants now feel more loose at the waist. I figured there would be some gain in pressing strength but I didn't expect this much.

I had read that high volume KB snatches could improve pullup performance. This program did require me to do lots of KB snatches, so a couple of days after finishing the program, I did a set of pullups and found my repetition max to be 8, which was about the same as it was before I started the program. I was snatching a 12kg KB for more than half the program. Perhaps I need to snatch a heavier KB for the same amount of work to improve my pullup rep max. In any case, increasing one's rep max in the pullup was not an objective of this program.

I also tried a set of ring dips to see if there was any change in performance. I did 2 reps before I started losing control of a ring. The ring dip is just one of those exercises that require good technique. I don't do ring dips for 3 months, I get rusty at them and need to retrain my body to stabilize on the rings and execute properly. Successful execution of a ring dip depends not only on strength but also proper coordination to smoothly lower oneself down and push back up, while maintaining stability on the rings. Oh well, increasing rep max in ring dips was not a program objective either.

I would consider training under this program again in the future. I was satisfied with the amount of bodyfat that I lost but I think I could burn more if I worked with weights determined by proper testing under the program guidelines - eg. 10-rep max for goblet squat, 20-rep max for snatch, etc. instead of holding back a bit out of fear of reinjuring the low back. It was gratifying to find that I gained strength and maybe even a little muscle as well.

Saturday, March 23, 2024

Kettlebell ICT: Week 11

My conditioning improved enough to let me do the presses immediately after the snatches, without taking a rest pause, for the first two supersets of my Session A workouts. I still needed to take rest pauses for the rest of that segment.

I'd been hanging from a pullup bar as part of my recovery routine with pronated grip. This week, I saw a video in which the coach recommended slow eccentric chinups (supinated grip) as part of his suggested routine for improving mobility for overhead press. I was still feeling a bit beat from the workout so instead of doing eccentric chinups I thought I'd try just hanging with a supinated grip. This has been an uncomfortable position for my shoulders in the past, but this time I felt fine. I don't know if the improved feeling in my shoulders has been the result of ICT itself, or the drills I've been doing to warm up for ICT and to recover from it - drills like KB arm bar, various t-spine mobility drills, etc.

Otherwise the weights were the same as last week. One more week to go!

Saturday, March 16, 2024

Kettlebell ICT: Week 10

Weights used:

Session A

A1 Snatch 16kg
A2 Press 16kg

B1 Snatch 12kg
B2 Bottoms Up Goblet Squat 20kg

Session B

A1 Push Press 16kg
A2 Bottoms Up Goblet Squat 20g

B1 Push Press 16kg
B2 Supported Row 16kg

Focused more on leg drive in the Push Press. I'd been doing this exercise as more of a leg-assisted press, which I guess is ok, but I thought dialing up the leg drive would dial up the conditioning aspect. This did result in me breathing harder after each set, though snatch sets still feel harder.

One of the days after a Session B workout, I had unusual tightness in the side of a knee when I started a walk around the neighborhood. This was fixed by stretching in the bottom of an ATG split squat - just great all-around mobility drill for solving knee, hip, and ankle tighntess.

Bloopers included starting a Session B workout then realizing I forgot to bring up the 20kg KB for the squats... and doing extra sets of strict press in a Session A workout after the 5 min. break before realizing I was supposed to be squatting. At least I didn't hurt myself.
Bodyweight holding steady at 154 lbs, down from a pre-ICT weight of 161lbs.