Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Suspension Shoulder Extension

This exercise on rings or similar suspension trainer looks fun. Here Matt introduces it primarily as a hypertrophy exercise - that is, an exercise for increasing the size of shoulder and upper back muscles. He recommends the pike pushup or other overhead pressing exercise as the main exercise for this purpose, paired with the Suspension Shoulder Extension as a finisher or as a pre-exhaust.

Matt also mentions that it can be used as a mobility exercise because it stretches the lats. That caught my attention. I'm currently following Easy Muscle, which, unlike other hypertrophy programs, is not built on muscle exhaustion, but I like the idea of doing a set or 2 of suspension shoulder extensions as part of a warmup for Easy Muscle.

Easy Muscle: Day 1

Today was the start of my latest hypertrophy training block, under the Easy Muscle Schedule B program. The exercises and training load, based on program guidelines and testing:

Clean and Push Press - 24 kg

Bottoms Up Goblet Squat - 24 kg

Pull Up - unweighted

Ring Dip - unweighted

The CPP (Clean and Push Press) practice that I did a couple of weeks ago was good preparation for this first session. I still need to keep working on driving more of the weight from the lower body. There were a couple of CPP attempts that failed because I didn't generate enough force from my lower body to help my upper body press the KB to lockout. However, I was able to complete the majority of my CPP reps on each arm.

I chose the Bottoms Up Goblet Squat because holding the KB this way lets the KB act as a counterbalance, so that the torso can lean back. As Mark Wildman explains in this video, keeping the torso fairly vertical in this way allows for greater squat depth and reduces risk to the lower back. Towards the end of the squat session, my hands began to tire and thus I started having a harder time keeping the KB from tipping over. Review of the video shows I should have squeezed the glutes and pulled up the kneecaps at the top of the movement.

Saturday, May 18, 2024

Easy Muscle Prep/Rest Week

For Monday training, I did 20 minutes of ring dips and ring pull ups with autoregulation. I did 2-3 reps per set of dips and 2 reps per set of pull ups. The main purpose here was to practice these movements, in hopes of being able to execute them competently when I start Easy Muscle next week. I then did 5 minutes of ring-assisted pistol squats.

For Tuesday training, I did 5 sets of ring dips and 5 sets of assisted pistol squats, alternating between the two exercises and resting as much as I wanted between sets. The lower part of the chest and the front deltoids accumulated quite a bit of soreness so I stopped at 5 sets.

I thought of doing some more ring dip practice on Wednesday but I still felt sore in the chest and front delts and so decided to just walk for about 20-30 min, then take the rest of the week off from training.

Monday, May 13, 2024

IsoMax 6x6: Week 6

For the Monday session, I decided to only do the Overhead Press on the IsoMax. I was still feeling that residual soreness in the hips/groin/glute areas from Zercher Lunge training, and soreness in the abs from Drag Curl training, so I decided to take a break from both exercises. I raised the target load for the Overhead Press from 80 to 82 lbs. because I did 117 lbs. or more 2 sessions in a row.

For the Wednesday session, I tried the Zercher Lunge and decided I was done with it after 5 reps, because of how the glutes/hips were feeling. My Overhead Press performance was the best so far. I hit 134 lbs. on one of the 6 reps and 133.2 lbs. on the last rep. My weakest rep was 124 lbs. I also tried the Drag Curl and did 3 reps before deciding that was enough, because the abs were sore after just 3 reps.

Because of my Overhead Press performance, I decided to try pressing the 53 lb. (24kg) kettelbell. I was able to press the KB a little closer to half way, compared to when my overhead press was in the 115 lb. range.

For the Friday session, I decided to test my clean and push press on the 24 kg KB. My technique was rusty but I had the strength to push press the KB, compared to the first time I tried to push press it last year and simply lacked the strength to consistenly push press it all the way. I then decided to cancel my IsoMax session for the day and move on to testing my readiness for the KB focused days in Easy Muscle Schedule B. I was able to do 7 reps of Bottoms Up Goblet Squat with the 24kg KB before I lost control of the KB. While I didn't get to 10 reps before form breakdown, I felt the performance was close enough to go ahead with 24kg for this exercise. I could have tested the clean and press with the 20kg KB instead but this 20kg KB is powder coated, and I don't feel comfortable doing 15 min. of clean-and-press with the powder coated handle, as opposed to the smoother handle of the 24kg KB. I then did 10 min. of 24kg KB Clean and Push Press practice with autoregulation to practice the movement. Thus ends this IsoMax 6x6 training block.

Friday, May 10, 2024

IsoMax 6x6: Week 5

Kicked off the week with a decent workout. My abs were still feeling the effects of last week's training, especially the curls. It's the kind of soreness that you don't feel until you start applying full-body tension for isometric exercise. The glute/hip area is in a similar situation - no soreness when not doing strenuous exercise, but once I start applying full-body tension, here comes the soreness.

I recalculated my overhead press training load because I logged 115 lbs. or higher for 2 sessions in a row. Thus the new load is 80 lbs. which is 70% of 115. My max for the first rep was 102 lbs. My max for the 2nd rep was 123 lbs. Then my max force numbers dropped until my 6th and last rep which produced 128.4 lbs. I guess the way the CNS (Central Nervous System) works is it can produce the highest possible force once or twice a day, then it needs a day or two to "recharge". My guess could be totally wrong but that's how my CNS seems to work at least. Thus, just because I pressed for 128 lbs. once does not mean I will be able to press 128 lbs. again that same day. Even so I decided to test press the 24 kg kettlebell. Once again, I was able to press the KB just under half way. I think I'll wait until I press 120 lbs or higher for at least 4 reps before I try another test with the 24 kg KB, because consistent numbers at a certain force level is a probably more accurate indicator of whether I can reliably apply that same level of force to dynamic movement.

By the end of the week, I had accumulated quite a bit of soreness in my abs from doing the curls and soreness in my hip/groin area from doing the Zercher lunges. I felt this soreness intermittently rather than constantly. I decided to let my abs and lower body take a break for the Friday session and did only the overhead press. My force numbers were generally in the 115 to 117 lb. range, but hit 122 lbs. on the last rep.

Monday, April 29, 2024

IsoMax 6x6: Week 4

For the Monday session my overhead press max was 113 lbs. That was the 2nd session in a row that my max was 113 or higher, so I treated 113 lbs. as my new 1-rep max, and increased the overhead press target load from 74 lbs. to 79 lbs, which is 70% of 113 lbs.

For the Wednesday session, my press was in the 119 to 122 lb. range, so I tested my progress on the 24 kg. kettlebell press. It might be wishful thinking but it seemed like my press got stronger. I was able to press the KB just short of 1/2 of the way up, compared to 1/3 of the way up as tested last week, when my press was in the 115 lb. range.

I was curling in the 160 lb. range or higher last week, so I decided 160 lbs. was my new 1-rep max, and thus increased my target load from 108 lbs. to 112 lbs., which is 70% of 160. Having to work harder to get the IsoMax beeping made me a bit wary of injuring my low back. My abs work so hard in this exercise, that I fear they might quit on me if I pull too hard. At any rate, my max force numbers dropped with the raise in target load, but trended up by the end of the week.

I've been wondering if I've been setting the IsoMax bar too low for the Zercher Lunge. I've been feeling my hip/glute area working the hardest in this exercise. The soreness in this area has accumulated to the point where the soreness starts on the first rep, and lasts for seemingly days on end. I haven't been feeling my quads working anywhere as hard. So for the Friday session, I raised the IsoMax by one slot. I still felt my hip/glute working hard because the position was still low, but I also felt my quad working. The force numbers were lower but the exercise felt more like a proper lunge than, say, a Bulgarian split squat.

Monday, April 22, 2024

IsoMax 6x6: Week 3

For the Monday session, I raised the target load for the curl from 108 lbs. to 112 lbs. I'd been curling at around 160 lbs. or higher consistently up to last week. My initial 1-rep max in the curl was 154 lbs.. 112 lbs. is 70% of 160 lbs.

We take up strength training in hopes of, well, getting stronger. However, progression from say, lifting 75lbs to lifting 100lbs., is not linear. Progressions is more like a wave, with weaker results on some days and stronger results other days, but with an overall upward trend. I've found this to be true for the 6x6 program for isometric strength training. The Monday and Wednesday sessions produced force results that were lower than last week's. Before the Friday session, I was thinking of switching from 6x6 to Bruce Lee style, which would be doing 1 rep - instead of 6 reps - of a 6-second hold for each exercise. I wasn't sure if the drop in performance was just the usual progression I've experienced before under 6x6, which is to log peak performance on some days, but have drops in performance between those peak days... or if my body needed more recovery time. When I do Bruce Lee style, I'm only doing 1 rep per exercise instead of 6, and thus can recover much more quickly between workouts.

The Friday session resulted in the best performance of the week. I logged a max of 87.6 lbs in the Zercher Lunge, a PR for my right leg. I I logged a max of 118.8 in that drill, a PR for my left leg. I scored 115.4 lbs. in the overhead press, yet another PR. I did not achieve a PR in the curl, but I wasn't expecting one because of the raise in target load.

With the new PR in the overhead press, I just had to test my progress towards pressing the 24kg kettlebell. Where before my pressing force was just enough to move the KB up about a centimeter, today I was able to press the KB closer to the midpoint (arm and forearm at right angle). So for, that's the difference that being able to generate 9 lbs. more force makes.

This the mobility routine I've settled on for the recovery days:

  • GMB Muay Thai mobility routine except for the last 2 exercises in the interest of saving some time
  • Kettlebell Arm Bar
  • Tall Kneeling Arm Raise to Side
  • Quadraped Side Bend
  • Locomotion

I found that working on thoracic spine mobility before any lat stretch seems to loosen up the obliques and lats. The Kettlebell Arm Bar is my choice here for t-spine mobility, as well as stretching the chest. Viewing this StrongFirst video and I can see some details that I missed before. Zack Henderson has a video that walks through the movement with pretty much the same details. One detail I've tended to skip is pausing in the side lying position with the upper foot hooking on the lower leg (thigh) and the upper knee folded over, to check the stacking of the shoulders and hips. I've also skipped the step of sliding the knee up past 90 degrees of hip flexion and pausing there with a few deep breaths. I think I've been making one of the common mistakes of letting the shoulder slip forward. What should be happening instead is the shoulder stays stacked on top of the other shoulder, even if I straighten the top leg and try to bring the top hip to the ground.

The Tall Kneeling Arm Raise to Side, Quadraped Side Bend, and Locomotion are all from GMB's shoulder restriction article, and recommended for people whose low backs arch when reaching overhead. One detail I missed with the Quadruped Side Bend was I should be actively pressing the hand of my working side away from my torso, instead of just reaching with that hand. Actively pressing the hand makes a difference in this stretch. Another difference maker is expanding the ribs during a 4-second inhale, and thus gently increasing the stretch - in addition to stretching on the exhale. I start the Locomotion section of my mobility routine with Monkey 180 or Monkey 360, then do Twisting Bear forward and Backward Bear backward, then finish with Sumo Frogger.

My double arm overhead reach is getting better. My arms improved from about 45 degrees away from vertical to 30 degrees.

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.