Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Rings One, Level A, Phase 2: Week 1 Report

I missed exercise this past Friday, due to being called by one of my bosses to check out an issue at work.  I also missed training the following Monday due to having to get up early to catch a flight back home.

Thus, today actually marked the end of Phase 2, Week 1, with an Above The Rings session.

I tried changing up the routine by doing the exercises in this order:

Assisted Tuck to Tuck Shoulder Stand
L-Sit (one leg out, one leg tucked)

The idea was to do 5 sets of the most difficult exercise first, then do the dips.  I thought that if I did the hardest one first, I'd be able to do more reps per set.  I did manage 4 reps for the first two sets, but could only manage 3 reps/set for the last three.  Because my triceps were already blasted from the first exercise, my performance in the dips was compromised.  I'm going to switch back to the prescribed order, so I can at least get more out of the dips, even if it's just one more rep per set, and thus hopefully continue building my pressing strength more productively.

Not worried about being "off schedule" in relation to the program chart.  I'm not under any pressure to complete Phase 2 within the 4 week timeframe and would be very surprised if I achieved either of the two most difficult moves in Phase 2 (Tuck to Tuck Shoulder Stand and full L-Sit) by the end of Week 4.  I'm not being negative here, just realistic, and the instruction manual says that it's ok to not be strictly on schedule - it's not a race.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Rings One, Level A, Phase 2: First Below The Rings session

Today was my first full Below The Rings session in Phase 2.  Skin The Cat is the most troublesome move for me, so I did it 2nd in the workout rather than last.  Maybe I could have done it first, but then  I'd have to spend extra time raising the rings for the Pullups, to allow my legs to be extended without touching the floor; then lowering them again for the  Inverted Tuck Roll Chinup.  By doing it 2nd, I only had to lower the rings once, since I can do the last two exercises at the same ring height.

Pullups - 6 reps/set as usual.  This time I focused more on rotating my palms towards my face so the move becomes a chin-up.

Skin The Cat - I had to overcome two obstacles to performing this movement: 1. My continued fear of losing control and falling past the German hang, thus injuring shoulders. 2. Not knowing what muscles to use to better control the lowering portion of the movement as well as pulling out of the German hang back into Inverted Hang.  My first two reps failed in that I lost control and fell.  Somehow my shoulders were not injured.  I realized the rings should be lowered a bit more so I could  bail out by standing up instead of having to let go of the rings and fall a foot or so.  So this is what I did:

  1. First set:  Slowly move out of the Inverted Hang towards the German Hang but with a limited range of motion, really concentrating on what muscles are being used to maintain control.
  2. 2nd set: Like #1 but just a little further.
  3. 3rd set: Like #1 but even further than #2.  I think my torso got closer and closer to parallel with the ground.
  4. Did 4th and 5th sets just like #3.
What I learned is that just about all the muscles along the spine have to be activated to maintain control.  I lost control on those first two attempts because I didn't know what muscles to activate.  It helped to think of a straight torso and lock down the hip (butt squeezed tight, abs tight).  The entire back has to work to get out of German hang back into Inverted Hang.  This is the first ring exercise I have done in which I felt the lower back working just as hard as the upper back.

Inverted Tuck Roll Chins - After Skin The Cat, this wasn't so bad.  3 reps/set.  Could have done a 4th rep but didn't want to take a chance with my grip failing at the worst moment.  This also works the core and biceps, but differently than the first two movements.  I think grip endurance will be my main limiting factor here.

One thing I should work on is looking straight ahead instead of looking up at my feet when I am in the Inverted Hang.  I think I have a habit of looking at my feet because of the fear of being upside down.  I overcame this fear enough to do exercises getting in and out of Inverted Hang, but if I can keep my gaze perpendicular to my torso, I can improve my spatial awareness and not be so freaked out by being upside down then moving out of that to face the floor.

All in all, it was a stronger debut in Phase 2 than my Above The Rings session.  I hope I can apply what I learned about muscle tension in the torso during the Skin The Cat reps to my Assisted Tuck to Tuck Shoulder Stand.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Rings One, Level A, Phase 2: The first day

Did my modified warmup routine with the SI joint rehab stuff from Eric Wong.

Dips - Same as last week.  Still in the 5-rep range, with some room for technical improvement - mainly remembering to finish each rep with rings turned out and do it "pretty".

Assisted Tuck to Shoulder Stand - Much more difficult than my test rep last week, after my triceps had already done work in three sets of Dips.  Technique was pretty bad.  I think the rings were set just a bit too high.  Also, the idea of trying to swing myself from the tuck sit into the assisted shoulder stand was a bad one, as that accelerated the fatigue even more.  Should have just walked my feet back as instructed in the lesson video.  I managed only 3 reps/set.

Tuck Sit (progression to L-sit) - First set was a 10 sec. hold which was easily done.  Next two sets were done with one leg extended as far as possible while still keeping the foot in line with the hip.  5 sec. hold per leg.

Good thing I'm not in a hurry to get through this program.  The schedule says Phase 2 will last 4 weeks.  It will probably take me longer than that to achieve a full Tuck to Shoulder Stand and a full L-Sit.  The manual says suggests doing the troublesome exercise first after warmup, and doing the bare minimum on the other exercises.  I'll adopt this approach with the Assisted Tuck to Tuck Shoulder Stand, doing it first, then the Dips and L-Sit work.  My performance in the Dip will probably take a hit, but that's ok.  I should probably also rest the maximum recommended time between sets.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Rings One, Level A, Phase 1 Week 5 Report (part 2)

Today was my last Above The Rings day for Phase 1.  I just went with 3 sets each of Top Position Hold, Dip, Pushup, and Mountain Climber.  So at the end of five weeks of training (Phase 1), I progressed on just about all the exercises.  I did not have a dramatic increase in reps or hold time but I did progress enough to pass the little test I did in Part 1 of this report, to reassure myself that I would be ready to start Phase 2 next week.

My bodyweight increased by about 4 pounds.  Before the start of Phase 1, I'd been on vacation, eating  a lot and barely exercising.  I believe I ate less overall during this 5 week period than I did during vacation.  On the exercise side, I've been walking about 20 minutes a day to and from subway stations, at least 5 days a week.  Thus, I'm confident most of this weight gain was from muscle growth rather than fat, even though it doesn't look obvious.

I only managed to do the Leg Module more than once in a week in two out of the five weeks of Phase 1.  I have a soreness in one of my glutes that appears whenever I try to stretch the hamstring on that side of the body.  The Leg Module is an optional module in Rings One so for next week I will replace it with Front Scales and Hanging Leg Raises from GMB's How to Do an L-Sit tutorial, as well as Back Lunges.  The training schedule for Phase 2 includes L-Sits towards the end (starts with the easier Tuck Sit), so it wouldn't hurt to make sure I have the hip flexor strength as well as the core strength to do a full L-Sit.

The Back Lunge is in there because it's the third exercise of an SI joint rehab routine I found, courtesy of Eric Wong.  I've had some lingering aches/pains from a low back/hip injury that I got from a bad deadlift attempt and it wouldn't hurt to try Eric's routine.  I've so far worked in the hip extension and hip rotation portions of the routine into my daily warmup, which is mostly from Rings One.  I didn't use the Back Lunge because I was already doing front lunges as part of the Leg Module.

Excited to start Phase 2 next week!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Rings One, Level A, Phase 1 Week 5 Report (part I)

So far, the extra pushup practice has paid off a bit.  I improved from 3 reps/set in the pushups on my Above The Rings days to 5 reps/set.  I was able to do 6 reps/set on my Below The Rings days because my triceps had not been worked by doing dips.

Today was my last Below The Rings day in Phase 1.  The Rings One program schedule says I should begin Phase 2 next week.  However, the manual says I should not adhere strictly to the schedule.  If I'm not comfortable, I am free to stay in my current Phase for as long as it takes, before advancing to the next Phase.    I watched the training videos for Level A, Phase 2.  I'm confident I can start on the Above The Rings portion of Phase 2, because I feel I can handle all three exercises.  I already do Dips and have done Top Position Tuck Sit holds in the past.  I think I can handle the Assisted Tuck to Shoulder Stand.

What I wasn't sure about was the Below The Rings portion, which is also composed of three exercises: Pullups, Inverted Tuck Roll Chins, and Skin The Cat.  I'm doing pull-ups for reps now so I'm fine with that exercise.  It's the latter two I was worried about, so when I got home, I tried those two for the first time.  I did one rep of the Inverted Tuck Roll Chin without any problem and could have done more.   This was a pleasant surprise because of my struggles to execute the Jump to Tuck to Inverted Hang, which is the prerequisite to this exercise. The Skin The Cat I was most worried about because I'd never done this move before, and I've had a previous injury to one of my shoulders.  This looked like a move that could pose some serious trouble to my shoulders if I mess up.  On my first couple of attempts, just as I'd anticipated, from the inverted hang position, I struggled to lower myself into the German Hang (the finishing position of Skin The Cat), because of the fear of injuring my shoulders.  Fortunately, I'd set the rings at a relatively low height so if anything went wrong, all I had to do was extend  my legs and stand up on the floor.  I started to conquer my fear by extending one leg and letting a toe touch the floor, then tucking it back and extending the other leg.  Finally, I was able to lower myself into the German Hang with my legs tucked so that the feet wouldn't touch the floor.  I was also able to pull my body back out of the German hang into the inverted hang.  Success!  I watched the training video again and noticed that unlike the Crossfit style, the Skin The Cat just starts and stops in Inverted Hang, at least for Level A, Phase 2.

Another thing that helped me get comfortable with the German hang was GMB's update of Rings One - specifically the Warmup routine.  They added shoulder mobility movements in which you use a towel or similar cloth item to stretch your shoulders, and two of those movements move your arms in and out of the German hang (or where they would be if you were hanging in that position).

Regarding the Levels, Rings One is actually presented in two levels - A and B.  Level A is for those new to ring training and Level B is for those who have previous experience or are just too strong to get any benefit out of Level A.  I took a peek at Level B, Phase 1 and quickly determined it was too difficult for me.  My strength is somewhere between Level A and Level B at Phase 1, and just right for Level A, Phase 2.

Part 2 will be the report of my final workout for Phase 1, which is my last Above The Rings session i this Phase.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Rings One Week 4 Report

This week, I changed up my Below The Rings day routine to look like this:

Pullups 3 sets
Tuck To Inverted Hang 5 sets
Pushups 3 sets

I do the most sets on the movement I'm weakest at in the "below rings' category, which is the Tuck to Inverted Hang.  The pushups don't belong in this category, but I need the extra practice.  Unfortunately, I was unable to duplicate my performance of the Tuck to Inverted Hang from Wednesday of last week, in which I nailed two perfect reps of the movement.  Still too much swinging and lack of coordination between the pulling action of the arms and the raising of the hips via the "knees to armpits" action.

One idea that occurred to me today while walking home was to try 3 sets of 3-5 sec. of what I call a "flex-arm tuck lever".  This is what a legit tuck lever looks like, courtesy of the excellent Beast Skills lesson on the Front Lever:

Of course, I'm following the Rings One program, which has a very different way of working up to a  Front Lever, but what I call the "Flexed Arm Tuck Lever" is a lot like the Tuck Lever, except with the arms flexed.  The Beast Skills lesson mentions that the trick to get into the Tuck Lever, if you're struggling to do it, is to lower yourself into it.  I found one way is to just do a pull-up and tuck your knees as shown above, then lower yourself by straightening your arms with your knees still tucked.   The Flexed Arm Tuck Lever is just the position you would be in if your did not lower yourself - your arms are flexed from doing the pull-up.  The Flexed Arm Tuck Lever may not exactly be the middle position between the pull-up and the inverted hang position of the Jump Tuck to Inverted Hang move, but I suspect working in some holds in the Flexed Arm Tuck Lever will help me gain the strength I need to better control the movement.

Not much progress to report on the Above The Rings days.  For next week, I'm thinking of just doing full-range pushups on those days instead of partial range, with the understanding my reps will be lower on the Above The Rings days due to the triceps being taxed from doing dips.

I managed to do 5 sets of Leg Module Level 1 on Tuesday, and 4 sets on Thursday.

This evening I was struck by intense hunger pangs.  I'd never experienced this much pain before from just being hungry.  I was also bloated with gas and having to burp a lot to try to release some.  I don't believe I ate anything all that unusual.  Breakfast was scrambled eggs w/ cheese, and potatoes.  Lunch was salad - mixed spring greens, chicken slices, boiled egg slices, beets, broccoli, edamame beans, artichokes - and an Italian soup of ravioli, tomato, and sausage.  I'd experienced the feeling of hunger before but not like this.  I'd already made plans to go grocery shopping, so when I arrived at Whole Foods, I gladly purchased a $7 Nepalese dinner plate with chicken, a potato-and-cauliflower dish, rice and two dumplings and wolfed it all down as if I'd been starved for weeks.  I was still hungry afterwards and so bought more Nepalese chicken dumplings.  Was this intense hunger due to my body wanting to build muscle after what thought was a moderate amount of exercise? We'll see.

Friday, March 06, 2015

Rings One Week 3 Report

Took a look ahead in the schedule and saw that I have only two more weeks to go in Phase 1, Beginner.  I'm ahead of schedule in that I can do pull-ups and dips unassisted.  I continue to make progress with the pull-ups and dips.  But I'm behind schedule with the pushups and the tuck to inverted hang.  Looks like I should do the max recommended number of sets (5) of pushups and tuck to inverted hang since those are my weakest moves.  I continue to substitute partial range pushups (full pushup position, no knee support) for assisted pushups (from the knees) because its actually easier on my left shoulder.

Phase 2 Beginner progresses from assisted pushups, mountain climbers, and plank holds to the Tuck to Shoulder Stand.  The first time I worked with Rings One, I found this to be a huge jump in difficulty level.  I must not have been the only one to complain about this abrupt jump in difficulty because the good folks at GMB eventually published an article on how to prepare for the Tuck to Tuck Shoulder Stand.  Later, they updated the Rings One program itself and now I see an exercise called Assisted Tuck to Tuck Shoulder Stand in place of the full movement for the first couple of weeks of Phase 2.  Maybe they found that for some people, simply lowering the rings and using foot assistance was more effective than the program described in the article.  I'll see what happens when I get to the end of Phase 1.  I may have to incorporate the article program into a Phase 1.5, depending on what happens on my first attempt at the assisted version of this movement.

On the below-the-rings side, Phase 2 progresses from Tuck to Inverted Hang to a rolling movement in which you roll back and forth between the inverted tuck hang position to the top of a chin-up.  I may have a better chance of pulling (no pun intended) this off on first try because my stability in the Tuck to Inverted Hang improved considerably this week.

I did one Leg Module workout on Tuesday.  I was going to attempt another one Thursday but then the snowstorm came so I decided to save my energy and legs for  shoveling snow.  I might do one tomorrow.

Oh, and I found that I gained 5 lbs since the start of Phase 1.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Jump To Inverted Hang observation

The Jump to Inverted Hang movement has been a challenge for me, because I'd struggled to execute it without excessive swinging.  Less swinging and better body control is needed to progress to the next movement, which is the Inverted TuckRoll Chinup.

Towards the end of today's Rings One session, I was able to execute the movement with better control and almost zero swing of the rings.  What seems to be key is the coordination of the pull on the rings with the drive of the knees towards the armpits.  I seemed to either pull on the rings while forgetting to drive the knees to the armpits, or drive the knees to the armpits while forgetting to pull.  With the right coordination I feel a lot more in control and the unwanted swinging is eliminated.