Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Modified Integral Strength: Week 3 start

Began the week with more modifications to the program:

1. Do at least one session with an easier leg exercise than the Shrimp Squat series
2. Replace Bridge Press-Up series with a variation that won't aggravate last week's neck injury.

I can do pistol squats for a few reps, but my knee gets sore for several days afterwards, because of the spine-pelvis misalignment that the physical therapist found during my PT time for the low back.  The Shrimp Squat series seems kinder to the knee, but I figured I'd try an easier leg exercise for at least a couple of sessions to see if I could condition the legs while giving the knee more of a rest.

For Monday, the replacement leg exercise was the classic bodyweight deep squat.  Part of the PCC Century Test to earn a PCC Instructor certification is 40 deep squats.  I am not even close to qualifying to be a PCC Instructor, but I wanted to see if I could do 40 squats.  By rep #30, my quads had a good burn going, but I did make 40 reps, with more left in the tank.  I stopped after rep #40, though, because I didn't see the point of continuing. 

For this morning's session, the replacement leg exercise was the the split squat, which is just a stationary lunge.  I did about 20 per side easily, so for the next circuit, I moved up to the walking lunge, which was also easily done.  I did 15 reps per side then decided to move on.

The replacement for the Bridge Press-Up was the Candlestick Bridge, which is a Shoulder Bridge with one leg extended upwards.  It proved to be safe for my neck because it never leaves the floor.  With one leg working against the floor and the other in the air, it's just challenging enough to continue strengthening the lower back, glute, and hamstring until ny neck is healthy enough for the Bridge Press-Up again.

As for the other exercises, I'm closing in on double digits in the Knee Pushup.  The 2 weeks working on Inverted Leg Raise resulted in improved performance in the Inverted Press (A-Frame variation) - where before lowering the head to the floor and pushing back up was hard, now I'm working in the 5-7 rep range.  In the L-Sit series, the basic straight-leg hold (legs straight but not high enough to qualify for true L-Sit), is getting more stable.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Modified Integral Strength: End of Week 2

The neck was starting to feel pretty good this morning, after regular practice of the GMB Neck Mobility exercises.

Then I started dong Bridge Press-Ups and the soreness in the back of the neck returned again with a vengeance.  I should have stopped as soon as I felt the pain intensify in the neck.  I guess I didn't stop immediately because I thought I was just coordinating something wrong.  I should have recalled the section of the Convict Conditioning 2 book which stated that the neck gets a good workout from working on the normal Bridge, without any work on the "Wrestler's Bridge" - the variation of the Bridge which is done with the top of the head on the ground instead of the hands.  So I'll have to lay off with my Bridge training for the time being, in addition to giving up pursuit of the Inverted Leg Press.

On the bright side, I gained enough strength from this brief pursuit of the Inverted Leg Raise to lower by head all the way to the floor, and do a Inverted Press back up into the A-Frame position.  So having to switch out the Inverted Leg Raise series in favor of the Inverted Press series isn't all bad.  I'll wait until I've worked towards the legs-elevated step of the Inverted Press progression before I try the Inverted Leg Raise series again.  By the time I reach that step, the neck should have healed, barring some other accident.

Losing the Bridge piece of the Trifecta for cooldown is a bummer - I don't really have a replacement "active stretch" - by Convict Conditioning standards - but for stretching out the front of the body, I have some options.  There's the Kneeling Lunge for the hip flexors and quads.  There's also the Cobra pose which should stretch out the same areas stretched by the Bridge, except without any contraction on the back side, as the standard instruction is to relax everything on the backside, especially the glutes.  The Muay Thai mobility routine may also be more than adequate.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

RIP Aretha Franklin

Week 2 under Modified Integral Strength Pt 2. Sore neck

Woke up this morning with the back of my neck more sore than it was yesterday.  Worked through the supine and quadrapedal exercises from the GMB Neck Mobility routine, as well as reviewing the seated exercises.  There was one exercise that I was unable to do because of the neck pain - the Retraction with Rotation and Sidebend from the quadrapedal series.  Because of the sheer number of neck exercises from the GMB Neck Mobility routine, as well as prescribed reps and set, the neck mobility practice took up most of my morning exercise time.  The rest of the session was spent on a bit of Cando Bar silk reeling practice and some stretches from the Muay Thai mobility routine. 

Speaking of the Cando Bar stuff, I realized that I should keep the arm more extended - not necessarily lock out the elbow, but at least remove the "slack" from the "suit" we are trying to develop.  This is helping me feel the suit working a bit more in the bottom half of the "positive" movement - I'm feeling more of a pull from my abs/core to the hand, through the arm; instead of just the arm, or at best a conventional "rowing" action (the arm and upper back working together).  I'm also getting more comfortable with the "negative" movement, in which the counterclockwise rotation of the dantien pulls the right arm out, causing it to unfold, which is quite a different sensation from the normal pushing action of the triceps, shoulder, and chest working to extend the arm.  This is why all of the punches I've seen in Chen Taijiquan are accompanied by the opposite arm being pulled back.  The pull of the opposite arm is sometimes said to be for an elbow strike to the back, but I think it's mainly a reminder to the practitioner of what direction the dantien should be rotating.  The rotation causes one arm to pull back because the front of the dantien is pulling; while at the same time the back of the dantien is pulling through the other arm, causing it to unfurl like a party favor and extend outwards.

As of this post, my neck is feeling better.  I'll do another round of the seated exercises when I get home, then the supine and quadrapedal ones before I go to bed.

Unless my neck is completely pain free tomorrow, I'll switch from the Inverted Leg Raise series to the Inverted Press series, so I can continue improving my overhead pressing strength while waiting for the neck to recover.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Week 2 under Modified Integral Strength

I'm going to call the program "modified Integral Strength" because most of the exercises are from the Integral Strength program, and are mostly practiced in the same order in a circuit.  The modifications I've made are to simply do as many reps as can be done "pretty" instead of within a specific time frame (20s or 30s), temporarily subbing the Inverted Leg Raise progression for the Inverted Press progression, replacing the lower steps of the Chinup progression with inverted rows from under the dining table, and eliminating the 3-min. cardio session (sprinting in place or jump rope) that's introduced after the first couple of weeks.  The main cause of the change was to make the routine more flexible for days that I commute to work by bicycle.  The warmup routine is also being tweaked here and there - the latest thing is adding some moves from the GMB Muay Thai routine to help improve my mobility for the kicks in Taijiquan and Japanese kata that we practice, as well as moves where I have to balance on one leg while extending the other.  Integral Strength does not prescribe a specific cooldown, so I'm continuing to use the Trifecta from Convict Conditioning, plus the stretches from the Muay Thai routine and the brachial hang.

I'm closer to finding the optimal positioning for the hands in the headstand.  I did have a bit of an accident today when I made the triangle between my hands and head too flat.  The GMB Inverted Leg Raise video says that you don't want the triangle to be so flat that it's a straight line, as you're more likely to tip over.  Well, my triangle didn't disappear into a straight line, but it was flat enough that I felt my body start to tip over.  I was close to the wall to be prevented from completely falling over, but the body tipped over enough to put pressure on the back of the neck.  Thus, the back of my neck is sore.  I'm trying to address the soreness, and hopefully facilitate healing, by gently practicing the seated exercises from GMB's Neck Mobility routine. I'll try the supine and quadrepedal exercises tomorrow morning as part of my active recovery routine.

Despite the sore neck, I've progressed in the Inverted Leg Raise enough to try Step 2, which is pulling a knee to my armpit.  When I straighten my legs and rock my body in and out of the headstand, my feet leave the floor when my butt is pulled over my head - probably because my tight hamstrings pull up the feet.  Just for fun, I tried pulling in both knees at the same time.  I was able to do that, just as I did the first time I tried, but I still need to improve the strength and stability of the tripod created by the head and arms.

Friday, August 10, 2018

End of Week 1 under new program

I suppose I should think of a name for the new program, instead of just "the new program".  Can't think of anything at the moment, so "new program" it is.

For today's session, I tried the headstand with the hands closer to the head than in the previous session.  As a result, I was able to push hard enough through the hands, when "rocking in", that  not only was the pressure on my head reduced more, but my feet started to float off the floor.  My balance felt pretty stable.  The only negative was there was some pain in my suspect shoulder when my weight was most concentrated on the upper body. 

So the next thing to work on in the Inverted Leg Raise progression is hand and arm positioning that does not add shoulder pain.  I need to make sure that I'm not allowing the elbows to flare out.  I am also hoping that the bodyweight rowing, knee pushups, and brachial hanging will soon make that shoulder less susceptible to pinching or other irritating sensations.

I added two sets of Bridge Pressups, essentially not doing Bridge Pressups on the last circuit.

I've gone back to doing the exercises in a circuit, which is a base feature of Integral Strength, but not necessarily Convict Conditioning.  It's just more time efficient to work through each exercise in a circuit.  However, because my interest is in strength training rather than conditioning/weight loss, I'm not making myself go from exercise to exercise with as little rest time as possible.  I'm giving myself time to catch my breath and reset myself between exercises.  I'm currently taking a 2.5 min. rest between circuits but I may bump that up to 3 min.  The 2-3 min. rest period between circuits is another carryover from Integral Strength.

Thursday, August 09, 2018

Session 2 under new program

I stood in front of a mirror and put my hands and arms about where they should be when I'm in a headstand, with the elbows at 90 degrees, hands just outside shoulder width, upper arms about 90 degrees from the torso.  The imaginary triangle between hands and head didn't look equilateral at all; quite a bit more flattened than that.

I then tried practicing the Inverted Leg Raise progression with this new hand positioning.  I did feel like I had much better leverage for pressing harder through my hands, and thus noticeably reducing the pressure on the top of the head.  I then realized that "rocking forward", per the Step One instructions from the tutorial, wasn't just pushing down towards my toes to push the legs towards my head - it's actually pulling my butt forward so that it stacks over my torso and head.

Performance in the other exercises were pretty much the same as the first session.

The day after, I didn't feel the same neck soreness as I felt Tuesday (day after first session).  I did go through the sitting neck exercises from this routine, however.

I also tried GMB's Muay Thai Mobility Routine, which I'd previously put off because I'm not a Muay Thai player.  However, the article promises benefits for those who practice any movements that require balancing on one leg while extending the other - and Taijiquan definitely qualifies.

Monday, August 06, 2018

First session under new routine

Today was my first session under the new program.  I'm confident I'm now training at the appropriate level for each of the exercises, despite being able to perform a more "advanced" version of each exercise, except the dynamic L-Sit.

I'm going to stay at the lowest level of the Inverted Leg Raise progression for at least two weeks.   I need the time to figure out the optimal position for my hands.  The instruction to draw a triangle between the head and hands seems clear at first, but I doubt it's a perfect triangle - that is, it can't be an equilateral triangle based on the geometry of my body.  It makes sense that the head should not be in line with the hands.  On the other hand, my hands feel like the palm heels are going to come off the floor if I try to make an equilateral triangle - I just don't have the strength/mobility to keep them pressed down.   So the hands have to be positioned somewhere in the middle, thus forming a "squashed" triangle; in order for me to get the leverage to generate a decent push through the arms.

I also need the time to practice pushing against the floor through my hands, to relieve some of the pressure from my head and neck, and to practice balancing the upper body.  Coach Ryan says at the beginning of the video lesson that this move will subject the head and neck to a lot of pressure, implying that even for strong people, the pressure on the head/neck won't be eliminated, so this two-week period would also give the neck time to adapt.

So if things go well, the technique and body conditioning/strength will come together enough after two weeks to advance to the next level, which is pulling in a knee - one at a time.  Level 2 and up will definitely require a stable upper-body base.  If it doesn't come together, then I don't mind staying at Level 1 for another week or even longer, because this is not a progression to be rushed, if one is to avoid injury.

Sunday, August 05, 2018

Bodyweight Training Program (Convict Conditioning meets GMB)

It seems like I get shoulder problems every time I get into doing pullups, and it could be that I never really worked on horizontal pulls, which the PCC (Progressive Calisthenics Certification) folks call "Australian pullups" - basically just rowing your bodyweight. Before I achieved my first pullup, I did lat pulldowns, cable rows, and other stuff on machines in modern-style gyms. My university opened a shiny new modern style gym, which had a pullup-assist machine which I used to build up to my first pullup. I started with like 50lbs assistance and worked down to 0 lbs. I didn't know at the time the old-school way would have been to do rows from under a sturdy table, then progress to jump-to-negatives, half-pullups, etc. Anyway, the Convict Conditioning book argues in favor of working through a progression of an exercise (Aussie pullups, negative pullups, jump to half-pullups, full pullups, etc.) instead of skipping ahead too soon; otherwise the muscles may strengthen faster than the softer tissues and so on, and technique suffers as well. This could be what's going on with why my shoulder pain returns after I start doing pullups on a bar.  Pullups on rings does not seem to aggravate the shoulder as much because of the movement they allow in the arms.

So I'm going to work on bodyweight pulls until 2 sets of 20 are easy, then go up the progression. The Convict Conditioning progression standard is 30 reps, but that seems a bit much.   GMB would say 30 seconds easy, snappy movement is the progression standard.  I'm not sure that's enough work, as there are still GMB programs that advise 12-15 reps here and there.  Anyway, I'll arbitrarily set 20 to be the progression standard before moving on to the next exercise in the pullup progression, which is either jacknife pullups or jump-to-negative pullups.

The same shoulder also bothers me when I do full pushups, so I'm similarly going to switch to kneeling pushups. Brachial hanging has made a difference for my shoulder - much reduced pain when I lower myself into a dead hang from the pullup bar. I have a similar situation with my knee whenever I practice pistol squats. There's no pain during the exercise itself, but hours afterward or the next day, my knee gets sore. During my low back physical therapy, one of the doctors noticed something odd about my gait and found a misalignment between the hip and back, causing the foot to want to turn out more than the other when I stand. She put me through a "reset" but I was later told that a longer term fix would be to strengthen the core and consciously turn the foot back inwards to match the other foot. The misaligned side is where my knee can hurt. So I'm going to switch back to the shrimp squat progression, since that doesn't seem to bother the knee as much.

So this is the modified bodyweight program, influenced by both Integral Strength and Convict Conditioning - the biggest step away from Integral Strength being to drop the circuit training and just do 2-3 sets of each exercise.

Warmup:  Integral Strength warmup

Inverted Leg Raise
Shrimp Squats - Step-back Lunge
Pushups - Kneeling
Bridge Pressups
Aussie Pullups (love the name)
L-Sit (Dynamic)

Cooldown: Convict Conditioning Trifecta, Hip Flexor stretches (if time allows), Brachial Hang

The Inverted Leg Raise tutorial by GMB includes the best instruction I've seen yet on how to get into a headstand.  Everybody else teaches the headstand this way:  "Go near a wall, make a triangle between your hands and head, and kick up!"... without any help for people who can't do the kick-up because they lack the strength, flexibility, or motor control.  The Inverted Leg Raise temporarily supplants the Inverted Press as the exercise for overhead pressing strength, because I feel like I have a  more immediate need for the benefits that it promises:  Balance while being upside down, core strength, and upper body strength from isometric contraction (constantly pushing against the floor with the hands to reduce the load on the head and neck).  Given where I'm at with the other exercise progressions, the Inverted Leg Raise is the most challenging exercise and thus is the first in the routine.
The Shrimp Squat progression will be followed pretty much as taught in Integral Strength.

The Pushup progression will be as taught in Integral Strength, until I've worked up to multiple sets of 15 full pushups, at which point I'll decide if I want to work on the Hollow Body Pushup or the One-Arm Pushup

The Bridge Pressup progression will be mostly from Integral Strength.  At some point I will have to decide if I want to keep working on a Bridge that looks anywhere as good as the GMB coaches demonstrate the course, or if I should progress to one-leg variations as taught by the Kavadlo brothers, who have pretty much taken over propagating the Convict Conditioning system around the world.  The book says to work towards a stand-to-stand Bridge, while the Kavadlos instead progress to one-leg, then one-leg, one-arm (I think) bridges.

Aussie Pullups will be trained until I can do 2 sets of 20 easily.  I'll probably try Al Kavadlo's idea afterwards of working on regular pullups, supersetted with Aussie Pullups.  He says this is great for increasing reps in the pullup, but I'm just looking to make sure the critical shoulder girdle muscles (lower trapezius and rear deltoids) get the work needed to maintain shoulder health.

The L-Sit in most GMB programs is practiced as a static hold  This L-Hold tutorial introduced a dynamic version, in which one moves between two positions in the L-Sit/L-Hold progression.   I have to add that I don't agree with the prerequisites in the tutorial - one does not need to have performed a one-arm pushup, leg raise, or handstand before beginning.  I started working on the L-Sit without having practiced any of those moves.  GMB's L-Sit Tutorial gives a more realistic perspective on what needs to be done to work on the L-Sit - lots of great info, but it doesn't have the dynamic movement idea.   Anyway, the idea is to practice the dynamic version here.  The static version is part of the Convict Conditioning Trifecta.  I'm not fully sold yet on the L-Hold being a suitable active stretch for the posterior chain, but I've started trying it as part of the Trifecta. 

Friday, August 03, 2018

Convict Conditioning Pre=Planning

So far, working a bit under the Integral Strength program has been fine, but I'd been pondering ways to make my exercise program more flexible when it comes to scheduling, so that when the weather and schedule allow it, I can bike to work again.  Integral Strength is about doing rounds of a circuit routine, which doesn't fit well with riding one's bicycle to/from work, and stopping at pullup bars, dip stations, that may be along the commute.

I recently got my copies of the Convict Conditioning and Convict Conditioning 2 books.  The first book focuses on strength training around the "Big 6" exercises and the 2nd covers "Bulletproof Joints" and other supplementary exercise info.

Switching to from Integral Strength  to Convict Conditioning should be seamless as the exercises are similar or even the same:

Shrimp Squat -> Squat

I've actually never done a full Shrimp Squat, because of the requirement to hold the back foot with one hand while squatting down with the other hand.  I've gotten as far as touching the knee to the floor with both hands extended forward.  Convict Conditioning has a 10-step progression for the Squat, working up to a full double-legged squat, then progressing to a full pistol squat.  I've done full pistol squats before, but I usually get soreness along my MCL sometime afterwards.  One possible cause of the soreness is a previous knee injury.  Another is a tendency for the hip on that side to turn out and forward a bit.  Thus, the plan is to rachet back in the difficulty level focus on the lower Steps of the squat progression for a while.  Interestingly, Convict Conditioning has for the first Step, a "squat" which is done while in a posture that Yoga folks would recognize as a shoulder stand.  I will probably do this move as part of my daily warmup, as it seems to warm up some muscle groups while loosening others.


Integral Strength's "master" variation if the Hollow Body Pushup.  Convict Conditioning's is the One-Arm Pushup.  I'll work up to 20 regular pushups first, then consider where to go from there.  As with the Squat, I'm going to rachet down the difficulty level to give my shoulder tendons more time to build up.

Bridge Pressup

Integral Strength stops at making the arms and legs straight as possible.  Convict Conditioning continues to the Stand to Stand bridge.  Looking at the Convict Conditioning progression, the straight bridge step is practically effortless to do 20 reps, so I'll try the next level before getting back to the full Bridge pressup.


Convict Conditioning's master version is the one-arm pullup.  The other program stops at the regular pullup.  For now though I'll just work up to 20 reps of the horizontal row variation.

Handstand Pushup

Integral Strength focuses more on the Inverted Press, with the idea that raising the feet higher and higher will increase the difficulty so that when the feet are on the chair or higher, the trainee will have gotten strong enough to work on Handstand Pushups.  Convict Conditioning advises achieving the handstand first.  GMB (authors of Integral Strength) advise working on the handstand as a separate practice.  I'll stick with Inverted Presses, but try to get to 20 reps on an easier variation (feet further away from the hands) first.

L-Sit -> Split of L-Hold and Leg Raise progression

GMB loves the L-Sit, and thus it's featured in Integral Strength and other GMB strength programs.  The Convict Conditioning way though, prefers the Leg Raise for strengthening the hip flexors and abs and the L-Hold (same as L-Sit) as an active stretch, with an emphasis on flexibility and "joint bulletproofing" (active stretch of the posterior chain).  GMB actually recommends the Hanging Leg Raise, among other exercises, for those struggling to achieve their first L-Sit.  Sticking with the theme on focusing more on tendon strengthening, I'll work on the easier Steps for the Leg Raise series first - the ones done from the prone position.

Hollow Body

There's no direct mapping of the Integral Strength Hollow Body series to Convict Conditoning.
The Front Hollow Body is a GMB staple for developing a nice vertical line in the free standing (no wall support) Handstand position.  The closes thing in Convict Conditioning would be  the Leg Raise series.  The Back Hollow Body is not a consideration in Convict Conditioning, though the back sould get plenty of work in the Bridge series.  For lateral strength of the spine, the Flag series is favored over the Side Hollow Body.

In summary, Integral Strength is a great bodyweight strength and conditioning program, with the Broad Jump thrown in for some power training; but doesn't integrate well with bike commuting, schedule-wise.  Also it's intended to siet between Elements and the specialized bodyweight training porgrams in the GMB hierarchy.  Convict Conditioning is a more open-ended program, scheduling wise.