Friday, December 25, 2020

Isochain Promethean Week 3

 I've done 3 sessions in a row with Deadlift target load set to 160 lbs.  I can complete 6 reps of 6 second holds, but my GMB Ease score is still Challenging.  Even though GMB has nothing to do with the Isochain manual, and the Quality score doesn't seem to matter because there's no movement, I still find it useful to assess Ease to determine whether or not to advance in load. 

With the Bicep Curl, I've done 2 sessions in a row at a 50 lb. target load with a Challenging score, so I dropped the load for this movement as well.

For the Shoulder Press, I tried lowering the bar to chin level height, so that it's closer to the bottom position of the movement, though not all the way.  I've been struggling to generate consistent force for this drill with the bar at a greater height, and the shoulder pain while raising the bar to that height to start has also been a concern.  At the chin level height, there's no pain to raise the bar, and I'm able to generate more force with less effort.

I continue to re-read and review The Ultimate Isometrics Manual. I noticed yet another error in how I'm practicing the Promethean program.  I didn't fully understand that it is a "double progression" program.  You're supposed to progress in reps up to 6, and then progress in load.  That is what "double progression" means in the book.

I began the week with a Deadlift load of 160 lbs and ended with a load of 145 lbs.  I can train with a higher load than 145 lbs but at the point, I need to work on proper usage of full-body tension.  The manual warns against ramping up too fast ("yanking") but ramping up too slow can also be an issue.  I will begin training next week at an even lower load of 140 lbs.  I want to improve on how I generate tension and sustain it for 6 seconds for the deadlift.  I am willing to continue dropping the target load until I am able to train without causing the Isochain timer - in Timer Mode - to reset itself.

I finished the week practicing Bicep Curl with a target load of 45 lb, after dropping the load from 50 to 40 for Wednesday training, then moving up to 45 for Friday.  The book Power To The People mentions wave cycling, which is the concept of dropping the target load every now and then, instead of training at the same load for several consecutive sessions, in hopes of eventually becoming strong enough to increase the target load.  As with the Deadlift, I still have room for improvement in how I sustain fully body tension for the Bicep Curl.

I finished the week with a target load of 40 lb for the Shoulder Press, which is the heaviest load that I've used yet for this drill.  For next week, I will try to progress in reps from 4 to 6, then evaluate whether to apply wave cycling and thus drop the load for the following week.  The shoulder feels better than it did at the start of the week.

So for the Wednesday session, I dropped the load to 155 lbs.

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Twist Hold Observations and other thoughts

The Twist Hold is the third hold of the Trifecta, which is a joint health training program described in detail in the book Convict Conditioning 2.  Some critics of the Trifecta state that better exercises are available for flexibility, but the purpose of Trifecta is joint health and "bulletproofing" the joints, not achieving the best possible flexibility at the risk of joint health.

Here is Aleks Salkin describing and demonstrating the Trifecta exercises:

I've struggled to progress past the 3/4 Twist variation of the Twist Hold progression.  I tried practicing the assistance stretches suggested by Al Kavadlo, who modeled the Trifecta exercises in the book, but remained stuck.

Today I realized that what has been holding me back is a very simple detail that I'd overlooked.  I had the palm of my arm - the one leveraging against the leg - facing away from the leg, with the elbow locked out.  Why was this a problem?  Well, this prevents the arm from being able to snake under the knee and reach back to either grab the other hand, or grab a cloth/towel being held at the other end by the other hand.

I've also been using the Trifecta wrong.  It's not really supposed to be a cooldown routine after a session of serious strength training.  It's supposed to be done on non-strength training days, or as a warmup.

As an aside, I did an L-Sit variation with palms on the floor instead of parallettes for the first time today.  The easiest variation to do on the floor is the N-Hold variation, which I hadn't been able to do because I lacked the core strength to pull the knees high enough to get the feet off the ground.  For my next Trifecta session, however, I'll switch back to the P-Barz because in the Trifecta, the L-Hold (L-Sit) practice is supposed to be an active stretch of the lower back, not a strength workout per se.  I did have to expend a lot of effort to do the N Hold from the floor.  Aleks Salkin also wrote an L-Hold Tutorial.  I tried this approach a while back but did not get past the "straight leg to N hold" step.  It could have been any number of reasons from not practicing at the correct frequency per week, or not allowing enough rest time, targeting the wrong hold time, etc.  In any case, now that I have the Isochain, I don't really have to work on the L-Hold as a strength exercise.  I wouldn't be surprised if I made "free gains", as Mindful Mover likes to day, on the L-Hold from Isochain Promethean training, because all 3 exercises work the core with increasing intensity as the target load goes up.  I can just practice easier variations of the L-Hold as part of Trifecta.

Speaking of Mindful Mover, I saw their recent post about how practicing their "Big 5" (Handstand Pushup, One-Arm Chinup, Planche Pushup, Front Lever Row, Squat) with give you free gains on the Deadlift.  While that might be true, I suspect you have to work up to high levels of skill in their Big 5, and to get those high levels of skill you have to be strong anyway.  The problem for me is my shoulder won't let me work on the Planche Pushup or HSPU branches of the Big 5.  The Shoulder Press from Isochain Promethean should, in theory, deliver gains in the HSPU.  The Bicep Curl might have some carryover to One-Arm Chinup, as it is essentially a bodyweight bicep curl.  I suppose I'd have to work up to a double-bodyweight Bicep Curl to see that - or not.  The carryover potential from Deadlift to any of the Big 5 isn't so clear - Front Lever maybe?  Bent Row from Promethean Mark II looks like it has more obvious carryover to the Front Lever Row progression.

Friday, December 18, 2020

Isochain Promethean Week 2

 Progress in the Promethean, as measured by Target Load in each of the 3 drills, continued a little, then settled into what I think are supposed to be my working loads.  My progress in the first week was artificial in that I picked arbitrarily low target load values for my very first session, and worked up from there.  According to the Promethean guidelines, I could technically still increase my load values for the Deadlift and Bicep Curl, for the next session, as I did complete all 6 sets of 6-second holds.  However, the Isochain timer was reset a couple of times because I failed to sustain the force consistently.  So I will train at the same loads again, until there are no more timer resets.  The loads are heavy enough that I can finally feel my biceps working in the Bicep Curl, and my lower back getting a little sore from Deadlift.   I hope this doesn't mean there is a deficiency in my Deadlift technique.  I've been paying attention to applying pressure through the heels of my feet.

I briefly experimented with training the Shoulder Press with the bar set to the same height as the top of my head, because I thought I might be able to apply more force to the bar at that position.  However, the shoulder was easier to irritate so for the rest of the week, I set the bar back to several inches above top of head height.  The load for this drill is only 30lbs.  I did complete all 6 reps of 6-sec. holds today, but I'm not satisfied with my quality of performance.  There is a groove for the Shoulder Press that I find once in a while.  Otherwise, the chain is shaking as I struggle to find the groove and thus apply the full-body force to the chain, unlike the Bicep Curl where I have no problem building up the full-body force.  I started practicing by putting my hands up on the basement ceiling while standing on the stairs to the basement, and applying pressure from my feet to my hand.  I keep the pressure light because this is just practice, not a full isometric strength training session.The pressure that I can apply to the bar just does not feel consistent.  It could be that I am forgetting to squeeze the butt and tighten the abs.

This week I went with the "binary warmup" scheme described in the manual.  I think I'm overdoing it a little because the manual says I shouldn't be huffing and puffing at the end of the general warmup.

The Specific Drill Warmup Sets are actually 2-4 reps per set, not one rep per set.  Rest between reps should be 10-15 seconds, not 1 second.  Load Mode is useful for this warmup because you just set the target load and count the seconds that the Isochain bar beeps off when you hit the target, instead of guessing if you really hit 20% of your max load, then 35%, and so on.  I have a tendency to apply too much effort in this warmup.

The purpose of the cooldown is to relax the body after all the full-body effort being applied to the Isochain.  That is why the isometrics manual does not mention the Trifecta stretches which are covered in detail in the main author's other book, Convict Conditioning 2.  His reasoning is that stretching that is too intense can add tension to the body, rather than reduce it.

I haven't practiced the Trifecta exercises - Bridge, L-Hold, and Twist - for quite a while.  The book recommends practicing Trifecta 3-4 times a week, preferably on non-strength training days.  Thus, I'm thinking of practicing Trifecta before a GMB Elements session, which is usually on days between Isochain training days, and on weekends.  I just have to remember to not overdo the effort, especially on weekends when I should be recovering from a week of Isochain training.


The following was copied from a post by Mike Sigman:


I've mentioned some of this before, but I think it's a good topic for the putative "algorithm" series, so I'll take a swipe at it. When you do a reverse-breath, you inhale while slightly pulling in the abdomen and simultaneously pulling up the perineum/anus area. If you do these things correctly, you'll feel a sort of pressure area at the anus/perineum (AP) area that you can sort of pull up the spine to the lower back (Mingmen) area. Upon exhale, you let the pressure area drop forward and downward. This cycle of movement is the basic power-storage movement that is common throughout the Chinese martial-arts. I'm also pretty sure that the mechanism was well-known in the Japanese martial-arts, based on a comment I read in an old novel about ki and power development. Try the above inhale pulling in and upward, then the drop-release exhale a few times. You should be able to feel the general mechanism pretty easily. What makes this mechanism difficult for westerners to grasp has usually been the vague and obscure directions in so many of the old texts and directions. For instance, some directions talk about breathing the qi in through the Huiyin, into the coccyx, up the sacrum, and to the Mingmen. "Breathing the qi" in doesn't so much refer to breathing an exotic energy inward as it refers to pulling the elastic tissues of that area inward. Next, as you do the inhale part of the cycle, pay attention to the superficial area of the back and your spine ... try to push the slight tension in the lower back up the outside of the spine to the top of the head, on the inhale. Just get it generally correct, without worrying too much about perfection. On the exhale, as the dantian drops forward and downward, imagine that drop as pulling tension area from the top of the head down to the lower abdomen. Mentally follow that more superficial/outside-ish circuit that works in synchronicity with the cycle of the reverse-breath inhale and exhale. Now, let's return to previous discussions about a reverse breath and how, when you have your arms and fingers slightly extended, you can feel the pull-inward at the fingertips (maybe other places, too, depending upon your development) with the inhaled reverse-breath. Imagine the tissues you feel at your fingertips and part of an elastic, sheet-like connection over your body and that you feel the pull at the fingertips because your elastic "suit" is being pulled upward at the perineum/anus area. Do a few inhales and feel for that connection between the fingertips and the perineum/anus/huiyin. As your body's elastic connection continues to develop, you'll begin to feel the connection grow and spread to all over the body. It's this connection that the dantian uses to control the body.



The idea of "cast in resin" is the same basic idea that has been discussed a number of times in this forum: if you arrange your mind and body, without moving, to get ready to move into any given direction and, the imagination (if it is realistic enough and has real intent in it) is enough for the subconscious mind to trigger the involuntary muscle systems that we use in so much of our movement. 

The general procedure for "cast in resin" is to stand in a balanced position, one foot forward, and without moving the voluntary muscles, feel yourself getting ready to move forward even though your body is imaginarily only held in place because you are inside of one of those clear, plastic resin cubes. Don't make any physical movement, but just get your body ready to move as a whole unit (just like you are pushing your body through water). Don't actually move, but try to realistically feel that you are ready to move forward even though you haven't tensed any muscles. 

Then, without moving again, trying to arrange yourself inside so that you are now ready to move your body and legs, etc., backward. You will know and feel when your body is all aimed and ready to go backward. You can use the same procedure "move your qi" in various other directions. 

The point to think about is that not only does your body use muscle, bones, tendons, and connective tissue for movement… It also uses various stressors caused by involuntary-muscle systems under the command of the subconscious mind. You can't control the subconscious mind directly, but you can ask it to do things by imagining realistically and thus forming a rapport with the subconscious mind where it tries to do as you imagine. 

Perhaps I shouldn't have said "imagining realistically"… You can get the subconscious mind to control the involuntary-muscle systems by imagining some fairly unrealistic things. For instance, I can imagine breathing in through the top of my head and down to my stomach while I inhale through my nose, and imagining that I am pulling an intangible energy through the top of my head: that will trigger parts of my involuntary-muscle systems to react as if I were physically drawing something in through the top of my head, even though of course there is no intangible energy that I am actually pulling in through the top of my head. 

In a number of medical qigong's they will say things like "breathe qi in through the kidney", or something like that, and what they want you to do is imagine you are pulling something in through the kidney area when you inhale: that will help strengthen the involuntary-muscle systems in that area. 

Anyway, the cast in resin model is another simple way to begin learning to control your qi with your mind. Give it a try. Don't forget that reverse breathing is the optimal way to help pull in the qi tissues of the body.

Chen Ziqiang on Chen Village training 

Friday, December 11, 2020

Isochain Promethean Week 1 completed

 I completed Week 1 (3 sessions) of the Isochain Promethean program as described in the book The Ultimate Isometrics Manual by Paul Wade.  The Promethean focuses on what the book states are the three key positions of functional strength - pulling something off the ground (deadlift), holding something (biceps curl), and pushing something (shoulder press).

One area of improvement is the drill-specific warmup.  I have a tendency to apply too much force too soon.  At least for the first warmup set, I'm now comfortable with exerting just enough force to take all the slack out of the chain.   I feel like I'm going harder than necessary sometimes for the 2nd warmup set, and that I'm always going too hard for the last two.  Also, I missed the bit about resting 10-15 seconds between warmup sets.  I was only resting 1-5 seconds.

I entered modest load values for the drills because I haven't practiced the deadlift since my back injury from a deadlifting accident years ago.  I also haven't practiced bicep curls very much.  I'd thought of curls as an isolation exercise.  This isn't the case with the Isochain.  The body has to tighten up to provide a solid platform for the curl to happen.   Another reason to start with a modest load value was my suspect shoulder.  It was responding fine to ring incline pushups and variations of pike pushups, but in the last month, the shoulder developed a soreness that would be aggravated whenever I raised my left hand to tune my guitar.

I still have to consciously engage my external rotators and scapular muscles to stabilize the shoulder, and thus manage or eliminate pain, when I tune my guitar.  But after these 3 sessions, there is a noticeable improvement in how my shoulder feels.  The book mentions research indicating that isometrics has been found to reduce or eliminate joint pain.  The improvement of how my shoulder feels seems to bear this out.I did have to pay extra attention to keeping my scapulae protracted, to protect the shoulder, engage the lats and enhance performance in the shoulder press. The next test will come when I progress closer to my bodyweight load in the Shoulder Press. The book says that because there is no movement in isometrics, the shoulder will be fine. I'll find out!

One early struggle was figuring out the appropriate chain lengths for each exercise. What took a particularly long amount of time was finding a pain-free position for the shoulder press. I ended up ordering a bag of nylon cable tags, found by searching "cable label". They're basically plastic tags with zip ties. Anyway, I'm using those to speed up the process of adjusting the chain for various drills.

I generally aimed for the middle position in all 3 drills.  Initially the recommended middle position for the shoulder press, which has the handle at the top of the head, was uncomfortable for the shoulder, so for the first 2 sessions I had the handle set about 6 inches higher than the head.

I really like the Isochain's electronics which signal to me when my force production has reached the target load, and then counts off to me the seconds that I sustain the force.   I even like being informed that my force production has slipped below the target load.

I also like being able to practice the deadlift again.   I missed that whole-body tension that I got only from standing up with a heavily loaded barbell.  I don't however miss the risk of injury that comes with working with a heavy barbell.  I also look forward to trying the front squat, Zercher lift, and other barbell-inspired drills.  

My tentative plan is to do the Promethean for the prescribed 6-8 weeks, then switch to Promethean Mark II for the following 6-8 weeks.  Then after that I will do an assessment of where I'm at in the handstand pushup progression.  I practice GMB Elements on the days I have off from Isochain training, so I get a little bit of preparatory work for hand balancing from that.  I'm also practicing easier variations of the shrimp squat to maintain the balance and coordination for that movement.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Guitar Lesson videos

 Some videos I'm saving for future study:

 Post about using the Donna Lee head for soloing

 Around the World in Seven Scales

Random Pedal maker find:

Monday, December 07, 2020

Isochain Promethean Session 1

 I continue to have a lingering soreness in my left shoulder whenever I raise my left hand to about shoulder height, left of the shoulder.  The soreness is alleviated by conscious contraction of the left external rotator cuff/shoulder blade muscles.  

On top of that, I have soreness in my forearms, especially the left.  This is probably from holding the iPad with my left hand.  while I practice on the GeoShred Pro app with my right hand.  The soreness would intensify when practicing pullups and rowing movements on the rings.

Then Dragondoor announced a discount on their new Isochain, a high-tech device for isometric exercise, a well as a discount on their new isometric training manual.  This looked like an intriguing way to continue strength training with less risk of aggravation or injury to the shoulder or forearms/elbows.  The pursuit of the Handstand Pushup will have to wait for another day.

The manual presents tons of training ideas and programs.  I selected the Prometheus program, since it was recommended for people new to isometrics such as music.  Actually, it turns out the manual describes practicing front-lever holds and other gymnastic/calisthenic holds as isometric training, so I guess I'm not totally new to it, but I'm definitely new to bar-and-chain isometrics.  

The first session took a bit long because of the time spent figuring out appropriate chain lengths of each of the 3 drills in Prometheus.  Here are the results, with load as entered into the Isochain:

Deadlift - 120lbs - 4 reps of 6 seconds easily achieved, so increase to 125 next time

Curl - 30lbs - Started at 35 lbs but could not hold for full 6 seconds, so dropped to 30lbs.

Shoulder Press - 20lbs - 4 rep of 6 seconds easily achieved, so increase to 25lbs next time.

The setup for Shoulder Press took the longest time, because it took a while to find a chain length and hand positioning that eliminated any shoulder pain.  This turned out to be hands close to shoulder width, bar about a couple of inches above the head.  The manual recommends middle position rather than top or bottom position, for all exercises, but also says exact position does not matter.

So far the shoulder feels a little better and less temperamental to movements like silk-reeling, whereas up to last week, the slightest error in usage of the suit during silk reeling would result in sharp shoulder pain.

Tried a 15-minute session of GMB Elements as warmup but it really extended the length of today's workout, even with the cutting of the Elements cooldown.  Might do the GMB Elements warmup followed by 5 minutes of freeform Elements movement practice instead.