Thursday, January 27, 2022

Some current Music Self-Improvement activities

I did not make any New Year's resolutions, but I do occasionally settle on particular topics to focus my music studies.

One of these is increasing my jazz vocabulary on electric violin. I've spent a tiny amount of time messing with some jazz licks on violin. The process of acquiring and absorbing jazz vocabulary is not a fast process for me by any means on the guitar or the piano. This process has been much, much slower on the violin and viola for me, due to the challenges imposed by learning how to use the bow - which has never been intuitive for me - and the fretless fingerboard. I finally bought a fretted electric violin late last year, which dramatically reduced the effort of locating notes in the fingerboard. This is really key because jazz vocabulary includes a lot of enclosures. I find chromatic phrasing like this to be particularly difficult to practice on fretless instruments.

One new activity I look forward to is learning Stuff Smith's After You've Gone solo, as transcribed and taught by Gabriel Bismut here:

I'm not sure if I'm going to bother working all the way up to the insane BPM that Stuff played the solo, but even practicing a few bars from the solo at a time to some kind of metronome should be very beneficial. I also started learning - on both violin and piano - the Clifford Brown solo on Sandu, which is mentioned here:

The solos mentioned in the video, including the Sandu one, appear in Soundslice form on this page on the Open Studio, which is really nice because fast passages are harder to learn than slower one. Soundslice's tools are easy to use to select a section of the solo to loop and reduce the playback speed of that loop so that it is easier to pick out the notes in faster passages.

Freddie The Freeloader is another of the 3 songs mentioned in the Easy Way To Get Good At Music video. Chris Haigh has a pretty good lesson video on how to play it - between his video and the Wynton Kelly Soundslice - we have more than enough information to play this tune and improvise on it.

I still like playing guitar and I'll continue to pick up one of my guitars from time to time. Lately, however, I've been spending more time with synthesizers and keyboards, so it just makes sense to improve my skills on the keys. During Black Friday sales, I purchased several piano courses from Open Studio Jazz, mostly the ones taught by Adam Maness, because I like his teaching style. A generous selection of lesson materials from Open Studio is available for free on their Youtube channel. However, I don't mind supporting them financially by purchasing their courses. Also their paid courses come with Soundslice-enabled features and I think extra PDF files. For now I'm working with the Jazz Chords for Beginners and Bebop Enclosuers for Beginners courses. My primary interest in playing piano/keyboards is improving my chord vocabulary, so the choice of the former was a no-brainer. As for the latter, I think it'll be good for improving my ability to play melodies on the keys, and should also help my violin playing as long as I also practice this stuff on the violin. Stuff Smith "After You've Gone" solo transcription and lesson I'm currently 10:42 into Bebop Enclosures, 9:43 into JCB Rooted 5-note Voicings Lesson 1

Sunday, January 23, 2022

Isochain 6x6: Week 3

The book The Ultimate Isometrics Manual by Paul Wade states that for each rep of high-tension isometric exercise, a 6-second hold produces maximum strength gains according to scientific research. The book also states that 6 reps of 6-second holds is optimal for strength gains, mosty based on a chart by researcher Verkoshansky which appears in Supertraining, the well-respected book he co-authored with Mel Siff. Thus the 6x6 Program in the Ultimate Isometrics Manual is based on this ideal rep-hold scheme. The 6x6 guidelines say to measure your 1-rep Max values using the 1-Rep Max protocol in the book, then train with target loads set to 70% of your 1RM values. They also say to retest your 1-Rep Max every 2-4 weeks. So I began the week with the Monday session spent on 1-Rep Max testing.

The results in pounds:

Jefferson Lift - 240.33
Shoulder Press - 50.6
Drag Curl - 36.93

Based on the results, these will be the new target loads in pounds, which are roughly 70% of the above values:

Jefferton Lift - 170. Rounded up from 168.231
Shoulder Press - 36. 70% is 35.42, but I decided to round up instead of down
Drag Curl - 26. Rounded up from 25.851

The apparently loss of shoulder press strength was disappointing, but not entirely surprising. My low back did not feel fully recovered from the injury last week. Effort in the shoulder press did not add pain to the lower back. I paid attention to not tucking in my tailbone. Some people can cheat on the shoulder press by tucking in the tailbone and thus leaning back and adding their back strength to the press, so I tried to avoid that. Still, the thought of avoiding aggravating the back may have caused me to hold back from a true maximal effort shoulder press. All I can do is work at the lower target load, compared to last week, and continue practicing scapular protraction, squeezing the bar harder, and firing up the triceps more.

The Wednesday session began with my lower back feeling much better. This seemed to have been reflected in my performance in the 3 drills. The max force readings upon the last rep of each of the 3 drills were higher than my official 1-rep max values, despite the Jefferson Lift set making me sweat and feel a little fatigued before I did my Shoulder Press and Drag Curl sets.

For the Friday session, I decided to skip the 5-min. "shell warmup" period recommended by Ultimate Isometrics Manual because I figured doing the Jefferson Lift set first would warm up my body by itself. I also decided to raise my Shoulder Press target load to 38 lbs., in recognition of my offical 1RM values being temporarily lowered by the back injury. I still got a max force reading of 49.4, which is very close to the official 1RM of 50.6. I then decided to raise the target load to 40 lbs. for the next Monday session. My Drag Curl last-rep max reading of 39.1 was a little lower than what I scored Wednesday, but it was still higher than the official 1RM of 36.93. So I decided to raise the target load to 28 lbs. for the Monday session. I'm being a little more cautious about how quickly I raise the target load for this drill because my Golfer's Elbow isn't entirely gone and could flare up if I gamble too much with any bicep curl. The 6x6 guidelines seem to say that I should stay at the same target load until the next 1RM test but, again, my latest 1RM values were lowered by the back injury so I'm allowing modest raises whenever a 6x6 set feels a little too easy.

Instagram finds:

Mindful Mover on training at Rate Of Progress
Eduardo Orihuela on Locomotion Exercises for Handstand Training
Eduardo Orihuela on Improving Handstand Balance for HSPU

Some information on Nordic Curl, the exercise I plan to pair with Pistol Squat for my next calisthenics cycle:

Reddit post on Nordic Curl: What it is, why do do it, etc.
Nordic Curl using Yoga Strap and Door

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Octatrack Gain Staging Chart

The Octactrack is a wonderful machine, but gain staging is one knowledge area in which users have been known to struggle, including myself. On the Elektronauts forum, sezare is one of the legit gurus of this machine. Here is an excellent post that includes a chart of the gain stages for an Octatrack. The same thread is said to be worth reviewing from this post onward. Interesting article on using chord samples with sample chaining.

Sunday, January 16, 2022

Isochain 6x6 Week 2

The week began with the low back still feeling sore from the injury last week. My performance in the shoulder press was a little compromised because I could feel my low back working to keep my body upright and maintain the floor-to-hands pressure while I did the shoulder press. I did not want to risk aggravating the back by pushing too hard. By Wednesday morning, the back felt better, so I felt more confident about pushing harder on the shoulder press. The max force reading on my 6th, and final rep was 52.2 lbs, which was a new high at the 40 lb. target load. I decided to raise the target load by 2 lbs. for the Friday session. I also saw a performance jump in the drag curl, with a max reading of 41 lbs, up from a 33 lb. reading on Monday.

I changed my mind a couple of times about exercise selection for the 3rd and 4th exercises of this 6x6 routine. I finally decided to replace the Zercher Lunge with the Jefferson Deadlift, which is also called Straddle Lift in the Ultimate Isometric Manual, and have only 3 exercises instead of 4 because the Jefferson DL as an asymmetrical exercise takes more time than symmetrical ones like the shoulder press and regular deadlift. The Zercher Lunge looks like it would have more direct carryover to the Shrimp Squat and Pistol Squat because of the angle of the working ankle, knee, and hip. However working on it under 6x6 protocol seems to fatigue my legs enough that they feel prematurely sore when I try practicing the ATG Split Squat for mobility. I figure the Jefferson DL won't have the same effect. Also I have been curious about the reported benefits. As an anti-rotational exercise it's supposed to activate the obliques and multifidus to a high degree. It also introduces less shear force on the spine than the regular deadlift and has been known to help people with back pain work towards a regular deadlift.

Wednesday morning was my first trial of the Jefferson DL, with the target load set to a very conservative 100lbs. I was of course tentative for the first 3 reps because I didn't want to mess up my back. As my confidence grew, I was able to exert more and more force without feeling any increase in back pain. I was able to connect my fingers to my upper back while maintaining mixed grip, so that I did not feel any elbow pain. I played with hand positioning on the bar, and decided to grip near the bar ends, so that I would be less likely to rest my front hand on my thigh. I chose parallel feet alignment because of Mark Wildman's influence, who favors parallel feet for just about all kettlebell and heavy club training, because he feels trainees are too susceptible to allowing the knees to collapse inward otherwise. Before applying force, I make sure my shoulders were mostly in line with my hips. They're not perfectly in line because one hand is in front and the other hand is behind for holding the bar, but close enough that I did not feel any twist in the spine. The exercise felt good enough to keep it in my 6x6 routine. On one side I got a max force reading of 193.8 lbs on the final rep, and 248 lbs. on the other side.

The Friday session went smoothly. Shoulder press and drag curl max force readings on the final rep were down from Wednesday, as expected by the 2 lb. raise in target loads. This time I set a target load of 160 lbs. for the Jefferson Lift. This was sort of an arbitrary choice, as there was such a disparity between the max readings of each side on the Wednesday session. 70% of 194lbs seemed low for a target load. 70% of 200lbs would be 140lbs. which still looked low. Another change from Wednesday was turning the feet out, so that they were closer to 90 degrees from each other. This was because all the instructional articles and videos on the Jefferson Lift I could find advised the 90 degree angle. I did feel a stronger activation of muscle groups, particularly the glutes and hip adductors, compared to the parallel feet alignment. Last rep max force readings were 207.6 left-side and 215.8 right-side. In my training log, I will try to stick to a convention of left-side meaning the left foot is in front of the bar.

Later I tried a couple of pullups to see how my elbow and shoulder felt. I felt the Golfer's Elbow flare up a little on the first rep. By the last couple of test reps, I was able to eliminate the elbow pain by really focusing on pulling through my little fingers from the back. The shoulder however was not quite ready for brachial hang. I will wait until my very last training session under the current 6x6 program to test how my shoulder elbow and feel during pullups and hanging.

Some Instagram posts from Mindful Mover and Eduardo Orihuela that I'm saving here for future reference.

3 Stretches that will benefit anyone
Front Split
Weighted ATG Split Squat
Weighted Seated Good Morning
Eagle Hang Nordic Leg Curl
How To Get Into Ring Handstand
Nordic Leg Curl Mistakes
More Weighted Mobility Exercise variations

Sunday, January 09, 2022

Isochain 6x6 Week 1

This first week of Isochain-only training started smoothly enough. The Monday session felt good for a first Isochain session in months. Zercher Lunge was the most challenging for me as I'd set the bar low to force my thighs to be parallel to the ground, or at least close to parallel. I was able do all 6 reps of 6-second holds on my left leg. I failed to trigger the 55lb. target for a couple of reps on my right leg.

The Wednesday session though was rough. Before Isochain training, I went outside with a shovel to clear the sidewalk. My body felt fine after the shoveling. Because of the time used up shoveling and my legs still feeling kind of fried from the Monday Zercher Lunge session, I skipped Zercher Lunge and started with Shoulder Press instead, which felt fine. Bent-over Row was where I ran into trouble. I felt something snap in my back, with immediate pain. I think it was because my core muscles - abs, low back, etc. - had not recovered from the snow shoveling and thus could not handle the load of the Bent-over Row. I think I may have been folded my torso a little too far forward. Because of my low back injury history and this latest addition to that history, I decided to drop Bent-Arm Row from my 6x6 routine.

By Saturday morning, my back felt a little better, though still stiff and sore from lying in bed to sleep. A short walk in the neighborhood was enough to warm up the body for Isochain work and loosen up the back just enough. I felt my low back working when I did the Shoulder Press - with pain being maybe a 2-3 out of 10. After the set though, it felt fine.

I then moved on to the Drag Curl, the drill I chose to replace Bent-over Row. Drag Curl stresses the low back much less than the Bent-over Row. I'm sure gains from Drag Curl will carry over to bodyweight pull ups and rows. It will be interesting to see how much. I set the target load to 15lbs because I was going to try reverse grip and I know my reverse-grip curl is weak. But I had forgotten how uncomfortable this exercise is with reverse grip. I flipped my palms and finished the set doing the regular palms-up curl. I had not done the 1-Rep Max protocol for measuring 1-rep max for Drag Curl, so I had to pick an arbitrary target load for this drill, for this session. For my last rep, the Isochain reported a max force of 37.2 lbs. 6x6 says to train at 70% of 1-rep max, which would be around 26lbs, so my next target load will be 26lbs.

I tried Zercher Lunge at a higher position because I figured it would be easer on the legs, which had feel sore all week. I felt the low back working when I attempted the higher position Zercher Lunge. So I decided not to gamble with the low back and temporarily replace Zercher Lunge with high-position Deadlift under the Iron Man protocol. This protocol has the target load as low as 20% of 1-rep max, with an objective to hold for 90s or 120s. Low load with emphasis on endurance is the combo that has historically worked for rehab. So I'll do 1 rep of 90s of high-position deadlift to finish my Isochain workout, and drop the Zercher Lunge set, until the back feels good.

Today's Music Discoveries - Mostly Acid

Tuesday, January 04, 2022

GSC-Advent Micro Workouts: Week 3

Third consecutive week of selecting Micro Workouts to match the GSC template. Some advice for scapular usage in pullups from Steven Low, the author of Overcoming Gravity - he basically says to depress, but do not retract the scapula before the start of the pullup. I think this will be a little tricky for me as I am so used to retracting and depressing the scapula at the same time, even though I now understand the scapula can be moved in 4 basic directions - elevate, depress, protract, retract.

Workout #1

Pseudo Planche Lean - 4 sets of 3-5 second hold, 20s break between holds at the furthest forward lean possible, acting as isometric warmup as well as continuing progress towards planche.

Ultimate Chest Pump Suspension Workout - Selected this one as I noticed last week that my chest is quite a bit weaker than my triceps

Intense Abdominal Suspension Training Micro Workout - This was a better choice for me than last week's choice for flexion chain training, as the shoulders felt fine, while getting a nice stability workout. The pelvic tilt exercise was harder than it looks in the video - I was only able to manage 3 reps at most before my abs felt too much on fire to do more.

Workout #2

Front Lever Hold - 4 sets of 3-5 second hold, 20s break between holds. Continued working on extending the legs a little more, away from Frog position towards full Straddle position.

Ultra-Pump Back & Biceps Suspension Micro Workout - The lateral bicep curl was a bit of a test for my shoulder, which felt a little uncomfortable for the first superset, but felt just fine for the rest of the micro workout. The shoulder felt fine for the pull ups from seated position. I opted to not push my luck by doing the pull ups with elevated feet as shown in the video. My shoulders felt fine for the most part and the biceps got a nice pump as expected. I believe Steven Low's advice helped a lot.

Suspension Hip Hinge Micro Workout - I did 2 sets of about 15 instead of 3 sets of 20. I just wanted to try the movement.

6x6 is a program, for use with Isochain, intended to stimulate strength and hypertrophy gains using 6 repetitions of 6-second holds, which, according to the science cited in the book Ultimate Isometrics Manual, is the most effective combination of repetitions and hold times to stimulate strength gains via isometric exercise. The cited research also found hypertrophy gains, but strength gain seems to be the primary purpose of the 6x6 program. I am looking forward to comparing whatever strength gains result from 6x6 to the results I got from training under the Isochain Promethean programs. The comparison won't be completely clean as I was coming off of the shoulder injury while training under Promethean Mk. I and Mk. II. I will be starting 6x6 with my shoulder in much better shape. I will be training almost all the same drills as described in the book, with the exception of Front Squat, which will be replaced by Zercher Lunge as it looks like practicing it will have better carryover to dynamic single-leg work than Front Squat or any other double-leg drills. I first heard of Zercher Lunge in a Red Delta Project video on favorite Isochain exercises, which were selected for low skill requirement, high muscle activation, and mechanical disadvantage for low load yet heavy stress on muscle vs. stress on the body.

Thus, I decided to switch to the 6x6 program next week. I want to see what strength boost I get this time, and how much of the gains will carry over to calisthenics performance. Although this is technically the 3rd week of GSC meets Countdown to Advent Micro Workouts, I have actually been training under the GSC template, with some influence from the Mindful Mover approach to Accommodating Resistance, for about 3 months now. It just feels right to ring in the New Year with an isometric-focused training program on the Isochain. Thus, I skipped the GSC Workout #3 (Squat Chain-Lateral Chain) and replacedit with an Isochain 1-Rep Max Test session to measure my 1-rep max scores for the 6x6 program.
Here are the results in pounds of my 1-Rep Max test session, using the 1-Rep max protocol from the book:
  • Zercher Lunge: 81.9
  • Shoulder Press (Medium Angle): 57
  • Bent Row(Medium Angle): 137.53
  • Shrug: 130

The list time I tested my 1RM for Zercher Lunge was when I did the 1RM test session for Burn Count. At first glance, it looks like I didn't progress all that much in single-leg strengh during all the months of Grind Style Calisthenics - not sure why, as I felt I put in an honest effort to progress in suspension-assisted Shrimp and Jumbo Shrip Squat. OTOH, this time around I tested my Zercher Lunge at a lower chain setting, which is more difficult. I was hitting the low 50s in my shoulder press max readings the last time I worked Promethean. Scoring 57lbs. shows a modest gain despite focusing more on chest and triceps than overheard pressing. Bent row cannot be compared because last time I did standing bent row I had my torso at around 120 degrees compared to the legs, which allowed me to leverage more of my posterior chain. I had not done shrugs for years, so this is effectively a new exericise for me on Isochain. I'm curious to see if it further bulletproofs my shoulders. There is no explanation in the manual as to why it was included in 6x6.

Ideas for hanging on rings or suspension trainer for improving mobility, other than the basic brachial hang. For review, Mindful Mover's IG post on how to progress from ring pike pushup to ring handstand pushup. They also have a post on how to get into ring handstand. For weighted single-leg squat with Accommodating Resistance without a partner they have this post. For Nordic Curl, which along with AR single-leg squatting they claim will give you gains on the Deadlift, they have this post. For mobility, Mindul Mover also has a post on Jefferson Curl and Split Squat