Wednesday, December 06, 2023

Easy Muscle Schedule B: Week 1 Complete

Wednesday session went fine as it was the calisthenics day. Practicing dips and pull ups is paying off. I like setting up the rings less than shoulder width apart, because this setup makes it easy to keep the shoulders externally rotated throughout most of the movement, which turn minimizes irritation to the shoulders.

Friday session was a struggle with the 24kg Clean and Push Press, with one or two unassisted reps with left arm out of the 15 minutes, and better performance with the right arm. I tried to jerk the 24kg but lacked the technical skill. The double 16kg KB clean portion of the session went more smoothly. The Clean and Push Press practice felt more like a strength workout than a hypertrophy workout. In other words, I don't think I got enough hypertrophy stimulus from that exercise. So I tried to make up for it by doing this chest expander routine, with exercises somewhat spread out through the rest of the day.
Overhand Vertical Pullapart - 3 springs - Drop to 2 next time

Underhand Vertical Pullapart - 2 springs - Increase to 3 next time

Horizontal Pullapart with mechanial drop set of Underhand Vertical Pullapart - 2 springs - Drop to 1 next time

Horizontal Pullapart (1 spring less) - 1 spring

Back Press - 2 sets - improves behind the neck pressing mobility, as well as working the shoulders and triceps. Whether the mobility gain translates to improved mobility for double KB press, double KB jerk, etc. remains to be seen.

Sideway (Tricep) Extension - 1 set, followed by mechanical drop set of Overhead Tricep Extension - works triceps which have been pre-exhausted by the Back Press, to increase pump in the triceps

Bicep Curl - 1 set

Bicep Curl (1 spring less) - 1 set

Reverse Curl - 2 sets - All these curl variations are for stimulating strength and muscle gains for the biceps and forearms. There is no direct benefit for pressing but these exercises should help improve elbow health and performance in the kettlebell clean, as the biceps help control the descent of the KB out of the rack position into the bottom position.

Lateral Raise (scapular plane/Y raise) - 2 sets - Finish off delts which have been pre-exhausted by the earlier exercises, to stimulate muscle growth.

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Easy Muscle Schedule B: Day One and Chest Expander accessory routine

Day 1 of Schedule B is a kettlebell day. First exercise is the Clean-and-Press. Second is the lower body exercise of choice.

The recommended weight for the C&P is a weight which is heavy enough that you only do 5 reps with that weight. If the weight is too heavy to press, you are allowed to push press it. Despite having a couple of weeks to practice the double-clean with 16kg KBs, I was still pretty bad at cleaning a single 24kg KB for the first few sets. I eventually got more comfortable with cleaning the 24kg KB. However, push press was a struggle with my left arm. Out of the entire Clean-and-Push Press session, I managed to push press the 24kg without assistance from the right arm just twice.

I had much better luck with the lower body portion of Schedule B Day 1. The instructions seem to prefer the goblet squat or the double KB front squat. However my fear of leaning forward while working on assisted pistol squats several weeks ago left my knees feeling sore, and not in a good way. So I opted for the double KB clean instead. The knees don't have to flex as much in this exercise. Another reason is it works the posterior chain, which my low back needs, without as much risk as the KB swing, and gives me a lot of practice of the clean.

My failure to consistently push press the 24 kg KB with my left arm might be due to a mental or emotional block - that is, the lack of confidence that I can actually do it. Another possibility is that the left arm/shoudler is just too weak. The 16kg KB is just too light for the Schedule B guidelines. I did Easy Muscle Schedule A earlier this year with a 16kg KB, and I worked up to 7-rep sets. This is why I know the 16kg KB will be too light. But the main problem is if I can't consistently push press the 24kg KB, I'm not really stimulating muscle gains for my arms and shoulders.

So the solution I decided to try is to use my nice Baraban Chest Expander for assistance exercises to stimulate strength and muscle gains to improve my left arm overhead pressing. These exercises would be done in the afternoon after the Easy Muscle KB sessions, and are mostly taken from Alex Leonidas' workout video:

Overhand Vertical Pullapart - 2 sets

Underhand Vertical Pullapart - 2 sets

Horizontal Pullapart - 1 set, followed by mechanial drop set of Underhand Vertical Pullapart

Horizontal Pullapart (1 spring less) - 1 set - All these pullapart exercises should stimulate strength and muscle gains in the upper back to improve shoulder stability, as well as stimulate some gains in the delts and triceps.

Back Press - 2 sets - improves behind the neck pressing mobility, as well as working the shoulders and triceps. Whether the mobility gain translates to improved mobility for double KB press, double KB jerk, etc. remains to be seen.

Sideway (Tricep) Extension - 1 set, followed by mechanical drop set of Overhead Tricep Extension - works triceps which have been pre-exhausted by the Back Press, to increase pump in the triceps

Bicep Curl - 1 set

Bicep Curl (1 spring less) - 1 set

Reverse Curl - 2 sets - All these curl variations are for stimulating strength and muscle gains for the biceps and forearms. There is no direct benefit for pressing but these exercises should help improve elbow health and performance in the kettlebell clean, as the biceps help control the descent of the KB out of the rack position into the bottom position.

Lateral Raise (scapular plane/Y raise) - 2 sets - Finish off delts which have been pre-exhausted by the earlier exercises, to stimulate muscle growth.

When I got to lateral raises with the chest expander, I noticed a strength gap between my right and left side. Just like in Leonidas' video I was down to one spring on the chest expander. My left delt was noticeably weaker than my right delt. I had no trouble raising my right hand above my right shoulder, while I was unable to raise my left hand above my left shoulder. I worked the left side first, then did the same number of reps on the right side

M left elbow tendonitis flares up when I play guitar so I've started using the Theraband Flexbar again. My grip strength improved to where I could use the blue Flexbar for the Tyler Twist exercise. This video shows the Tyler Twist but also recommends an exercise in which you bend the bar into a U shape and then slowly release for the eccentric exercise benefit.

The following day, I had some minor DOMS in my left tricep but otherwise felt fine. Easy Muscle comes with a generous amount of info in the form of a manual, schedule, training videos, etc. However it does not include instruction on the Push Press. However I also bought another program by Geoff Neupert called Kettlebell STRONG which does include video instruction on this exercise. As I reviewd the videos, I realized how bad my Push Press technique was. So on the next kettlebell day of Schedule B, I'll try the Clean-and-Push Press again with the corrections in mind. If I'm still unable to do the Push Press, then I'll try substituing the Jerk for the Push Press. On the one hand, the Jerk is is more technically demanding than the Push Press, especially with double KBs. On the other hand, the Jerk is next exercise to attempt, when the KB is too heavy to Push Press. This is because the Jerk practically eliminates any pressing activity from the arm. In the Push Press, you use the legs to launch the KB upward while pressing at the same time with the arm. In the Jerk, you also launch the KB with your legs, but immediately after launch, you drop your hips while straightening your arm at the same time, so standing up from this hip drop is what carries the KB to the top, instead of your arm pressing it up.

Friday, November 10, 2023

Completed Easy Muscle Prep Week 3

Being able to execute full ROM ring dips again feels good. Turning the rings out (i.e. thumbs pointing away from the torso) at the bottom of the dip is more challenging for mecompared to RTO (rings turned out) at the bottom of a ring push up, but I'll keep working on RTO at the bottom because it engages the shoulder external rotators to protect the shoulders. Working to maintain RTO as I start pushing my body out of the drip also seems to protect the shoulders although the movement eventually forces the rings back into parallel. Sets of 2 were no problem, aside from the effort trying to improve the RTO.

I have mild DOMs in the obliques and low back from doing 3 reps of 1-min. 16kg kettlebell suitcase carries after the upper body exercises. It's a different feeling from low back spasms, which is a more acute kind of pain and emotionally alarming.

Wednesday, November 01, 2023

Easy Muscle Prep: Week 3: Did my first set of full dips

The original plan for this week was to do 15-20 minutes of alternating sets of 4 ring push ups and 4 bar pull ups with autoregulation then 3 rounds per side of 1-minute 16kg kettlebell suitcase carries.

During the Monday session I felt like I was in danger of setting off a back muscle spasm on the last (4th) rep of a ring push up set, unless I squeezed my butt as hard as possible. All of my back spasm/spine popping pain problems happened on a pull rather than a push, but after experiencing minor, but still somewhat disturbing back spams while sitting on the toilet or lying on the floor in supine position for a P3 mobilty session, I've been paranoid about threats to my back.

So for the Wednesday session, I decided to try doing ring dips instead of push ups. I've been warming up before my strength sessions with reverse shrugs and knee raises as recommended in the below video. I just did a few reps of each exercise, stopping well short of failure, and 2 sets. The Red Delta Project advice to warm up with these two exercises, and practice ring push ups with rings turned out at the bottom of the movement - proved to be on point for working towards a full ROM dip on the rings.

I,ve planning to do 3 reps of each of the these exercises next week - ring dips, pull ups, and double 16kg kettlebell front squats. So for today I did 2 reps per set of ring dips and will do that again Friday. I was pleasantly surprised that the amount of effort per rep was lower than expected.

Completed Easy Muscle Prep Week 2

I set the timer to 16 minutes for practicing the upper body exercises - ring pushups and pullups - instead of 10 as originally planned. I arrived at this number by arbitrarily picking a total workout time between 20-30 minutes, and dividing by 3. The idea was that the time allocated for work and rest for each of the 3 exercises would be evenly divided between the 3 exercises.

My body felt fine doing 3 reps per set of each upper body exercise, with rest determined by autoregulation. I didn't record exactly how many sets I did, but recall doing at least 5 sets per exercise, which is an improvement over the 3 sets I did on Monday.

The soreness in the quads from 2 weeks of pistol squat practice never really went away. The knee started feeling uncomfortable as well. I think it's because of fear of any forward lean of the torso. My low back still seems susceptible to muscle spasms, so I've had a fear of allowing the low back to flex in any vulnerable position, such as a deep squat. So I think this fear is throwing off my form in the assisted pistol squat, and thus impacting the knee.

So for the Friday session I decided to do suitcase carries with a 16kg kettlebell, instead of assisted pistol squats. I was thinking of adding KB suitcase carries to my routine next week, to start conditioning my back to work with external load again. But with my knee starting to feel suspect, I figured I'd take a chance with the suitcase carries. I did 3 sets of 40-second carries on each side. The back held up fine.

As it turns out, the suitcase carry is recommended by some for low back rehab. This person said he was a back pain sufferer himself when he started doing suitcase carries 3-4 times a week:

Friday, October 20, 2023

Improving mobility for reaching overhead (lat mobility)

I want to be able to press 2 kettlebells overhead at the same time. In order to do this without risk of shoulder injury, I need to be able to lock out both arms overhead.

I am currently exploring the Geoff Neupert P3 protocol, which aims to cure movement dysfunction by restoring motor control. From what I've observed so far on the Strongfirst P3 discussion thread, the "side lying" position seems to be the hardest to progress through for the majority of participants. I can do about 20 breaths, and 30 reps of each of the head movements, on each side. It took me a while to work up to these numbers. The next step in the progression is quite a jump in difficulty for me, so it's best for me to be patient and let my CNS and body develop at its own pace.

P3 practice so far has indeed seemed to loosen some muscles, including the lats. However, P3 is somewhat promoted as a mobility method for people who hate stretching, whereas sometimes I do get a nice satisfying feeling out of a good stretch once in a while. Tightness in the lats is one of the reasons I"ve had trouble reaching overhead. I found these suggested lat stretches.

In the past, I've explored flexibility/mobility exercises taught by GMB Fitness. Locomotion exercises are key components of the GMB way of achieving fitness goals, including flexibility/mobility. GMB trainer Adele Jackson posted four recommended locomotion exercises for improving mobility for reaching overhead, and general shoulder mobility, along with the recommendation to practice each movement for 1-4 minutes. These same exercises are mentioned in GMB's article How to Fix the 4 Most Common Shoulder Restrictions. The article recommends practicing the locomotion exercises after stretching. This helps consolidate the mobility gains from more isolated stretching exercises.

First session of Easy Muscle Prep Week 2

I did a 20 minute session. The change from Week 1 is doing 3 reps per exercise instead of 2 reps. In the 20 minute period, I managed to do only 3 full rounds of the 3 exercises. I wonder if it is because I needed more rest after each set of assisted pistol squats. I did manage to squeeze in a 4th set of ring pushups.

Before the workout my quads were still sore from last week's assisted pistol squatting. I was able to get through today's training without feeling like I damaged anything in the legs. However, I'm thinking of splitting up the workout into a 10-minute upper body session and a 10-minute pistol squat session, with rest times between sets determined by autoregulation. There would be a rest period between the two 10-minute sessions that would also be determined by autoregulation. I believe that by doing this I can increase the training volume for the upper body exercises, since there wouldn't be any pistol squat sets taking up time between the ring pushups and bar pullups. Practicing the pistol squat in its own 10-minute window would allow me to train this movement at its own volume. For example I might end up doing 5 rounds of the 2 upper body exercises and 3 rounds of the assited pistol squats - thus training at volume levels appropriate to each exercise.

For cooldown I did a session of P3 mobility. I decided to do P3 five days a week instead of just in the recovery days, between the strength training days. I am close to achieving the requirements to pass Level 2 of the Side Lying position, which is 30 breaths, 30 nods, and 30 neck rotations. I figure I'd be able to graduate to Level 3 sooner with more frequent practice.

Monday, October 16, 2023

Completed Easy Muscle Prep Week 1

Completed the training week without further setbacks - no pun intended - to my lower back.

Feeling DOMs every day in my quads from practicing assisted pistol squats.

Out of the 3 selected strength exercises, I'm feeling the strongest in the Pull Up. I've been doing them with my hands slightly closer together than shoulder width. I currently don't have anything on which to hang rings or suspension trainer at enough of a height to do pull ups or chin ups without having to hold my feet in front of me, which adds extra effort per rep. So I've been doing pull ups on my trusty door pull up bar. I still use the shoulder external rotator muscles and back muscles to generate a spiraling action with my hands, as taught here:

t Even though my hands do not rotate during the pull up, I try to use the spiraling action of those muscles to bend the pull up bar between my hands. The tension, generated by trying to use the spiraling force to rotate the pinky side of my palms towards each other, seems to add more power to the pull up and protect my elbows and shoulders.

Monday, October 09, 2023

Low Back Recovery setback, but not entirely derailed from Easy Muscle prep

I woke up Sunday morning with low back soreness, as soon as I started getting out of bed. It was just like how my back felt every morning, during those first few days after my back injury this past August. The back felt tight and painful. The pain diminished as I started walking around.

I'm not a medical professional, so I can only speculate on possible causes:
  • Back spasm during sleep, which apparently could happen
  • Not enough hydration during the day and evening before going to sleep
  • Somehow tossed and turned in bed, while sleeping, into a position awkward for the back
  • Cumulative injury from training with the 24kg kettlebell before the low back had healed enough to tolerate the load
  • Combination of the above
I did some yardwork, which involved some squatting down. My back held up fine. I later did a P3 mobility session.
Come Monday morning my low back was mostly pain free when I got up out of bed. I had a "mini spasm" accompanied with some pain, when I was sitting on the toilet. This scared the bejesus out of me but the pain quickly subsided after I was standing again and walked for a bit.

I practiced the Easy Muscle prep routine, as planned last week. The back felt fine until I did a set of goblet squats with the 24kg kettlebell. I did not feel a back spasm or acute pain, but there was just enough discomfort to make me reconsider the KB goblet squat. I quickly decided to replace it with assisted pistol squat, which felt much better.

I decided to work on pull ups (pronated palms) instead of chin ups (supinated palms). Last year I did partial chinups on the Eleviaa rings, which was ok because my shoulder did not let me drop all the way into a full dead hang. But now that I can work out of the dead hang again, I find the rings too low for my taste, even at the highest setting. To do pullups/chinups with these rings out of a dead hang, my knees and feet in front of my torso, which adds difficulty to the movement. For some scenarios this may be ok, but if the goal is to get in as much volume as possible in each session, you don't want to add unnecessary difficulty to the movement.

The DOMS in my lats from the first couple of sessions of Easy Muscle prep subsided. I've made steady progress in the P3 mobility method and continue to practice it on my recovery days. But I've gone back to stretching, instead of doing an abbreviated P3 session, for cooldown from my strength/hypertrophy training sessions.

Wednesday, October 04, 2023

Easy Muscle Prep: Week 1

My low back is feeling about as good as it did before this latest injury, although I still exercise some caution in getting out of bed.

The next exercise routine I want to do is Easy Muscle, Schedule B, which is one of the three schedules included in Geoff Neupert's Easy Muscle program. Schedule B is the one which has alternating sessions of kettlebell exercise and calisthenics. However, my performance in the two calisthenic exercises - dips and pull ups - is not even close to where I need it to be. Doing one pull up took a lot more effort than I remember, and my technique was rusty. My dip performance was worse, as I felt shaky and needed to use my feet for assistance. Even with foot assistance, I needed a lot of effort to push myself back up.

So, I'll be starting a preparatory program to improve my performance in 3 key exercises for Easy Muscle:
  • Ring Push Up
  • Pull Up
  • 24kg Kettlebell Goblet Squat
The inspiration to substitute Ring Push Up for the Dip came from this Red Delta Project video:

I'll follow the Red Delta Project recommendation to include Ring Reverse Shrugs and Ring Knee Raises in my warmup routine. The rest of the warmup will be scapular pull ups (called "pulling prep" by GMB) and ATG split squats on the stairs.

For this week, I will set a timer to 20 minutes, then do 2-rep sets of each of the above exercises, resting for as much time as I need between sets. This follows the autoregulation principle used in several Neupert programs. So I would do 2 dips, rest as much as I need, then 2 pull ups, rest as much as I need, then 2 goblet squats, then rest as much as I need. Then I'd continue rotating between the 3 exercises, doing one set of each, and resting between sets, until the timer rings to indicate the end of the 20 minutes.

I will try to practice the RTO variation of the Ring Push Up, since it's the variation that is closest to a Ring Dip. If I lack the strength to do RTO push ups, then I'll practice the regular variation with the ringsa at an appropriate height, gradually working towards the lowest possible height before switching to

Over the course of several weeks, I will gradually increase the number of reps per set. Barring any unexpected setbacks, practicing this preparatory program should lead to improved technique in these 3 exercise, as well as improved strength and work capacity. Hopefully I'll be able to perform 10 consecutive reps of each exercise with good technique by the end of this program, and the start of Easy Muscle.

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Guitar lessons

Soumia Ghechami breaks down how she composed the original track, her approach to chord voicings and progressions, and how she incorporates chords into heavy riffs.

Beautiful guitar chords recommended by Ichika Nito

I've been working through the Jazz Guitar Pathway on Pickup Music. Most recently, I worked through lessons on the major and minor 2-5-1 chord changes and how to practice for them. One of the practice ideas is to practice scales, changing the scale as needed as you play through the chord progression. The practice ideas taught in the pathway are ok but I think the Barry Harris method might be a little better for reinforcing the sound of the chord changes in your head while practicing the scales. Nice lesson on the Barry Harris approach to practicing scales for a jazz standard and practicing the chromatic scale

If the above lesson is too challenging, this is a more basic intro to the Barry Harris way of practicing scales for chord changes:

Not really a lesson, just a fun backing track for practicing funk guitar riffs, stylings, etc.

Another video that can be used for practicing soloing ideas

Sunday, September 17, 2023

Low Back Rehab: Week 4

My low back healed enough so that I could practice all the movements in all the Phase 1 positions of Geoff Neupert's Sore Joint Solution mobility program, aka "P3". P3 practice includes the Dead Bug exercise. While the Dead Bug has a specific role in P3, it just so happens to be the same exercise Neupert recommends for improving your reflexive core stability. So while one obvious way to prevent a repeat back injury is to avoid exercises that caused that injury - the deadlift, bent-over row, and seated row in my case - another approach is to also improve that reflexive core stability. I don't want to find out the hard way, what other exercise might also be harmful to my lower back. So I'm going for Neupert's performance standard for the Dead Bug - either 4 sets of 25 reps, or 3 sets of 30. I've been making good progress towards this standard, achieving 3 sets of 25 reps.I tend to run out of time before I have to get ready to go to work, so I'm going for 3 sets of 30 rather than 4 sets fo 25, because that 4th set just takes time.

After my P3 practice, I do the chest expander exercises to try get my upper body strength back to where it was before the back injury, while waiting for the back to finish healing. Before the injury, my overhead press was in the 105-112 lb. range, which in theory is enough to press double 24kg kettlebells overhead at least once. My drag curl numbers were also high, though I have yet to test how these gains would carry over to my chin up performance. If I can get back to being ready to press a 24kg KB overhead with one arm for 3-5 reps, and be able to do 10 chinups, I'd be satisfied. The KB clean-and-press and the chin up are both part of Easy Muscle Schedule B, which is the next exercise program I plan to do after my back has healed.

Squatting is also part of Easy Muscle. I guess if you cannot do more than 10 bodyweight squats, then you could just do bodyweight squats. Otherwise you would squat with a weight that not too heavy nor too light - just enough so that you can do 10 reps at most with this weight. Before I can figure out what weight is right for me - single 16kg KB, single 24kg KB, or double 16kg KB - I need to make sure my low back has healed enough to tolerate the squatting motion. During the first couple of weeks of recovery from the injury, my low back was sensitive to certain movements. If it didn't like how I was moving, I would immediately feel stabbing pain. Reaching forward while flexing the spine was an obvious no-no move. Squatting down was ok, unless I did one slight thing wrong, and was punished for it with that sudden acute pain.

Days later, my back is not as sensitive to movement but I still have that fear of squatting. So before I can do high volume weighted squats, I need to eliminate that fear. After that? I think a reasonable next milestone would be to work up to 20 consecutive reps of unweighted squats. By the time I achieve that goal, my back should be able to handle 10-rep max testing with the kettlbells.

The condition of my low back also improved enough that I regained the confidence to sleep in bed again. I'd been sleeping in my armchair because it was easier to get up from the armchair without back pain. It feels so good to sleep in bed again.

Sunday, September 10, 2023

Low Back Rehab: Week 3

I continued the low back rehab routine that I settled on last week. The low back continued to heal nicely. As of the end of the week I no longer have to constantly monitor my body positioning and movement to avoid triggering that acute, spine-about-to-snap pain.

I also started using the Baraban chest expander as part of my morning routine. The chest expander workout, as influenced by the Alex Leonidas video:
  • Overhead press and curl in 2 antagonist sets. 3 springs for both exercises
  • Overhead tricep extension and reverse curl in 2 antagonist sets. 2 springs for both exercises
  • Vertical Pull Apart w/ Underhand Grip, then Vertical Pull Apart w/ Overhand Grip in mechanical drop sets

6 tips for appreciating art

Tips for appreciating art

Friday, September 01, 2023

Thoughts on Chest Expander video by Alex Leonidas

After my first shoulder injury, I went to physical therapy for as long as my medical insurance would allow, which I recall was roughly a month. Afterwards, I was on my own to figure out exercise programming to bridge the gap between rehab and regular strength training with the shoulder. Part of the answer was to get a Lifeline Chest Expander, then choose exercises utilizing it. I chose some exercises that were published in a Reg Park book of chest expander exercises. Chest expander training did bridge the gap as I had hoped, then I transitioned to ring calisthenics.

I got so into ring and parallette training that I gradually forgot about the chest expander. Years and couple of repeat shoulder injuries later, I randomly found some chest expander videos on Youtube featuring steel-spring chest expanders.

I've experienced the effectiveness of 2-4 second eccentric exercise for relieving elbow tendonitis. Apparently this type of exercise might work for tendons in general, including those that are part of my repeatedly injured shoulder. Every chest expander exercise has a decent eccentric load because it can be dangerous to suddenly relax and/or let go after completing the concentric movement.
Another aspect of chest expander training that I appreciate is how it can be used to target the rear deltoids and upper back for improved shoulder stability.

Here is one of Alex Leonidas's videos on steel-string chest expanders. It's interesting because his perspective is informed by several months' worth of personal experience training with a steel-spring chest expander, as well as his experience with contemporary bodybuilding methods. He is not just repeating what was published in an old chest expander book.

These are the exercises he likes:
  • Vertical Pull Apart w/ Underhand Grip - thickness builder, developers upper traps and rear delts
  • Vertical Pull Apart w/ Overhand Grip - targets same muscles as above, with more triceps. Suitable as a drop set after the above.
  • Horizontal Pull Apart - Rear delts and great for posture
  • Archer Pull - targets small muscles of upper back, injury prevention and relief for achy shoulders.
  • Curl - of course targets bicesp
  • Violin Extension - targets triceps long head
  • Sideways Extension - his favorite triceps drill
  • Back Press - Compound pressing exercise, great for behind-the-neck mobility
  • Overhead Press - Shoulder press alternative that hits the triceps harder

Programming Tips:
  • 5-10 rep range. Move up a spring after doing 12 reps for all sets, or 15 for one set
  • 2 exercises per targeted muscle.
  • 4-6 total sets per workout
  • One set per exercise might be enough, especially when doing drop sets - either dropping a spring or the mechanical drop set approach
  • If not doing drop sets, 2 regular sets will be enough
I tried most of the above exercises - the one exception being Sideways Extension as it just didn't feel comfortable. I settled on Overhead Press, Curl, Violin Extension, Reverse Curl, and the Pull Apart variations as my exercises of choice. I do like the Archer Pull, but my left shoulder feels a little uncomfortable when I hold my left arm out to the side while my right arm does the work. It will probably feel more comfortable after I've added a little more strength and muscle to my rear delts and upper back. I'll probably alternate between Back Press and Overhead Press as the compound pressing exercise of choice

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Got my first steel-spring Chest Expander

I randomly found this video:

I found that 2-4 second eccentric exercise with a Theraband Flexbar relieved my elbow pain, corroborating with research finding that eccentric exercise movement lasting 2 seconds or longer was effective for reducing pain and strengthening elbow tendons, as well as other tendons. I quickly realized that the controlled eccentric required for safe usage of a steel-spring chest expander would likely benefit my tendons, including the ones in my shoulders, which have been injured multiple times.

This video and other vidoes I've seen on Youtube featuring steel-spring chest expanders tend to play up the bodybuilding applications. I do have an interest in hypertrophy so this is fine. Chest expanders can be used to stimulate hypertrophy of the biceps and triceps. Granted, other equipment can be used to do th same. Where chest expanders shine is in stimulating hypertrophy of the rear deltoids and upper back, in a way that is difficult to achieve with other equipment

The chest expander sold by the Robert Baraban online shop is mentioned in the above and other videos. I ordered one out of curiosity. It arrived today, at a time that I am recovering from a back injury and thus not feeling comfortable or confident about my back being able to handle strength training with kettlebells or Isochain/IsoMax or even just calisthenics. So now I have a way of resuming training for upper body strength and muscle, with virtually no risk to my lower back. I should be back on track to be able to take on Easy Muscle Schedule B in about a month - maybe less - better than working only on dead bugs and low back rehab exercises.

Monday, August 28, 2023

Low Back Rehab: Week 2

I've settled on the following for my daily morning routine for back rehab and core work. Before I could even get started I had to get over my fear of squatting down and possibly triggering acute back pain. I also had to get over my fear of transitioning from standing to supine position, because of how painful it was to get out of bed the previous week.

ATG Split Squat on stairs - Done getting into position, then gently pulsing in and out of the full stretch for 5-10 reps, before holding the stretch for 20 seconds. The purpose is to loosen up the hip flexors, and the hamstrings and even the back to a lesser extent.

Dead Bugs - 4 sets - Working towards 25 Dead Bugs in one set, using backfill strategy. This should improve reflexive core stability, to reduce the odds of a repeat back injury.

Cat-Cow - 30 reps

Prone Press Up - 10 reps with 10-sec. hold at top (see below)

Child Pose - 60 sec. hold

While I credit the Bob and Brad video for "Flexor" back pain sufferers for giving me idea to do the Prone Press Up, there was only the bare minimum detail on how to do it. This article says to do a 10-second hold at the top of every rep. I like the 10-sec. hold idea. This video has a lot more technical details on the exercise. I notice none of the videos teaching this press up show the arms perpendicular to the ground. While everyone has their elbows locked, the arms are more at a diagonal.

I also practice ATG Split Squat several times a day. I got the idea from this video to practice with the front foot elevated fairly high on the stairs, then practice with the foot elevated at a lower height

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Figuring Out a Low Back Rehab Routine

My lower back feels much better, one week after the injury I suffered last week. If it was still feeling as bad as it did that day or worse, I would have gone to a doctor. The reason I did not go to a doctor is the similarity to my previous back injury, which occured when I attempted an isometric Bent-Over Row. The injury occurred with a popping sensation in my spine, immediately followed by acute pain, then the pain gradually subsided over the next several days.

The experience this time around was worse in that the sleeping experience was worse. Getting into bed was a bit tricky but ok. Getting out of bed was the problem. I had to figure out how to maneuver my body out of the supine position then out of the bed with the least pain posssible. One wrong move would result in acute pain, as if a giant was about to snap my spine in two. Every time I managed to get out of bed, I tried to remember how I did it but just never could. By the end of the week, I'd given up on sleeping in bed and started sleeping in an armchair instead, using a step stool with a towel and cushion on top for resting my feet. It took some getting used to but at least I can get out of the chair with less risk of acute back pain.

I took ibuprofen to reduce the inflammation and the pain that goes with it to tolerable levels on the day of the injury and the following day. Then I bought and tried Advil Dual Action Back Pain, which combines ibuprofen - at a slightly lower dose - with acetaminophen, which is not anti-inflammatory but does work as a pain reliever. I believe there is Motrin version of this product but the Advil was what I found in stock. This combination of the 2 drugs seemed to give me more pain relief overall than just the ibuprofen but since it was 2 days after the injury, the reduced pain could have also just been part of the healiing process.

By the weekend, the pain had subsided enough that I didn't feel like I needed Advil or Motrin any more. I spent some time of course looking into what I could do for low back rehab, since my condition had improved enough to not require a visit to a doctor or physical therapist.

I like the Bob and Brad Youtube channel. They say there are at least 2 types of back pain sufferers. This video focuses on the Extender and Flexor types. Knowing which type you are will help select rehab exercises appropriate for your particular condition.

I'm a Flexor type so I'll probably follow this video:

Great tips for patients who struggle to get started with the back extension press ups

Spinal Decompression with Countertop - looks promising for those who have trouble hanging from a pullup bar for decompression. I won't be trying this anytime soon though, because it seems like only specific stretches are recommended for patients with my condition - the Cobra pose (as it is known in yoga) and hip flexor stretches. Some also recommend Child pose. Nobody seems to recommend spinal decompression.

I might try some of these exercises too:

I might also try some of these exercises as well, although there is some overlap with the other videos.

Isometric variation of Dead Bug

What the Multifidus is, and how to exercise it

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Last IsoMax session for a while? Back setback

I finished Week 8 of my Bruce Lee routine with good progress in the majority of drills. On the Friday session, I hit a new PR of 111.4 lbs. in the overhead press. I do not agree with all the error listed in Thomas Kurz's Errors in Training for Strength in Sports and Martial Arts, but "Error: Changing your exercises or adding new ones when the old exercises still cause considerable improvements in your strength" makes sense to me. So I figured I'd do another week of the Bruce Lee.

Today's session went fine, until I got to the last exercise of the routine, which was the Seated Row. I was sure that I braced my abs and pulled my chest up to prevent any backwards curve of the lower spine. However, that was not enough. It might not have been a good idea to lock my knees out either. As I started pulling harder, I felt something pop in my spine, followed by acute low back pain, just like the very last time I did a bent-over row on the Isochain. I had no choice but to stop training immediately, and try walking around a little to try to walk off some of the pain.

I bought some ibuprofen (previously tried Advil and Motrin - both seem to work the same for me), and started taking it. It seems to relieve the pain a little bit. NSAIDs like this are not a great long term solution for pain relief, but they're suitable for short term relief. I spent most of my work day standing up. In the past when I've had back pain, my back would hurt when I stood up after sitting in a chair too long.

So where to go from here? At present, all I can do is keep taking the ibuprofen, and try doing a Sore Joint Solution routine tomorrow morning. Barring further setback, I'll work towards doing SJS 5 days a week, working towards being able to do 4 sets of 25 Original Strength-style Dead Bugs to improve my reflexive core stability and thus reduce the odds of repeat injury to the low back.

After I've achieved the 4 sets of 25 dead bugs, I'll do the Bruce Lee routine on the IsoMax again, with some changes:
  • Reduced target loads for the exercises, since I'll be coming off of injury and thus want to take my time to get my strength back to where it was before the injury.
  • No more Seated Row. Just don't want to risk re-injury so soon. I put up greater force numbers in the low position curl, so I'm fine with the curl being my only upper body pulling exercise in my Bruce Lee routine.
  • No more Overhead Tricep Extension as there does not seem to be any reason to have 2 upper body push exercises to 1 pull exercise.
I think the hand-and-thigh lift might help restore stability to my spine, because after I hurt my back in the bent-over row, I immediately did a hand-and-thigh and it reduced so much of the pain I didn't need to take ibuprofen. I just didn't attempt the hand-and-thigh this time because I would have had to squat down to pick up the IsoMax bar and platform, and my low back pain just would not allow that.

Anyway, I'll do the Bruce Lee again until my overhead press is back in the high 100s, then I'll switch to a hypertrophy block with Easy Muscle, Schedule B as the program of choice. Schedule B alternates between a kettlebell day and a calisthenics day, which features chinups and dips. I ordered a dip belt to use with a kettlebell, in the event I find I can easily do over 10 reps of each calisthenic exercise. I'm guessing my rep max will be 10 or less for both exercises, for this hypertrophy block. However I don't think it will be long before I progress to about a 10-rep max with a 16kg kettlebell on the dip belt, for both exercises.

I've never had low back problems caused by bodyweight-only chinups, unlike with row variations on Isochain/IsoMax. I think weighted chinups will be also be fine for me, because I only plan to do them in the context of Easy Muscle. As long as I stick to the 10-rep max guideline (eg. if I can do 10 weighted chinups with a 16kg KB, and 3 weighted chinups with a 24kg KB, I should train with the 16kg) in Easy Muscle, the load should never be heavy enough to pose a threat.

Monday, August 14, 2023

IsoMax Bruce Lee: Week 7 and 8

Finished Weeks 7 and 8 with strong performances in the low overhead press. Lowering the bar from loop 21 to loop 20 was a difference-maker. The slightly shortened strap made it easier for me to generate muscular tension for the overhead press. So from Wednesday of Week 7 until the end of Week 8, I achieved max force readings of 100 lbs or more, with a PR of 111.4 in the overhead press to end Week 8.

Progree was also good in the high deadlift, shrug, and calf raise. Drag curl performance was kind of at a plateau until I lowered the setting from Loop 9 to Loop 8 to lengthen the biceps a little more.

I gave up on trying to practice Zercher Lunge on the IsoMax and switched to doing it on Isochain instead. The IsoMax's platform design does not allow a nice surface area of contact with the foot, which can result in the platform being pulled up. The Isochain's flat metal platform allows for foot placement that feels more secure and stable.

Saturday, August 05, 2023

Today's Music Discoveries

Wednesday, August 02, 2023

Achieved 100+ lb. Overhead Press today!

The latest science tells us that want our working muscles as long as possible, for the greatest carryover to dynamic movement. Lately I've noticed that I still have some slack in the IsoMax strap when I practice the overhead press, so I might be able to lower the bar one more loop in the strap. Sure enough, after lowering the bar, I was still able get my hands under the bar for the press, yet also get a tighter stretch on the chest when I pull my shoulder back and down in preparation for pressing.

The max reading was 103.2 lbs. New PR! Load was set to 68 lbs.

I'm sure the extra stretch to the chest helped. The chest musculature was able to contribute more force. The slightly shortened strap length reduced possible movement of the bar, since the strap would not stretch as much. Reduced velocity means more force can be generated, per Force Velocity Curve.

Tuesday, August 01, 2023

IsoMax Bruce Lee: Week 6

The hot weather seems to be everywhere. Some tips for staying cool without AC.

I've been enjoying the Bruce Lee routine on IsoMax. It takes so little time compared to other strength training routines.

However I've gotten more flab too. This might be a downside of an exercise routine that takes so little time, even done daily. The intensity is high during the workout, as I aim for a new PR for each exercise, but the total calories burned must not be very high. I started adjusting by cutting down intake of rice and bread, to reduce caloric intake. On the caloric burn side, I started trying to raise my NEAT.

The original Bruce Lee/Bob Hoffman isometric routine did not seem to include progressive overload, which is understandable as Bruce trained with a bar-and-chain device that did not have a built-in force dynamometer, unlike the IsoMax or Isochain bar. I have been using the IsoMax in Timer mode, so I can hear it count off 6 seconds as I apply force equal to or greater than the load setting. So when I set the load to 50 lbs., the bar will beep as long as I put out at least 50 lbs. of force, and will stop beeping if my force output drops below 50 lbs.

Until this week, I've been deciding after each session whether or not to increase the load for each exercise by 5 lbs, depending on how easy it felt to trigger ther Timer mode and/or the max force reading for that exercise. I didn't follow any particular rules in this decision-making - just went more with feel. So I've increase the load at a faster rate for some exercises while the load has stayed constant for days or even weeks at a time for others.

Last week (Week 5), for the Low Overhead Press, I had the load set at 70lbs., which was higher than 70% of my estimated max force of 93 lbs., based on Week 4 results. This week I decided to set the load to 64 lbs, roughly 70% of my max force. I also set my grip to roughly shoulder width or a little narrower, which seemed to allow me to get a little more stretch of the chest while pulling my shoulders down and back before initiating the overhead press. In this video, Red Delta Project explains why the shoulders should be down and back to "switch on" the chest muscles. Yes, in this video he's actually teaching a different exercise, which was called the "chest press" but in the IsoMax manual is called the "pec press", but the relationship of shoulders to chest still applies for the low overhead press. My max force increased from session to session. I finished the week with a new PR of 99.6 lbs.

I got the "70% idea" from the 6x6 program in the book Ultimate Isometrics Manual. In that program, you begin by testing your 1-rep max under a particular protocol described in the book, then train at 70% of the 1-rep max until you test it again. I don't know how or why the authors of this book settled on 70%, but there seems to be something to it. I've noticed that if I set the load too high in Timer mode, I expend so much force getting to the target load that I can't seem to achieve as high a max force as when the load is set lower. I'm not sure what the consequences are, exactly, for setting the target load lower than 70% of 1-rep max. However, my understanding of how progressive overload works is that one should not train at the same load forever if strength gains are desired. 70% of 1-rep max seems to be close to the sweet spot for allowing me to produce the highest max force numbers on Isochain/IsoMax.

One difference between strength training on this type of device vs. a barbell is we are aiming for the highest possible max force output on Isochain/IsoMax for every training session while on a barbell we aim to lift as much weight as possible, but can actually only do that once in a while - eg. at a powerlifting meet. For example in the overhead press, I try to press 95 lbs. or higher every session, whereas if I were training with a barbell, I'd probably be pressing overhead a weight less than 95 lbs. - say, around 65 lbs - gradually working up in weight towards 95 lbs.
I guess the above paragraph needs some understanding of the Force-Velocity Curve

Anyway, I've been working with the load set to higher than 70% of the max force readings for some exercises, before this week's discovery with the low overhead press. I decided to not lower the load for those exercises. I'll just keep the 70% idea in mind when deciding whether or not to increase the load for a particular exercise.

Tuesday, July 18, 2023

IsoMax Bruce Lee: Week 4

For my first full week of practicing Overhead Tricep Extension, I switched between loops 22 and 23 on the strap to try to decide which strap number to use. At loop 22, I can get the best stretch on the triceps while still be able to stand up with straight legs. With the target load in Timer Mode set to 20 lbs., I can trigger the timer by standing up, which feels a little bit like cheating. At loop 23, I can stand up straight with my arms set up for the exercise without triggering the time, so that I have to press the bar upward to trigger the timer.

To set up for loop 22, I hold the bar behind my head with my elbows bent - so that the triceps are stretched a little - squat down a little, pull my elbows back towards my head to stretch the triceps more, then stand up while trying to keep the elbows pulled back. Standing up registers 20-25 lbs. of force on the IsoMax, which is enough to trigger the timer. When I hear the timer start beeping, I try press the bar upwards

I'm leaning more towards training overhead tricep extension at loop 22 rather than loop 23 Loop 22 stretches the triceps and back muscles more, creating more tension, and thus higher force output, compared to loop 23. Higher force output allows faster progression to heavier load settings, making the triceps work harder, sooner.

My overhead press max force has gone up from mid 70s to low 90s - about a 20% strength increase after just 4 weeks of training. In the past, my max force increase was about 15% after 6-8 weeks of Promethean or 6x6. It's a shame I didn't try the Bruce Lee with the Isochain in the past so I could compare and see if the faster progress is just the result of higher frequency of training (5x a week vs 3x a week on 6x6 or Promethean) or the difference in loading reflex on the IsoMax strap vs. the Isochain's spring. Another factor besides the loading reflex is the hypertrophy of the triceps and a bit of the chest from 8 weeks of high-volume clean-and-press under the Easy Muscle program. Strength increase will be faster if you have more muscle mass at the start of the training block.

Tuesday, July 11, 2023

IsoMax Bruce Lee: Week 3

I did not skip Week 2. I did not have anything to report about it, although I did record my data as usual.

I found out about recent research on isometrics published around 2020, which found that isometric training with the targeted muscle at a long length produces the greatest carryover to dynamic performance, compared to training with the muscle at a short length.

This latest research inspired me to change the following exercises in my Bruce Lee routine:
  • Replace Zercher Squat with Zercher Lunge - Because of my low back injury history, I was reluctant to train at the lowest possible position. I can get into a lower position in the Zercher Lunge, compared to the Zercher Squat, without worrying about my lower back. The lower position stretches the muscles of the quads, glutes, hamstrings and hips, thus lengthening them for isometric strength training.
  • Replace Medium Overhead Press with Standing Overhead Tricep Extension - The medium angle of the overheard press does not put any of the overhead pressing muscles at a long length. The Standing Tricep Extension puts more load on the triceps, which are among the weakest of my overhead pressing muscles, compared to the chest and shoulders. Strength gains for the tricpes should lead to pressing strength gains. It is also easy to find a position/angle for the Standing Tricep Extension that sets the triceps at reasonably long lengths. Thus, the combination of low-angle Overhead Press, which works all the overhead pressing muscles at long lengths, and the Overhead Tricep Extension, which works the triceps at long lengths, is likelier to stimulate strength gains with the greatest carryover to my kettlebell pressing.
I was used putting my working foot as close as possible to the chain when I trained the Zercher Lunge on the Isochain. The IsoMax baseplate is not shaped like a rectangle but actually narrower in the middle, presumably to help keep the IsoMax strap from sliding to either side. As a result of the narrower width in the middle, there is less surface area for contact with my foot.

My performance of Standing Overhead Tricep Extension this week was unsurprisingly week. I just haven't practiced this exercise very much in my life. I might have been shown it once as a dumbell exercise by a trainer when I was going to a commercial gym for exercise, or maybe it was the supine version, aka "skull crusher", which requires a bench. In any case, not only was my force output only 17 lbs., I felt some pressure in my elbows. In this video, fellow IsoMax user Chrys Johnson, who is also a fitness trainer, says that the elbow pressure is not a bad thing, but rather a sign of connective tissues tightening up. In fact he reports it fixed his elbow tendonitis.

I looked up overhead tricep extension Youtube but did not find clues to why my max force was such a low number, other than simply being weak. What bothered me more than being weak was not being able to get that feet-to-hands whole body tension that I can get with other exercises. I knew that the forearms should be moving up. But what I'd missed was that if I were doing this exercise dynamically, the weight should be overhead with the arms straight. The weight should not be in front of the head, because that would be bad for the shoulder joints. For this to happen, the elbows have to be pulled back as the weight goes up. To pull the elbows back, the upper back muscles must be engaged. Once I figured this out, I got the whole body tension I was looking for and my max force jumped from 17 lbs. to 35 lbs.

I continued doing only one rep per exercise, which seems to be the majority interpretation of the Bruce Lee/Bob Hoffman isometric routine. Performance has fluctuated from day to day as expected, but seems to be generally trending higher in the low overhead press, seated row, and a few other exercises. The Lee/Hoffman routine was created long before the Isochain was invented, so there's no particular guidance on using Isochain/IsoMax for progressive overload. For my version of this routine, I've been using IsoMax in Timer Mode, at the default setting of 6 seconds. I do this to use the built-in timer, and to ensure that I produce a particular amount of force at minimum. I've tried to set the target load at about 70% of where I think my 1-rep max might be, and increase the load if I'd been working at the same target load for more than a week, or if I'd logged max force numbers at a higher level for 3 consecutive sessions. This is obviously a much looser approach compared to the Promethean program, in which you raise the target load every session until you can't sustain force for at least 6 seconds, or the 6x6 program, which requires you to spend one session every 2-4 weeks on just 1-rep max testing.

Sunday, July 09, 2023

MPC One Learning Update

I bought MPC Bible from the MPC Samples website and have been using it to learn how to use the MPC One. I bought the Revision 17 version a few months ago. I just downloaded Revision 18.

So far it has been an excellent resource. However, it does leave out some vital pieces of information. Two that I found today:
  • A keyboard controller plugged into the MPC's USB port will not produce any sound unless you enable Global in its Input Port settings in the MIDI/Sync section of Preferences, or arm it for recording in the Track View.
  • The instructions to get to the Key Ranges view is totally wrong. MPC Bible mentions a "left hand pullout menu" that does not exist in Track View. Instead, follow the example in this video, which covers the same topic in MPC Bible too, which is setting up layers and splits.
To be clear, I do not intend to use this blog to only post complaints about MPC Bible. I still think it has been worth the money and time spent reading it and working with the tutorial projects, samples, etc. provided with it. I just thought it would be useful to log my experiences as I learn.

I do like electronic drum sounds, but I also like to have a sampled acoustic drum kit on the MPC that both sounds great and are responsive to finger drumming on the pads. The 1977 Session Kit looks promising, with 45 different articulations and 12 velocity layers. It also comes with multiple "snapshots" which tailor the kits to various genres such as neo-soul, funk, reggae, etc. and over 120 MIDI patterns.

Some interesting tutorial videos:

Sunday, June 25, 2023

IsoMax Bruce Lee: Week 1

This was an enjoyable first week of IsoMax training under the Bruce Lee program template. I finished the week with all my max force numbers up compared to the first day.

I increased the target loads for most of the exercises to try to ensure that my force output would be at least 70% of my max force.

My max force in the overhead press - at the low bar height where we tend to press at the highest force levels, compared to the sticking point/medium heigh and the near-lockout height - was stuck around the 76 lb. range for most of the week. I was hoping for a higher score because I'd gained some size the triceps and chest from 8 weeks of Easy Muscle.

For the Friday session, I tried holding the bar closer to my chest, with vertical forearms and hands where they should be at or near the start of a double kettlebell overhead press, and the elbows pulled down to prevent the shoulders from rising. I then pushed myself away from the bar as hard as I could. The IsoMax showed a max force of 97.2 lbs, which is a new PR in the overhead press. Now this was the overhead pressing force I was expecting with the muscle I gained from 8 weeks of hypertrophy work doing only clean-and-press with a 16kg kettlebell. Just as importantly, I did not feel the familiar symptoms of shoulder impingement.

Ultimate Isometrics Manual states that the Bruce Lee can be done every day of the week if desired. I've been thinking of doing all 8 exercises of the Bruce Lee program 5 days a week, with the possibility of doing extra reps of overhead press on the weekends - not more than 1 rep per day. The unexpectedly high score of 97.2 lbs. on the overhead press is exciting and makes want to not wait until Monday to try another low overhead press.

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

IsoMax Bruce Lee: First Session

Today was the first day of my latest strength-focused training block, under the Bruce Lee program template on the IsoMax.

Maximum force results in pounds, and comments on the exercises:

Zercher Squat - 118. My previous Zercher Squat numbers were inflated towards the end of my last isometric training block under the 6x6 program, because I was allowing my elbows to contact the thighs, with some as high as 189. This result is probably more realistic. I need to remember that the IsoMax strap should be closer to my heels, so I should face in the opposite direction compared to the Deadlift.

Deadlift - 178.8. I used the hand positioning taught for the Hand-and-Thigh lift, which is to use a pronated grip, rest the fingers on the thighs so that the thighs push the bars towards the hands, so that grip is not as much of a limiting factor.

Low Overhead Press - 75.6. My left shoulder lost some stability from the wear and tear of double kettlebell pressing without the mobility to press to full lockout. Switching to single KB press for the last 5 weeks of Easy Muscle seemed to prevent further damage. However, with the IsoMax bar, my shoulder can still feel irritated depending on hand positioning, if attempting to follow the same cues taught for the kettlebell overhead press.

Low Drag Curl - 140. This was a shocker, as I expected a much lower score. I set the IsoMax to loop 9 to set the biceps at the longest possible length. This seems to have enabled more use of the external rotator adn upper back muscles than other Drag Curl positions that I'd previously tried, which all has the biceps at shorter lengths. At loop 9, this exercise feels like an inverted hang chinup.

Medium Overhead Press - 47.4. Quite a drop from the nearly 65 lb. score under the 1-rep max protocol in Ultimate Isometrics Manual, even accounting for the change in technique from pike pushup to KB press.

Calf Raise - 131.8. This is with the bar supported by the elbows, Zercher style.

Shrug - 144.8.

Seated Row - 119.4. My hamstrings were too tight to allow this drill to be done with straight legs as I'd done in the past. Trying to force them to be straight seems to have compromised performance. Next time I'll try this drill with bent knees.

Not having any coaching in the barbell overhead press, I know of 2 ways to perform the overhead press with a bar:
  1. Pike Pushup/Handstand Pushup Cues - scapula protracted at the bottom of the movement
  2. Double Kettlebell Press Cues - scapula retracted, because the center of gravity of each KEB forces the chest up and out.
For now I will try pike pushup style and double KB style in alternating sessions and see if either style produces consistently higher force numbers and consistently greater comfort in the shoulder. If I have to choose, greater shoulder comfort and stability would take priority over higher force numbers.

Another way I'm personalizing my Bruce Lee program compared to the template presented in the literature is I'm using Timer Mode on the IsoMax. Bruce used a bar and chain device that did not have a force dynamometer or a timer so he just applied as much force as he could for 6-12 seconds and had faith that the routine would work.

I'm not Bruce Lee obviously but I might as well use the IsoMax technology to ensure I'm training at a good level of force and act as a timer for 6-second holds. For the next session, I'll set the target load for each exercise to roughly 70% of the max force I got in that exercise. If the target load is too low, I might not reach an accurate max force level before the timer runs out. If the load is too high, I may not be able to maintain the hold for 6 seconds, which has been found to be ideal for strength gains. I'll adjust the target load as gains get logged.

Saturday, June 17, 2023

IsoMax: Bruce Lee Program

I've been training with a focus on hypertrophy for several months now, and will soon wrap up the 8-week training block under the Easy Muscle program. For the next multi-week training block I will focus on strength, which is defined as the maximal capacity of a muscle, or group of muscles, to exert a force under a given set of conditions. For this strength training block, I will practice isometric exercises on the IsoMax.

The book The Ultimate Isometrics Manual includes several training programs for use with the Isochain/IsoMax, each intended for a particular fitness goal. One of these programs is the Bruce Lee, which I believe was taken from Bruce Lee's book The Art of Expressing the Human Body.

In the Isochain/IsoMax user community, fitness trainer Chrys Johnson has reported strength gains from isometric training inspired by the Bruce Lee program - for himself and for his clients. He posted some videos on his channel No Limit Squad

I plan to try a variation of the Bruce Lee routine with my IsoMax and see what strength gains I may get. Chrys mentions in his videos that he typically does both an isometric workout and a dynamic workout on the same day. For example he'll do an isometric workout in the morning and lift weights in the afternoon or evening. I am curious what strength gains may be had if I only do the isometric workout in the mornings, and do not do another full workout session in the evenings, so I will not be following Chrys' example that faithfully.

The Bruce Lee routine is made up of 2 squat variations, 2 press variations, and one variation each of deadlift, pull, shrug, and calf raise. The routine appears to be idential to an isometric routine that Bob Hoffman created for Olympic weightlifters. My fitness goals include the front lever and one-arm chinup, so I would prefer 2 pull variations to 2 squat variations, with at least one pull variation targeting the biceps more directly. Also, I have no interest in taking up the sport of Olympic weightlifting. So I plan to swap out some exercises from the Lee/Hoffman program.

The exercise selection for my version of the Bruce Lee program:

Zercher Squat - This replaces the front squat and is closer in feel to the double kettlebell front squat. The bar height will be set just high enough so the elbows cannot contact the thighs. Allowing this contact seems to transfer more of the load from the arms to the legs, which would make it closer to the Austin Squat. The Austin Squat looks like a good exercise but I think the Zercher Squat is the better choice to progress towards a double 24kg kettlebell front squat. The double KB front squat and the Zercher Squat are both done with the the load partially supported by the arms and upper back.

High Deadlift - Bruce preferred the bar about 2 inches below the knees. Because of my injury history with the low back, I am very reluctant to deadlift that low, and will instead set the bar above the knee. Strength gained should improve my double KB clean. Isometric deadlift should also strengthen the tendons and ligaments of my posterior chain, including the lower back.

Low Overhead Press - The Lee/Hoffman routine mentions this one, but I haven't found any mention of specific cues to do it. I would like to progress towards a double 24kt kettlebell press, so I will work with the cues taught for the kettlebell press, including the Zip-Up.

Low Drag Curl - This replaces the High Pull (Upright Row and Calf Raise combined) in the original. This exercise was probably selected by Hoffman because the High Pull is an Olympic weightlifting exercise. For an upper body pulling exercise, Drag Curl targets the biceps more directly. The bar is set low so that the biceps are lengthened as much as possible. Recent research seems to indicate that isometric strength training with lengthened muscle stimulates strength gains through the full range of motion, not just at the specific isometric training angle.

Medium Overhead Press - This replaces the "close to lockout" overhead press, which puts the pressing muscles at short lengths. Isometric training at the sticking point has been proven effective, which tends to be close to the medium position. Recent research has found that isometrics at long muscle lengths transfer to strength at all joint angles. I have not heard of any research that has found benefits for isometrics at short muscle lengths. The medium angle is very close to my sticking point in the kettlebell overhead press.

Calf Raise - Same as in the original. Perhaps stronger calves will reduce occasional aches and pains I feel in my feet when I walk.

Shrug - Same as in the original. Perhaps stronger traps will improve how I lock out my arms overhead while pressing or snatching a kettlebell.

Seated Row - Replaces the Parallel Squat in the original, as I'd rather have 2 pull variations than 2 squat variations. Strength gains from isometric seated row has reportedly carried over to pull ups, which makes sense as the seated row works the lats. The position that sets the lats at a their longest length in this exercise, also sets the biceps at long length.

Nobody seems to know how many days a week Bruce Lee spent on his isometric routine. Some people seem to think he did it 3 days a week. The Ultimate Isometrics Manual states it could be done all 7 days if desired, because the training volume would be so low, if one did only one repetition of a 6-12 second hold per exercise.

Nobody seems to know for sure how many repertitions of a hold that Bruce did for each exercise. As mentioned earlier, Chrys got strength gains y doing the Bruce Lee every day, with dynamic weight lifting in the evenings. As an experiment, I will do one rep per exercise, log the max force and average force numbers, then see how the number change over 2 weeks. If there is a general upward trend, I'll keep doing one rep per exercise. If the numbers don't appear to trend up, I'll try 2 reps per exercise.

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Easy Muscle: Week 6

My body seems to be adapting fine to the increase in volume from Wee 5 onward. On some days I warmed with some movements taken from the Preparation section of GMB's Elements or Mobility. Once I practiced Turkish Get Up with a shoe on my fist as warmup. But I have to admit I didn't warm up at all for some days, other than doing a short Farmer's Walk of the kettlebell from the basement to the living room.

Practicing the P3 mobility method in abbreviated form after Easy Muscle sessions, and in full (4 sets of Dead Bugs, seeing how many diaphrgamatic breaths I can do, etc.) seems to work as far as slowly but steadily increasing how high I can raise both arms overhead with locked elbows. I also progressed in my healing towards being able to hang from a pullup bar with less and less shoulder pain. I initially went with a narrow grip, but I found that a wider grip irritates my shoulder less. Hanging hurts the least after an Easy Muscle session. On the rest days, the shoulder is more irritable when I try to hang. Being able to hang without any shoulder irritation on any day is the next goal - once I get there, progress towards raising arms overhead with locked elbows should accelerate.

With 2 weeks to go in Easy Muscle, I can't help but think about upcoming training. The next training block I will do after Easy Muscle is 6x6 on the IsoMax. High intensity isometric exercise will teach my CNS (Central Nervous System) to use the muscle gained from Easy Muscle to produce higher levels of force than before. My last tested 1-rep max in the overhead press was just under 65lbs. My rep max in partial range press of the 16kg (approx. 35 lbs) kettlebell was about 4 at the time. I've since gained some muscle and my full range 16kg KB press rep max is at least 8, so my new rep max in hte IsoMax overhead press should be well over 65lbs now. I have no idea what my new Seated Row and Zercher Squat 1-rep max scores will be. Some people seem to think pulling strength and squat strength will diminish as a consequence of clean-and-press only training for 8 weeks, because they are used to associating pulling with a rowing or curling movement and squatting with a deeper knee bend than you see with KB cleans. It will be interesting to see if they are right.

The next training block after that will be Kettlebell Maximorum or Easy Muscle Schedule B, depending on whether I have the required mobility for the double kettlebell press. Strength may also be a factor - if I cannot press a 24kg KB or my rep max with it is well below 5, I will go with Easy Muscle as it allows push press as an alternative to the regular press, and it also allows single instead of double KB press.
If I do go with Maximorum, then I will have relearn the kettlebell snatch. This newest version of the snatch being taught by the Strongfirst community looks promising

If I do end up having both the moblity and the strength for 5 reps of double 24kg KB press after the 6x6 training block, I might go with Easy Muscle Schedule B, to work on chinup and dips, in addition to double KB clean-and-press and double KB front squat. The weighted chinup has been found to be a great exercise for progressing towards both the one-arm chinup and the front lever. But before I can train with the weighted chinup, I need to work on my unweighted chinup. I don't know what the magic number of unweighted chinups I should achieve before I can start doing weighted chinups with my lightest kettlebell (16kg). But I do know that working up to high volume unweighted chinups should stimulate the growth of muscles that will be useful for weighted chinups - ie. the biceps, lats, etc. - as well as boosting progress in the isometric seated row on the Iso-Max. I figure that when my average force ouptut on seated row on the IsoMax gets closer to bodyweight plus 16kg, I should be ready to do weigthed chinups with a 16kg KB.

Tuesday, May 09, 2023

Today's Music Discoveries

Remembering Wayne Shorter, Rogue Philosopher (1933-2023)

Ahmad Jamal, measured maestro of the jazz piano, dies at 92

Easy Muscle: Weeks 2 and 3

In resistance training, I've seen "volume" defined as the total number of reps, which is the number of reps per set times number of sets. I've also seen it defined as total number of reps times the weight being lifted. For simplicity, I'll use the first definition.

In Week 2, my body started acclimating to the clean-and-press at a volume of 30 reps or higher. I was not deliberately aiming for higher volume compared to Week 1, but I worked at higher volume anyway because I recovered a little faster between sets. On my recovery days I decided to practice the P3 Protocol for mobility, as taught in Geoff Neupert's mobility program Sore Joint Solution, to try to attain the necessarily mobility to lock out both arms overhead in the double kettlbell press.

In Week 3, I finished each session with total reps of 45 or higher. I noticed an increase in appetite compared to previous weeks when total reps were 40 or less.

After 6 weeks of Kettlebell Strong! Foundation and 3 weeks of Easy Muscle, my right shoulder has been holding up fine. This was the shoulder injured about a year ago, so that I couldn't do any overhead pressing until earlier this year. However my left shoulder which was injured in 2020 has been feeling a little less stable, with an occasional dull ache. I have not yet achieved full lockout in the double KB clean-and-press. I read that lack of full lockout may stress the shoulder joints.

So for the Friday session, I decided to switch from double KB training to single KB for the remainder of this Easy Muscle training block. Full lockout on single KB press is within my capability. Removing one possible cause of shoulder irritation outweighs the desire for faster muscle growth promised by double KB work.

Saturday, April 22, 2023

Improvisation articles/videos

"Adam Maness talks you through why and how to transcribe."

Pat Metheny explaining to Rick Beato how to get started with building a solo on his tune James

Friday, April 21, 2023

Easy Muscle : Week 1

I started Easy Muscle, this time on Schedule A which is the "clean-and-press only" schedule. I spent the previous 6 weeks on Kettlebell Strong! Foundation to prepare myself for Schedule A. Maybe it was not possible to develop perfect technique in the two component exercises - double clean and double press - of the double clean-and-press, but I thought it would be worth investing 6 weeks to practice these exercises before taking on Schedule A.

One of the principles of this program is "autoregulation". The number of reps per set for a given session is specified, and a timer is set to 20-30 minutes. The autoregulation part is the time between sets. It is up to the trainee to decide when they have rested enough and are ready for another set. Autoregulation is used in a lot of programs authored or co-authored by Geoff Neupert, including the free Dry Fighting Weight.

The very first session on Monday was challenging for me because I had never done double kettlebell clean-and-press for 20 minutes, even with the amount of rest allowed under autoregulation. Just one rep of this move requires more effort than one rep of a double KB clean or a double KB press. I did 7 sets if I counted correctly.

The Wednesday session was a little tougher because the prescribed reps per set was a little higher. I got only 5 sets done within the 20 minute period, because each set took more out of me compared to Monday.

The Friday session felt the easiest because the prescribed number of reps was the lowest. I did 8 sets. Afterwards I was able to hang from a pull up bar for about 20 seconds with feet on the floor to reduce the load on the shoulders. This was exciting because once I regain the ability to hang from the bar with my full bodyweight, my progress towards full range of motion in the double KB press will accelerate.

I did GMB Mobility sessions on Tuesday and Thursday. It's still a valid approach, although some of the stretches in the program like the kneeling lunge might be considered obsolete by those who have embraced ATG split squats and other ideas promoted by Knee Over Toes guy. The locomotion exercises for training the body to be confident with increased ROM, like Spiderman, Monkey 180, and Sumo Frogger remain unique to GMB programs.

I was glad I did the 6 weeks of Strong! Foundation. It's difficult to focus on perfecting the cues for the double clean and the double press when I'm doing the double clean-and-press. It was much easier to focus on those cues when working on the component exercises separately. The volume in Foundation was lower, but there was enough ramp up in volume so that the volume in Easy Muscle didn't feel as overwhelming.

I have to admit that as I was finishing up my Isochain 6x6 training block, I was tempted to start Easy Muscle, Schedule A the very next week, because I was eager to try buildng muscle mass again under Easy Muscle. I experienced some muscle growth in the arms from the previous Easy Muscle training block, although my bum shoulder restricted my range of motion. I couldn't wait to get on Schedule A because my shoulder had healed enough to allow me to press a KB overhead for a decent ROM - maybe enough to stimulate more growth in the arms as well as the shoulders. However if I had gone from Isochain 6x6 to Easy Muscle without taking the time to learn and practice these double KB exercises, my conditionining would not have been up to the the task, nor my technique and I probably would have hurt myself.

Friday, April 14, 2023

Kettlebell Strong! Foundation: Weeks 4-6

The instructions for Week 4 are the same as for Week 2. There is a note though that says that you might have gained strength and proficiency in the 2 weeks that have passed, which may allow you to do more work in the same time period.

I chose not to intepret that statement as an invitation to rush through the exercises and/or cut rest time between exercises in order to force more work to be done within the time period.

Instead I chose to take the time to run through a mental checklist of all the cues for proper rack position, every time I entered the position, like after lowering down the kettlebells after a double press, or after a double clean. This slowed me down a little, but I still feel like I did one more set per session this week, compared to Week 2.

For Week 5, I raised the effort level just a little by resting just a little less between sets than the previous week.

For Week 6, I allowed a generous amount of rest between sets, because the following week will be the first week of Easy Muscle, in which I expect to be training at a much higher volume.

My choice of cooldown after each Strong! session varied from the stretches recommended in the Simple and Sinister book, to the Flexible Steel routine that I found, to Manly Mobility. I wanted to figure out how to reduce DOMS in the hips and obliques from Strong! training, as well as improve mobility in the top range of the double kettlebell press. I don't feel like I achieved either goal really but mobility improvement has always been slow going for me.

I did however progress from shoulder pain being the limiter of my double-KB press ROM, to just mobility limit being the limiter.

Thursday, April 06, 2023

Mobility ideas from Flexible Steel

A 2012 article on Untying The 4 Knots

A simple routine from the Flexible Steel system, taught by Catherine Buck Le. While the Prying Goblet Squat is not exclusive to the Flexible Steel system, her tutorial is also worth a look. This 5-minute mobility warmup also looks interesting.

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Kettlebell Strong! Foundation: Weeks 2 and 3

In Week 2, I started setting up for Double Front Squat with my feet a little closer together. I had no particular reason, other than curiosity about whether my squat depth would change compared to having the feet wider apart. I had the feet more wide apart because I wanted to make sure I could swing the kettlebells between my legs for double cleans without hitting my knees. So far, the squat depth seems to be about the same, as long as I continue to include the prying goblet squat in my warmup and follow certain cues detailed in the Kettlebell Strong! videos and manual.

By the end of Week 3 I decided to set my feet wider apart again for the front squat, because if all goes well, I will eventually be training with double 24kg kettlebells, and my pair occupies more space than my pair of 16kg KBs.

I continue to struggle with the Half Pancake stretch, which is sometimes recommended as a cooldown after kettlebell training. Here's a recentHalf-Pancake Stretch post by GMB.

Friday, March 17, 2023

Kettlebell Strong! Foundation: Week 1

During this first week of training, I explored some options for a warmup routine. One option is this simple GMB warmup. Another is not warming up at all, which didn't work out that well on the Wednesday session, because I was not able to squat to a decent depth in the double kettlebell front squat.

Thankfully, I just regained the ability to do the Kettlebell Halo without any pain in the shoulder. So for the Friday session, I did 5 reps of the KB Halo per side, then the Prying Goblet Squat with the feet at the same width that I do the double KB front squat.

Mark Wildman is a proponent of KB squatting movement with feet parallel to each other and toes pointing ahead. I find this foot positioning to be most comfortable for my knees. I don't have to put so much effort into preventing the knees from collapsing inwards. My low back feels fine as well.
On my off days, I've been doing sessions of GMB Mobility. My highest priority mobility need is to be able to lock out both arms overhead at the top of the double kettlebell press. However there is actually another factor holding me back from this ideal position, and that is the health of my shoulder. It continues to heal from last year's injury and feel better with each passing week but it's still not feeling good enough for that full lockout position. Improving mobility for this position is not just about working on shoulder mobility but also mobility of related areas, so GMB Mobility's rotation from one area of emphasis - eg. hips - to another - eg. spine - from session to session should be useful to me.

I saw a simple GMB Leg Finisher routine that looks like it might be useful but I'm not sure when I'll try it. Kettlebell Strong! Foundation works my legs enough with the double front squat and the double clean. I don't think I need to risk compromising strength gains from Foundation by adding the leg finisher to my workouts. My next planned training block is Easy Muscle Schedule A, which would raise my training volume significantly. I may try the leg finisher the next time I do a bodyweight-focused hypertrophy block.

Thursday, March 09, 2023

Unlocked the Heavy Club Shield Cast and Kettlebell Halo - progress in Shoulder Recovery

My particular shoulder injury did not allow me to do the Kettlebell Halo without pain. Mark Wildman pointed out that the KB Halo is similar to a Heavy Club Shield Cast. So I tried a Shield Cast, and sure enough I had the same problem.

So I tried the Single Arm Pullover with my 15lb club and my shoulder felt fine. So I've been doing this move for a few week snow. I have to say I really love Wildman's explanation of why he wants you to count your reps aloud in a confident voice. One of his reasons is saying stuff aloud helps you learn faster. Another reason, which really moved me, is some deconditioned/overweight individuals have a meek voice because of how they have been treated in life (bullying), so counting the reps aloud helps those individuals with their confidence.

Today I was finally able to do a Shield Cast without pain. I then tried the KB Halo and that too felt painless. Now I can do KB Halos as part of my warmup for KB training, and thus facilitate my shoulder recovery even more. Very satifying signs of progress in my shoulder recovery.