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.