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.