Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Stalking the Wild Picnic Table

My inbox is flooded with emails from people asking what to do when they're traveling or otherwise away from the gym. Bringing a kettlebell along is usually not an option and folks using barbells and dumbbells can be stymied when faced with a week or two away from the gym. Further, while many people these days are discontinuing their pricey gym memberships neither they wish to purchase expensive workout equipment.

Well, the good news is that none of the above is necessary--or even desirable--for optimal fitness. The greatest, most efficient piece of workout equipment yet devised is absolutely free--it's your own body. There's only one problem: most people have no idea how to use it! Conventionaly assumed a humble beginners' activity--who then progress to more complicated machinery--I propose the reverse to be true: most people who consider themselves at an advanced level of fitness are unable to perform the most basic of body weight movements (and if they can do them, they exhibit such grievous form and technique as to be painful to even watch, much less empathize with the traumas their joints are undergong!)

In the more enlightened fitness circles, there is a trend afoot, which is to pull your own body weight, but it's been my observation that these well-intentioned Pied Pipers are generally doing more harm than good since they aren't knowledgeable in the ways of protecting the joints, primarily knees, elbows and shoulders.

If the unanticipated demand for my body weight training certifications is any kind of indicator, apparently others out there are seeing the same thing. People are not only eager to learn how to perform these classic exercises themselves but, more importantly, they want to learn how to properly instruct others. Best of all, once you learn and understand my body weight training system, every playground, tree and picnic table becomes your gymnasium. When you master the basic principles I teach, your fitness freedom is bounded only by the imagination.

I love body weight training and the freedom it provides. I've been figuring out this shit since sixth grade! I've learned from yoga masters, Special Ops soldiers, my own military experience, my years as a wrestler and martial artist, plus reading and studying all I can get my hands on. Many of the techniques I practice go back thousands of years, beyond even the golden age of Greece.

On a recent trip to Hawaii, my comely teen protege and I visited the beautiful Waipio Valley. After the strenuous descent, and even more strenuous ascent (in flip flops!) we encountered a large picnic pavilion overlooking this breathtaking valley. Now, you've seen similar pavilions within every city and state park and highway rest stop, well, everywhere. Most people use them as a flimsy excuse to sit down again and eat but the old coach recognizes exercise-rich potential when he sees it! These tables are ideal for impromptu roadside workouts. In fact, some of my most productive, memorable workouts have gone down in far-flung picnic pavilions out in who-knows-where obscurity. I'm not standing in line waiting for the bench press, Dog! I'll not fret about that pool of sweat someone left on the leg curl machine! I needn't even wipe up any of my own sweat I might be leaving! ( In fact, the humble gym towel is a great workout tool in itself and I'll show you a dozen ways to put it to use for a great upper body routine!)

You see, as a dog sees the whole world as a potential chew toy, I see the whole world as a potential workout implement...but back to Hawaii and our impending workout.

After dabbing my brow of the residual sweat from the rigors of the hike, and then a deep drink from the men's room faucet, I swiftly scanned the pavilion roof for a ledge or pipe where I could suspend myself for Pull-Ups--one of my favorite exercises. Hot dang, there was indeed a large, exposed beam running alongside the roof. Some pavilion roofs are hulking steel structures lacking a purchase for the fingers, but this one was perfect: a sizable, rough beam provided a good grip. Because of the grip, ledge (or tactical) Pull-Ups are especially challenging, very closely simulating the type of pulling needed to scale a wall or pull yourself through an open window...as I've done many times when locked out of the house during my thrice-married career. When you've been in as many impassioned relationships as I have, you develop mad cat-burglar skills out of necessity!

After Pull-Ups, next up on the list is the Dive-Bomber Push-Up, which is smilar to the Hindu push-up but for the reversal of the torso trajectory. The Dive Bomber, also known as the "Roller-Coaster" provides a strong shoulder component to nicely balance the Pull-Up's vertical pulling. I followed the Push-Ups with one of a favorite lower body exercise, the Pistol. While I'm fairly flexible and can easily hold my non-working leg up for Pistols, for many people that's a limiting factor. No problem-o, Pistolero, standing on the edge of a picnic table (or ledge) allows you to hang the leg down, so you can get a good squat workout even if you've with stiff hips and hamstrings. Indeed, I consider the picnic table the ideal pistol platform.

A picnic table will also support a superb lower back and hamstring exercise I include whenever possible, which is the bent-leg version of the Glute-Ham Raise. To perform, kneel on the picnic table bench, facing away from--and hooking the heels on the bottom ledge of--the table-top. Your legs will be bent 90-degrees (or more, depending upon the height of the table). As you lean forward from the waist, do not allow the hips to move backward. You will feel a tremendous contraction in the hamstrings as they work to stabilize the hips; the more the leg bends, the more difficult the movement. The hamstrings are work isometrically as stabilizers and the whole experience is fairly brutal. As such, this is one of my preferred body weight hamstring exercises. In the video below, the picnic table offered extremely unfavorable leverage and my hamstrings were literally in their most contracted position, where their strength is weakest, and received a hellacious workout. Carefully pad the knees with this one (I used my flip flops) as considerable pressure is placed on the patellas.

Finish up your workout by enlisting a belt, rope (or partner) to anchor the feet for Back Extensions. I usually tie an old jiu-jitsu belt around the bench, pad my hips with a towel, and perform either static holds or go for reps.

Another picnic table opportunity is the Dragon Flag (pictured above), a deservedly favored abdominal exercise of Bruce Lee. While the abs are working very hard as stabilizers, the Dragon Flag builds strength in the entire body.

Once again, with a picnic table, your imagination is the only limit. I have, upon occasion even turned a picnic table on end and held onto various bits to do my Pull-Ups, a la Sarah Connor exploiting her jail cell bunk as a Pull-Up device in The Terminator.

Besides picnic tables and the overhead kiosk itself, you might look around and see adjacent logs, boulders or large stones for the pickins. One of my most beloved strength exercises with stones is the Continuous-Underhand-Clean-and-Overhead-Press. This is a genuine whole-body builder and, when done in high reps, becomes quite cardio. One of the rules of the ancient Polynesian practice of stone lifting was not letting the stone touch the body during the process, which adds a whole new level of difficulty.

As you can see, no matter where circumstances may find you, there really is no reason to miss a workout.

Attend my body weight trainer certification and you'll learn how to safely and properly perform all of these exercises and more. If you're not yet capable of these movements, you'll learn the progressions to get you there. My next Body Weight Trainers certification is in Germany 14 June (conveniently located near Frankfurt) and while there is a good group already signed up, we're very accommodating here at MaxwellSC and would love to make space for a few more friends.

Let me know about your next roadside workout!

In Stength & Health,


Georgie Fear, RD, CPT said...

Nice job Steve :) Thanks for giving us all extra ammunition to shoot down excuses whenever they arise, for ourselves and our clients.

Hope Hawaii was a blast, I went for my honeymoon last October and loved it.


Mark Cole said...

Coach Steve,
Another true GEM delivered with quintessential Philly-esque humor. I trained with you and your students at Maxercise back in the mid 90’s and even then it was obvious that you were ahead of the curve when it came to Martial Arts (one of the first Gracie JJ Black Belts in America) and Fitness (bodyweight, KBs etc) I’ve been involved with fitness and MA for a long time and I ALWAYS tell anyone that will listen that if you want to know what is the latest and most effective means of training and fitness is find out what Steve Maxwell is doing and buy all his stuff.

I have found in all my years of travel that the most knowledgeable and DEADLIEST people that I have met have also been the most approachable and humblest with a willingness to share what they have learned. I believe that this description fits you. Many wishes for your continued success.


Mark Cole

PS Any plans to come to Colorado?

Eric Moss said...

When people talk about the square footage of whatever generic gym they have I always say mine is bigger then yours and has free tanning. Gotta love the great outdoors.

Anonymous said...

I know it's off topic but Steve, I want to ask you about DMSO - I remember your old posts and I know you are - or you were - using DMSO. In Poland - where I'm from - this agent is not know you can't buy DMSO just like that.
But it looks exciting and I would like to ask you
- what do you think about DMSO
- does it "work" as good as some claim
- is it safe to use
- and what form do you prefer

thank you very much
and best regards from Warsaw


Mich said...

Great Post!
You MUST create a bodyweight exercise DVD--correct form,avoid injury, etc for those who cannot attend a workshop or cert--why not film one?

I'll buy it!

Kawika said...

Until I read your blog post I was looking at your pics and thought to myself, "Hey, that looks like the Waipi'o Lookout and the stream running through Waipi'o Ahupua'a."

As soon as I started reading your blog post, my thoughts were confirmed. Awesome that you found Waipi'o beautiful to behold. My family is from the area and being on O'ahu, I make the occasional journey/foot trek down Waipi'o. I also found it awesome that you could turn the pavilion into a suitable gym. Did you do the whole trek by foot (up and down)?

Great blog post.

Steve Maxwell said...

Thanks for writing George. Hawaii was a blast. I hope every day is a honeymoon for you and yours.

Steve Maxwell said...

Hi Mark,
I thank you for the kind comments. I have no plans for coming to Colorado, but I would like to. If you have any ideas about where I could hold a work shop or certification, let me know.

Steve Maxwell said...

You and I own the biggest, grandest gym in the world. It's everywhere, anywhere and out there.

Steve Maxwell said...

I'll devote a blog to DMSO soon. It does work and I still use it. You can buy it on line. I'm using it on my shoulder right now. I swear by this stuff.

Steve Maxwell said...

Your idea for a dvd is good. I demonstrate proper technique and safety pointers covering many exercises on my "Ultimate Upper Body Pull-up Workout" dvd.

Steve Maxwell said...

Hi Kawika,
I found the Waipi'o valley to be one of the most beautiful places on earth. teresa and I hiked down form the upper parking area, in flip flops (we are into barefoot training). We beach combed and did some stone lifting then hiked back up. Whew, really steep. After a brief rest, I decided to get in some body weight conditioning work as described. I'm planning another trip to the islands this late fall. This time to Kauai and Maui.

Anonymous said...

Cool - thank you! I'm looking forward to see you insights on DMSO. I figured out that DMSO is used for years in Russia - I will try to get it from there ASAP. They were using it with great success in former Soviet Union too.

I wish you all the best


Rafi Bar-Lev -TheFitnessAdviser.Com said...

Awesome article Steve,

I love body-weight exercises myself. Wherever there's a wooden beam, there's a pull up!

Sifter said...

Can you help me?

I love Hindu Squats, my knees feel great, my legs feel great... but the next day my SI joint is KILLING me.

Yes, I don't bounce, I keep my back as straight as possible, feet not too wide. I stretch my hammies, calves, piriformis, and hip flexors. I don't want to give them up, (and flat footed sometimes hurts the knee)... any idea why my sacroiliac joint is disliking Hindu Squats??
Seems to be any move squat that is perfomed on ball of foot. Thank you, please reply, Sifter.

Steve Maxwell said...

Sifter, you're probably leaning too far forward and it seems likely you may have a bilateral deficiency, ie one leg/hip/thigh is tighter and the other side is stronger. - Steve