Saturday, June 27, 2009

Nessie Spotted!!

Dinnae feel bad, Nessie.... Coach has bin wrestlin' monsters since ya wer sucklin' at yer mothers teat!--
Stefan "Angus Beef" Milne

I recently enjoyed a wonderful stay in Austria with my friend Dominik Feischl. It was such a great time, my assistant and I didn't want to ever leave! Aside from the fantastic workouts I shared with Dominik and Karl Humer, we also hiked some of the local mountains and swam in picturesque lakes. In my mind, there was simply no way to top it.

Well, I've been wrong before (and I might even be wrong again!) Scotland turned out to be absolutely beautiful! I've been told I lead a charmed life, and apparently some of that charm rubbed off on the Scottish weather because it was sunny, clear and balmy my entire stay. After a body weight and kettlebell seminar at a Dundee fitness club, (enjoy the slideshow on the right) my host (and UK distributor)
Stefan Milne of TOPP1 of took us off on a road trip up to the highlands. First stop: Loch Ness, which I've always wished to see. After a lengthy drive, we were feeling antsy and decided to visit the Loch Ness gym, brought to you by...Mother Nature.

After working up a good sweat hefting and hoisting the shoreline real estate, I indulged in my other favorite pastime, cold water dousing. I've long advocated cold water tempering, especially after hard workouts. Cold water facilitates recovery, skin health and tightness, via improved circulation plus improved muscle tonus and nervous system conditioning. It's also said to improve immunity and, in general, inure you to the elements.

Loch Ness is one of the world's deepest lakes and is incredibly cold. Its temperature varying only a few degrees from winter to summer, incredibly--indeed, it felt colder than the waters off Iceland. Breathtaking. Living in Southern California has softened me up!

Further, wading in the loch is treacherous footing, due to the slippery stones down under. Enjoy the warned I use some strong language on a couple occasions...

Here's a fantastic routine to try next time you're on an outdoor holiday and chance upon a supply of large, smooth stones.

Pick three stones: one as large and heavy as you can lift; one medium-sized; and one smaller stone that you can overhead press.

After a gentle warm-up, start with your largest rock:

1) Perform a series of single-rep Deadlifts. Do 10-20 single reps.
This should be a big, heavy rock that you must struggle with to break free from gravity's grasp.

Rest 10-sec between each rep. Each rep should feel like a near-maximal effort.
You'll notice immediately that deadlifting a heavy rock is waaaaaay different from a heavy barbell!
In fact, a stone only half the load of your best BB deadlift may defy your initial attempts at wresting it from the earth.
You must also crouch down much further in order to get your hands beneath it and have to utilize a round-back deadlift style in order to succeed.

Another surprise is how much bicep is involved in heavy stone-lifting, and even though they're only being used indirectly, you'll get a massive pump in the arms and forearms from grabbing onto a stone. Competitive strongmen find heavy barbell curls are a good auxiliary lift to prepare the arms for the rigors of stone lifting.

2) The second exercise, with the medium stone, involves lifting it from the ground, similar to the deadlift, but now you'll roll the stone up the waist and continue to the shoulder. This movement is called shouldering the stone. You want a heavy enough stone that you'll struggle with in lifting it from waist to shoulder. Make sure to do equal reps left and right and don't be surprised if one side is more difficult than the other. I like to do 5-10 lifts per side, depending on my energy.

3) Next on the list, Clean & Press the stone--without letting it touch the body--using only the power of the arms and shoulders. You might do a series of presses by themselves, then add second set of Continuous Clean & Press, one of my favorite exercises. This can be quite taxing cardio-wise, bringing every muscle of the body
into play.

Other options for a great stone lifting workout:

  • Heft a heavy stone, bear-hugging it to the chest, then take it for a walk.
  • Clean, then hurl the stone as far as you can, using both arms and legs in a giant Push-Press. Jog to the rock, rinse and repeat, going for either time or distance.

These last two exercises add a distance factor, as opposed to simply weight and reps.

I have "pet" rocks all over the world that I hope to re-encounter in my travels. There are great slabs of broken concrete on one of Philadelphia's running trails; a granite boulder on a beach in Rio; a rock along a Baja California beach at kilometer 58 and countless others, steadfastly awaiting my return.

After our workout and the ensuing dousing, the three of us proceeded to Fort William, a picture-book town in the shadow of Ben Nevis.

Next came the William Wallace monument and then Arbroath, on the North Sea.

In Austria, I enjoyed raw milk mixed with raw honey. In Scotland, post-workout fuel takes a slightly different bent, and I fell in love with a new Gaelic mistress: blood pudding (basically blood mixed with oatmeal.)

And while I never did roust Nessie, I did pick up the little monster pictured above and she's proven quite a handful.

So that's the wrap-up. Enjoy the workouts and let me know how it goes!

In Strength & Health,

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Coach's Great Teutonic Adventure!

It's been my great pleasure to meet and work with Bjorn Friedrich, MMA coach and practitioner, as well as kettlebell afficionado extraordinaire. Bjorn chanced upon me over the Internet and imported me (and my body weight training system) to add value for himself and his fighters. Thus was borne my first German body weight instructors certification. The room was at capacity and among the attendees were two noted sports doctors, Dr. Till Sukopp and osteopath Jurek Gobel, both of whom utilize exercise and movement in their therapies. Till is a masterful kettlebell instructor (who's just been ejected from the RKC!) and who's busy launching his own teaching cert out of Cologne. I was very happy to have him, he has much to offer. Bjorn himself was just featured in the European edition of Men's Health and is a poster-boy for MMA, fitness in general, and pretty much everything I stand for.

Participants came to the seminar from as far as Norway and Ireland. Frankfurt isn't known as Airport City for nothing! One of the more gregarious activities of the day was the competition Pull-Up ladder. After meticulously reviewing the details of safety, technique and form of dozens of Pull-Up variations, we tested prowess with some friendly competition. In case you're unfamiliar with it, a competition Pull-Up ladder starts off with one, single rep and adds one rep each round. You go round-robin until you can't hit the required number of reps for the round--then you're out. Everyone is very supportive. When the smoke had cleared, there were two who had lasted through to level 10: yours truly, and one Austrian fellow by the name of Dominik Fleischl. It was the first time in my seminar career that anyone else had survived to level 10, most drop out earlier from the cumulative fatigue of the preceding sets. In truth, it appeared young Dominik could have gone at least two more rounds, up to levels 11 & 12. Your coach knocked out his own last round with a bit of a struggle, yet Dominik worked as a gravy sandwich--as you can see below--in fact, as smoothly as he did the first couple of rounds. As it turns out, he's a genuine lord of the pull...but more on that later.

After a full nine hours of experiential goodness, the body weight cert participants left tired but happy. Each was awarded a genuine Maxwell push-up board and attractive and meaningful Level 1 MaxBells certificate.

Next up, Dominik took us home with him to the foot of the Austrian pre-alps! After we disembarked from the train and into his car, we drove through some of the most lovely country I've ever seen. When I rolled down the window, I fully expected to hear Julie Andrews singing from the Sound of Music! Visiting with Dominik was like a summertime Summit of the Masters! Dominik is a former competitive rope climber. Speed rope climbing was a one-time Olympic event, then for some reason fell out of favor and is currently more or less confined to a few die-hards in the Czech Republic.
Dominik and his mentor, Karl (a wild former farm boy from down the road a ways) showed me some unique pulling exercises and their "ABC World Cup" pulling program for increased pulling power. (Clients, be warned...) Karl and Dominik both easily perform One-Arm Pull-Ups and various and sundry other pulling feats. Your coach contributed to the local pool of fitness knowledge with his own know-how of Bulgarian training bag work and guided Dominik in constructing a pair of home-made leverage clubs, sourced from the Austrian version of Home Depot. He was extremely pleased with his home-built clubs and even more so with the routines I demonstrated for him.

It's interesting: strength is a skill and specific to the task(s) at hand. Even though my pulling power isn't quite up to that of Dominik and Karl--who specialize--I easily handled the pair of 15# clubs, with which they struggled. Because I've spent a lifetime in the grappling arts, including working with these types of tools, my circular strength in the wrists, elbows and shoulders is well-developed, as would be expected. You're only good at what you practice and this is just another reminder that you must decide what it is, exactly, that you wish to be good at.

One day, Dominik took us on a strenuous hike up a local mountain, a winding and steep trail which ended overlooking a beautiful lake in the pre-alps. After, we went to another fresh, deep-water lake, seemingly a paradise-like resort for upscale Russians and Germans.

The food in Austria is fresh and plentiful. There is an amazing 24-hour Milch Automat which dispenses fresh, raw milk from grass-fed cows. After each training, we'd drink down an elixir of raw milk and raw honey, possibly the greatest recovery formula ever. Copious and frequent dosing of raw milk is certainly part of Dominik's Nature Training manifesto and it serves him (and me) very well.

Aside from his rope climbing and pulling abilities, Dominik is inordinately fond of stone-lifting a la Steve Jeck, and introduced me to several of his pet rocks. Dominik has constructed his own rustic gym in a cabin abutting an open field. Inside are many cool and amazing implements, including a far-out climbing course for traversing in ape-like fashion, various rings and ladders hung from above. I'd like to share with you Karl and Dominik's ABC program, applicable to many body weight movements. The ABC program was adapted from a practice used by rope climbers and gymnasts in this part of the world.

From a dead hang on the chin-up bar, perform 2 smooth and slow reps.
A) pull yourself up 1/4 of the range and perform a 10-second static hold
lower down and perform 2 more full reps
B) lower to the half-way point (90-degrees) and perform a
10-second static hold
lower yourself; perform 2 more complete reps
C) hold the top position of the chin-up for a 10-second static hold
perform 2 more reps. That's one round.
Rinse and repeat.
Dominik completes two complete cycles of this monstrosity!

In a future blog, I'll discuss how you can apply this ABC preparation work to Dips, Push-Ups and Pistols.

I'd also like to mention that Teresa (who I trained for over a year before she could perform a single chin-up) astounded the boys by knocking off six dead-hang chin-ups; six full ROM/below-parallel Dips; six Pistols per leg and climbed Dominik's rope 3 times in succession without touching the matter who or where you are--there's hope for you, too!

Though the guys of Austria are real studs, apparently the local women are somewhat duds! Neither Karl nor Dominik had ever witnessed a woman performing multiple Chin-Ups nor rope climbing before. They both immediately inquired whether Teresa has any sisters.

My next adventure takes me to the hills and dales of Scotland, where I challenge the the Loch Ness monster to a grappling match!

Yours in Strength & Health,