Pull ups and girls

I  love the pull up.

It is seen by many as a useful test for measuring the strength and endurance of the arm and shoulder girdle, and useful for those occupations where you need to manipulate your body weight: fire fighters, climbing into lovers’ bedrooms, showing off in front of kids, and getting out of holes when the zombie apocalypse strikes.
In Dec (2012) The media (papers and blogs) were all a-thither with the scientific proof that women cannot do pull ups. Even the Marines (“hoo-rah”) expect men to do 3, but women don’t have to do even one.

Zilch.

If you boil down the current research on women and pull ups, you will find two physiological reasons why most women cannot pull up.

They are fat and weak. (Don’t hate me, it’s science! )

It is generally accepted that women have a higher % of body fat (Heyward and Stolarczyk 1996) and according to an average of the research, women have upper body strength ½ of that of a man. (ranges from 35-79%: Laubach 1976).

But, as Kate said “It may be true, but God help you if you say that out loud to a girl!”

To be diplomatic and soften this up, it can easily be spun into the standard gym nonsense that women don’t have to do pull ups. Woo hoo, here comes your next Yoga class….after all strength is for smelly noisy boys.

We must accept that (Western) women have been sold a pernicious type of cultural weakness that blurs fitness with the spa. It palms off competence in Zumba as a substitute for the fitness that most women in the developing world need purely to survive the day. Elsewhere in the world women have to be tough, they have to plant food, haul goods, build stuff. A heroin-chic stick insect clinging to a partner’s arm isn’t available as a job option.

In fact, to be slightly political, the only reason Western women can prance around an aerobic studio and claim to be fit, is because their ancestors had the decency and foresight to be pirates, drug dealers and slavers who not only stole wealth, but saved it.
The poorest of us lives in comparative luxury based on this accumulated wealth, and it doesn’t matter if you have no physical competence
But what did this science experiment have to do, to validate the proposition that women don’t have to pull up?
“Three days a week for three months, the women focused on exercises that would strengthen the biceps and the latissimus dorsi — the large back muscle that is activated during the exercise. They lifted weights and used an incline to practice a modified pull-up, raising themselves up to a bar, over and over, in hopes of strengthening the muscles they would use to perform the real thing. They also focused on aerobic training to lower body fat”
And the result of this exciting “lat” challenging, bicep-strengthening routine was: “By the end of the training program, the women had increased their upper-body strength by 36 per cent and lowered their body fat by 2 per cent”
Wowee!
“But on test day, the researchers were stunned when only 4 of the 17 women succeeded in performing a single pull-up.”
“We honestly thought we could get everyone to do one,” said Paul Vanderburgh, a professor of exercise physiology”

A few interesting points.
1) This “hot news” (New York times dated 2012) was based on a report published in 2003 (“Training college-age women to perform the pull-up exercise.”) Shows how behind the times fitness media is.

2) It has been presented by much of the blogging world as justification for women having no pull ups, with the implication that they ought not to bother.

3) It shows that no one reads the small print. The researchers did not set out to produce a pull up specific routine
“We designed our training program with certain delimitations ..a whole body workout and not just a workout to improve pull ups”

4) It shows the impatience of “fitness regimes”. Why should the ability to achieve a certain goal in an arbitrary 12 weeks hold any sway? What’s wrong with spending 6 (+) months learning a skill?

5) The ineffectiveness of looking at movement in the simple terms of the strength of individual muscles.
All worthwhile “exercise” movements are analogues of human movement: they need to be learned, and they all, all combine numerous components of fitness: co-ordination, accuracy , agility, flexibility, strength, strength endurance, and to be frank some mental toughness and determination.

6) If you will permit me to sling a cat in among the pigeons, my final point is this : are pull ups a proper marker of fitness, or is “fit” a guesstimate of VO2 max.

If the girls we train can haul weight, including themselves, we begin to think “ tough chick” ( yes I know that’s a bit demeaning, but its meant nicely), but when flexible stick insects swoon into our gym with chocolate denial etched into their dulled eyes and the whiff of bulimia induced vomit around them, but a “really low resting heart rate”, we don’t think , “wow you’re fit”, we think “ Eat something and man up” .
Or to be more specific, get some steak and a pull up bar!

 

Gymnastics: do some

As some of you know, Im always playing with gymnastics. Im doing this  as part of my on-going “remember what its like to be a beginner”,  because as a gymnast, I suck big time.

Im appalling.

But equally, Im  a crossfitter.

As a crossfitter, I’m led by the 100 words. These words, written by the only fitness genius of  our times   are  not, unfortunately what happens in most crossfit gyms.

“Eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch and no sugar. Keep intake to levels that will support exercise but not body fat. Practice and train major lifts: Deadlift, clean, squat, presses, C&J, and snatch. Similarly, master the basics of gymnastics: pull-ups, dips, push-ups, sit-ups. Bike, run,  row, etc, hard and fast. Five or six days per week mix these elements in as many combinations and patterns as creativity will allow. Routine is the enemy. Keep workouts short and intense. “

~Greg Glassman

What wrong with that you may ask?

It seems to be the pool from which Games WODs  are drawn: I suppose we kettlebell,  do  “pull throughs”  and bench, but thats not too bad. Is it?

I’ve been nasty. Ive amended the above  100 words to reflect what most people  want Crossfit to be: Below is the often ignored  true  100 words .

“Eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch and no sugar. Keep intake to levels that will support exercise but not body fat. Practice and train major lifts: Deadlift, clean, squat, presses, C&J, and snatch. Similarly, master the basics of gymnastics: pull-ups, dips, rope climb, push-ups, sit-ups, presses to handstand, pirouettes, flips, splits, and holds. Bike, run, swim, row, etc, hard and fast. Five or six days per week mix these elements in as many combinations and patterns as creativity will allow. Routine is the enemy. Keep workouts short and intense. Regularly learn and play new sports. 
~Greg Glassman

 

So here is the Crossfit  message: Whatever effort you put into your snatch, you must put into your flip. The deadlift must be trained as much as your pirouette.

I know its very common  and attractive  to proclaim that  the “snatch is king”, or the secret is “Deadlifting” or simply having a big back squat will get you through. These are important moves and its fantastic that we both train and practise them as the 100 words always told us to do. My apologies if anyone  thought “Outlaw” had produced a novel training approach. They simply read Greg Glassman.

Long term we need more gymnastics in our classes. This is  part of my long term mission: learn it, learn how to teach it, teach it, then teach others how to teach it. This formula has worked so far.

The problem with Gymnastics is that its easy to mistake  hot air, hanging around in gyms,  feeling sorry for yourself and  cruising the internet,  as practice. Many people give up  on gymnastics  as the skills seem too hard. The reality is that most people only spend about  2 to 3 minutes on  a skill before  throwing in the gym towel.

We need to deal with this crushing blow  to the ego, before we push more gymnastics onto our poor crossfitters.

A gymnastics lesson doesn’t focus on one skill: it focuses on many skills, or certainly the foundational skills that  underpin most  obvious gymnastic skills.

To be very specific, most clients will attempt 5  (4 -8) handstands in most sessions.  Maybe each attempt takes 10 seconds ( Oh, who cares… call it 20 seconds) Even being generous that amounts to  less than 2 minutes practice of  handstand skill. Of course the dish work is a handstand prep drill,  blah, blah, but the hanging around before class starts,  moaning about how band your handtand is, loosing yourself in internet articles about handstand mechanics, is not practicing. If you went to one gymnastic class this week, you practised the handstand for maybe 2 minutres ( you also, rolled and  jumped etc, but  at 2 minutes a time: it takes a while)

So I thought Id invent the Stemler Grid  for those times I get demotivated.

I cannot judge my current improvement in the numerous  teeny improvements I always make: I unfairly judge,  can I now “back tuck” can I  now “front flip”. If i cannot do the whole thing now, I declare the lesson a failure (the medical  term for this is  “being a tosser”).

So, if Im going to judge myself so unreasonably,  I ought to record what practice I actually  do .

So, if you do the same,  draw up a Stemler grid: Make each square  30 seconds and record the amount of time (each week /day/month) you  actually do the skill.

If its  handstand, are you on your hands? Thats the amount of time you record. When your feet  get back on the floor, the clock stops.

Thats what you record.

The lectures, the feedback, the diagrams, the  group observation, the videoing, the self pity, the “whatever”, at this basic level, doesn’t count. Of course  this is an extreme view, because in reality … it all helps. Even self pity (believe me I know!).

Sure its skewed , you still have to get to the gym,  and that takes time. But before you give up on skills that are supercool, and properly demonstrate that you have control of your body because ” I cannot do it”,  do make sure you have spent enough time  on that  skill to judge. Why not shoot for 30 minutes?

The romance of strength Training

Successful Strength training like marriage  is measured in years not  weeks or months

Pay attention to the basics . Lift often, lift heavy (5 plus, but vary from 5 to 1)  be happy with small increases. Every relationship or  “thing”  in your life requires consistency

Don’t panic if  you plateau.

In what other part of  (real) human existence  do we expect to have increases all the time . We can tamper with economics and pretend we have yearly growth:  some  NHS workers ( apparently ) get a  grade increase each year , but that always, always  unravels. “Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow…….’

The hall marks of successful  strength training  (marriage) is patience and maturity: watch for the opportunity to improve but don’t obsess., be happy with consolidation,  treasure consistency and above all, be confident enough to rest and take it easy.

Eat well and sleep well

Bear in mind  that all advanced programming is dedicated to one phenomenon, failure.   Many marriages fail because one partner isn’t happy with the perfection they have, and instead   indulges in fantasy . Don’t let the strength porn of a few gifted ( psychotic) individuals deprave and corrupt your  normal image of how things are.

Failure is rushing at  fantasy  target too hard and fast.

Having preached consistency, it’s equally essential to mix it up and be creative. Add  and vary assistance exercises.

Variety has always been the spice of life   But variety is still just a spice. It makes the fundamentals seem a bit different that’s all. It still needs the fundamentals/

In short, don’t see strength as something geeky or the preserve of experts. See it as the perfect romance or marriage, demanding consistent loyalty commitment and work , along with romance and variation.

So to be successful, research how to be romantic and simply build it into your strength regime

the 48 injuries I got not doing crossfit

Misrepresenting Crossfit injuries is simple click theft!

Obese reporters, lazy bloggers out to “steal clicks”, and those seeking to curry favour with critics  throw their hands up in horror at the thought that any sporting activity could result in any type of injury.

“Surely”, they ooze, “If we could rid ourselves of rugby, MMA, boxing, indeed all martial arts (except that nice Tai Chi, that’s ok) and Crossfit, no one would be injured again.”

I reflected on this and thought about my Crossfit injuries, then I thought about my pre-Crossfit injuries as a “fit” person, then I thought about my injuries as a normal member of the public.

I’m proving nothing, other than saying injury, biffs, cuts and stuff are probably part of life unless you are very unfit and sedentary. In which case, it’s just the bed sores.

An overview of my injuries

As a sedentary 100 day a smoker who avoided physical activity till I was 37.

  • I got run over by a car.
  • I fell of a ladder while painting,
  • I burnt my chest in a garden fire.
  • I had back pain from slouching.
  • I had back pain from moving stuff badly.
  • I had numerous hangovers from drinking too much.
  • A disastrous smokers’ cough with the associated high blood pressure.
  • I skipped down a low corridor and bounced so high that I smashed my head on the ceiling and landed on my elbow.
  • I stood up too fast while filing and smashed my head against the bottom of a draw that was pulled out above me.
  • I cut my lip by trying to lick the top of a soup tin, which I had opened with an opener .
  • I  nearly mandolin-ed the top of my finger off.
  • I’ve caught my fingers in the car door,
  • I’ve banged my fingers with hammers, sliced my skin open with knives so many times that I should have therapy for self harming.
  • I’ve electrocuted my self, twice.
  • I’ve burned myself on the iron, on the oven, and by seeing what would happen if I poked a straw into the 2 bar fire in the lounge.
  • Cigarette burns galore.
  • I’ve walked into too many doors.
  • Tripped down stairs, and slipped on slippery things .
  • I have left shoulder pain as I sleep on it… (for 54 years!!)
  • I got several bouts of carpet burn knees after having sex on the floor
  • I’ve caught my foreskin in my zip, unbelievably, 3 times.
  • I fell off a wall while having a cigarette and dislocated my finger.
  • Why do I continue to stub my toe?

As a child learning to ride my bike, I scraped both knees, badly, and my mum screwed up the bandage so the scab meshed into the material, so that had to be ripped off. I often slammed the breaks on  and often went sailing over the handlebars.

Often.

 From when I started to get fit  at  age 37

  • I tumbled off the treadmill,
  • Dropped a dumbbell on my foot,
  • Caught my finger on the safety catch on the leg extension machine
  • At martial arts, 5 years of black eyes, numerous with kicks to my poor testicles.
  • Learning to swim at the age of 40 (God knows how much pool water I drank).
  • While wrestling, I caught my big toe between two mats and twisted it.
  •  As  a doorman and on security contracts, I got slashed with a bottle on my arm, then split a knuckle punching someone in the mouth. And I had someone try and scoop my eye out with their finger (I’m sure I got a knee in the groin too).
  • From running  I developed severe knee pain and shin splints, and Achillies tendonitis. I compounded my shoulder damage by dropping that bench press
  •  Since I started Crossfit: 
  • Callus tears
  • 4 bouts of deadlift- induced bad back pain (1 during a wod, the other 3 during strength sessions)
  • A nasty psoas injury, which I got demonstrating an unweighted split jerk.
  • My Achilles and shoulder continue to bother me.
  • I got a nasty dose of  plantar fasciitis
  • My wrists don’t like high rep bar push presses.

There are injuries in Crossfit, but bearing in mind it taught me sooo much, I think, on balance, for me, it was safer than normal living. Certainly I’ve not zipped up my foreskin since I became a bit more co-ordinated.

Get me to the safety of 30 power snatches for time.

The Stemler Bag

Self defence is a misunderstood subject.

 Self defence is a bundle of activities that you may on rare occasions be forced to use if you are unlawfully attacked or threatened . it’s not nice, it’s certainly not pretty

Self defence is not a sport, a martial art or a spiritual pursuit. It is not a pleasant restraint that you can use against an angry customer, a hysterical child or for that matter a slightly over amorous date.

It’s what you will do to someone who wants to rob,  beat,  rape and kill you.

Self defence begins with a thorough understanding of the law of self defence and a thorough appreciation of the human rights of others .

Self defence  also begins way before  any physical attack occurs. It relies on an effective scanning and awareness system. Most effective attacks take the victim by surprise. The attacker ” suddenly turned  nasty”  or “jumped out of no where”

There are a few courses that teach awareness : however, they lack the “Stemler bag” concept. It’s simply a sobering security visualisation.If you “Stemler Bag” properly, you will probably never have any type of physical confrontation

Imagine a see through bag stuffed full of cash. A lot of cash . Its yours. You can keep it, but you still have to do your normal week and carry it around with you, so its visible.

How would It change  your behaviour ? Would you take it to dark strange places where you are not familiar . Would you get drunk and take a snooze in a park. Would you willingly chat to strangers who wanted to ask where you alone? Did you have any martial arts experience ? Was the money bag a joke and where you being filmed.? Or, would you be a bit suspicious of absolute strangers approaching you and being weirdly friendly ? Would you listen out and notice if someone was following you  or would you listen to your i-pod instead? Would you  fumble for your keys while you put your bag down at your front door or would you have your keys ready to go. Maybe you would plan your journey, maybe you’d have a back up plan ?

I think it was James Coburn who said, ‘avoid arseholes and big egos, avoid places where arseholes and big egos hang out’. A good friend of mine, Geoff Thompson added ‘don’t be an arsehole and don’t have a big ego yourself’. It helps”

If you breach this Rule: you have screwed up: everything from here on is making the best out of the poor situation that you created!

If you are approached and a dialogue starts ( known as the interview), take up a small inconspicuous 45° stance place your lead hand in that all-important space between you and your antagonist to maintain a safe gap. This is called The fence. It gives you a degree of control without  alerting your  potential aggressor

Don’t let a potential attacker touch you at any time, The more weirdly friendly, the more deadly and dangerous

You will get scared. Its ok to be scared. The shaking leg, the swirling  tummy is your body gearing up for a fight. You may need that extra energy buzz

Try and talk your way out  If talking fails , it can you could try posturing.

Create a gap between you and your attacker by shoving the attacker hard on the chest. Once the gap has been secured “go crazy; shout, salivate, spread your arms, bulge your eyes and drop into single syllables” ( Geoff Thompson) This triggers the opponent’s flight response and often scares him into capitulation.

If that fails, one of 2 things happen: the language and the look of the attacker changes: their speech will become more and more limited, you’ll notice them scanning the area to see who could help you or be a witness , they will try and get super close the moment they close the gap, you are getting hit OR the attacker steams back in . Either way, after the shove, if they touch your fence for a second time, knock them out.

If that fails ( and you have really screwed up, we will teach  you an eye gouge, groin strike, so at least, on the way down, you do some damage).

Im always slipping the Bulgarian split squat in

Its impossible to run an effective programme without some consideration of  the work of  Mike Boyle and , for this article, the way he has popularised the Bulgarian Split (see here for his view point).

All it offers is better, stronger  bigger legs, but without back stress,  balance ,  hip flexibility, and a high level of safe training discomfort.

Marvellous

This will be making a regular , structured feature in most of my programmes Start practicing at home now  if you haven’t seen it before . It often features in our Metcon classes , but I know most of  our coaches sneak this into their training, so grab a PT session to get up to speed.

You’ll be grateful for  all that walking lunge practice you’ve had.  Pillow on the floor as a comfy knee target,   top of the rear foot on the sofa  and go!  Start off  with a lower rear surface if it helps, and “split”. If you need to revise for exams, while practicing, so be it. Do keep your torso upright if possible. Obviously an appropriate abdominal brace.

Get to 20 each side, 30 seconds rest between each leg, 2 minutes rest  then 2 more sets. Once you have  learned  this, we will be looking to load this .

The Bulgarian Lunge: apart from the fact that it isn’t a lunge and didn’t come from Bulgaria, its great.

Exercise-related transient abdominal pain” Opps, I’ve got a running stitch”

For those of you who enjoy a bit of science while suffering should read  MORTON, D. P., and R. CALLISTER. Characteristics and Etiology of exercise-related transient abdominal pain. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc., Vol. 32, No. 2, pp. 432-438. Is as good a place as any to begin to get up to date with what causes the stitch. Obviously you need to clarify what you are talking about . Its that sharp abdominal pain that some people get while being active. Not an aspect of needle work. (BTW ETP=  exercise-related transient abdominal pain)

This study issued a questionnaire to different types of sports people and asked them about the stitch ETAP appears to be most prevalent in activities that involve repetitive torso movement, whether ” vertical translation or longitudinal rotation”. Its normally  a local pain  mostly experienced in lumbar regions of the abdomen. Some  unlikely people also also experience “shoulder tip pain” (STP) too, famously known as the  diaphragmatic-referral  site, suggesting a miffed diaphragm

Note. No one has actually done anything in this report. They havent got runers, held them down and cut them open, or ultra sounded them, or poked them with sharp sticks. All they did was to ask some people if they have had it.  Thats not being a scientist, that being a pollster and a gossip

Conclusions:   This gives “perspective” to suggested etiologies of ETAP, which include diaphragmatic ischemia and stress on the visceral ligaments, and suggest we should be looking at other causes  such as cramp of the “musculature and irritation of the parietal peritoneum” ( who knew)

Interesting to note that the condition that is mostly associated with runners, is suffered through all sports. Its merely that runners whine more.

And the cure, after all this science?…. “factors that provoke and techniques that relieve ETAP, are not well understood” ( All that money, all those surveys, for this. Fu@%ers)

Several causes “theories”  make the rounds in gyms ;ischemia of the diaphragm and   stress on the visceral ligaments  have gained the most credibility. Im surprised my theory about irritated pixies hasn’t got more coverage. “Further examination of the characteristics of ETAP and the stimuli that provoke it may be beneficial for evaluating the integrity of these and other theories”. Oh, and guess what, more studies, funded by the tax payer is some secret roundabout sort of way, is needed. Oh yeh!

With my Therapist and Crossfit hat on, it was interesting to note that rotational movement through the torso played a part.  A lot of what we try and achieve  at Crossfit is to maintain a solid “core” which acts as an anchor for the limb to swirl about. We train you to use your legs to Deadlift, while keeping your  torso “locked down” Clinically we have noticed a tendency among aerobic athletes, when they come to us, to be unable to initiate a leg movement without a body movement. ( If they swing a leg it begins from the lower back, not the hip. load is lifted from the back, not the hip) in short, if every time you move you have to wiggle your core.

Thats a lot of additional movement for a biological box with lots of other stuff to do