Thursday, 26 February 2009

Review: Captains of Crush grippers

One of the biggest indicators of strength when you first meet someone is when you shake their hand and feel either a vice like grip or a sweaty, limp hand. The strongest grip that I ever came across still remains in my memory as a humbling experience.

I was working on a building site aged sixteen and the site foreman, Tim was renowned for his grip strength. Not knowing this, upon meeting him I offered my hand (I later found that it was common knowledge on-site never to shake his hand) and immediately felt a crushing force unlike anything I'd encountered before or since. He didn't do so in malice, his grip was apparently so strong that he could not gauge it's affect on "normal" people.

I've always had a good grip but this was something else. Which brings me to my point; we all train in different ways for different activities but one type of strength remains universally important and that is grip strength. Lifting heavy loads every day for forty years, it's not difficult to imagine how Tim developed his amazing grip nor is it hard to see the benefits it no doubt brought him at work.

But what for the rest of us? Climbers such as myself require a strong grip as it is our last point of attachment to the rock, it is also generally accepted to be the weakest and therefore the most important. Gymnasts and acrobats need a firm attachment to what they're holding, be it rings, parallel bars or silks. Finally weightlifters require an increasingly strong grip as they improve and lift heavier and heavier weights. I've heard several power lifters complaining that they'd have made that last lift if only their grip was stronger.

So how do we train our grip? It differs from sport to sport; climbers mainly improve through climbing but lifters and athletes whose sport requires a crushing or pinching type grip can benefit from grip enhancers. These are the sprung "gripper" devices that we've all seen and most of us have tried. I began using them years ago but quickly became frustrated with how easy even the hardest store bought grippers were. Then I discovered the Captains of Crush grippers by Ironmind.

Made from aircraft grade aluminium in the USA, these are the worlds toughest grippers. There isn't a man on earth (not even my old site foreman Tim) who could complain about these being too easy; the number four has only been closed by five men in the entire world! Here is a list of the force required to close each:

Guide: 60lbs (27kg)
Sport: 80lbs (36kg)
: 100lbs (45.5kg)
Number 1: 140lbs (63.6kg)
Number 2: 195lbs (88.6kg)
Number 3: 280lbs (127.2kg)
Number 4: 365lbs (166kg)

There is also a 1.5, 2.5 and 3.5 gripper but the exact force required to crush these is not listed.

I own the "1", "2" and "2.5 "and can close the number 1 for sets of 25-30reps. The number "2" I can close for 5reps and I cannot yet close the 2.5. My target is to close the number "3" and get certified on the Ironmind website. (Only twelve people last year managed to).

As advice on what to go for first; if you consider yourself to have an already very strong grip, start with the "1" or "1.5". I bought the number "1" first and found it to be OK but don't be fooled, most people can't fully close this one. If your grip is average for a guy, get the Trainer and when this becomes easy, you'll be ready for the "1". If you have average strength for a woman, you'll be fine with the Sport or if you're confident, take the Trainer.

At about £22 each, they're not that expensive. Buy them one at a time so that if the one you purchase is too easy/hard, you can get the one above/below and use the original as a warm-up/goal.

As a climber, I didn't feel that training with CoC benefited me at the wall (except on pinch grips on which I now rock!) but it was well worth the investment in training time and money for the simple but satisfying reason that I can now crush an apple into mush!!

Monday, 23 February 2009

General Aims: Cast away your limits, they are illusions

I want to define some of the general aims of this blog. Having been brought up by a father who was a pretty fanatical fitness freak himself, I began emulating him from a very young age. I was always inspired by gymnasts, circus performers and other bodyweight resistance trained athletes whose seemingly disproportionate levels of strength shattered my early ideas of more bulk equals more strength.

For the next eight years I focused on four main exercises with a few variants; sit-ups, pull-ups, push-ups and dips. I approached training with a youthful lack of structure and the haphazard "training to failure" approach which as you might have heard previously is "failing to train".

At age sixteen I started rock climbing and have been climbing about three times a week for the past six years. I soon found that my years of bodyweight conditioning had made me ideally suited to the sport and improved quickly. During these years I also began learning Parkour and more recently, gymnastics. Through a combination of these sports, an understanding of sports science and nutrition gradually developed and I came to realise the fallibility of my teenage approach to training.

I picked some of the most inspiring basic bodyweight feats and decided that with discipline and a scientific approach, I -and anyone else for that matter- could achieve every last one of them. I'm still very much a beginner despite years of training and I aim to use this blog to share training ideas and experiences and to learn from the experience of others.

So we will be primarily concerning ourselves with four areas of training:

1) Muscular strength
: The amount of force a muscle can sustain in a single contraction. This is where performing one rep max skills like the one arm pull up comes in. (Though later you can build up to more reps in these).

2) Muscular endurance
: The ability of a muscle to sustain a contraction or make multiple contractions over an extended period. Cardiovascular endurance falls within muscular endurance.

3) Mental training
: This is an area I became interested in after a plateau of climbing ended when I read a book "The Rock Warriors Way" by Arno Ilgner. The book was dedicated to the art of mental training ranging from our approach to training and our sport through to actual mental training methods. I will review this book soon, the only shame is that the tips in this book can be applied to any sport but it was written specifically for climbers and requires a knowledge of climbing terms.

4) Nutrition
: I believe that proper nutrition is imperative for optimal performance and find this to be an interesting area for enhancing performance. However, it is riddled with pitfalls and biased studies and it often seems that there is so much false science funded by the multi-million pound supplements industry that it's easier to avoid it altogether. I experiment regularly with nutrition and will submit reviews of different things that I try. One thing to remember is that some things work for some of us and not for others and that the only way to know what works for you is to try it.

You may well think to yourself "you've been training for years, what can I do at my level?". I recently began training with a guy ten years older than I who hasn't trained a day in his life. He told me that one day he just decided that he was going to get his act together and reach levels of strength that he'd always dreamed of when he was a child. He was one of the first to join the facebook group that later became this blog. Four months on and with a higher bodyweight to lift than I, his strength has multiplied and he is the fittest he's ever been (in his own words). He constantly challenges me every single session. The point is; forget your limits, they exist only in your mind.

Any and all comments, ideas and tips are welcome though please be constructive.

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Where I am re: The Challenge

So, I have laid down the gauntlet to anyone who is interested in taking it. As this blog began as a Facebook group, it has already been going a while and I have had a chance to make a dent in the list. Here is my progress in the aforementioned challenge:

1) Free-standing Handstand push-up: My handstand requires some serious work. There was a time when I was working it quite regularly and was improving but it's been a while. I tried a few days ago and found that I can balance for between five and twenty seconds somewhat inconsistently though with good form. My inflexible climbers wrists make it difficult to press into it statically; it's far easier on parallel bars.

As far as the press is concerned, I can handstand push up on the ground without much difficulty. On bars, the increased range of motion allows me to lower into a position from which I cannot push out from. I need to strengthen the range of motion on the bars.

2/3) The one arm chin/pull up: These were the feats that inspired me to create this challenge. I am happy to say that I can pull a single rep of both the one arm chin and the one arm pull. It took me about ten months of training to achieve the chin and a further two to achieve the pull. Unfortunately, it comes at a price. I have suffered from severe medial epicondylitis (a form of tendinitis/Golfers elbow) for eighteen months now due to the severe repetitive strain of the skill. I am now beginning to see the end of it but anyone pursuing this should be aware that tendonitis is inevitable. I'll post a vid of me doing it as soon as I'm fully healed.

4) Box splits: Little progress as I wish to build up to this very slowly. I am about ten inches from the floor.

5) Front splits: No progress; I have not had the time to work this yet.

6) Front Lever: Practising on rings. After achieving the back lever, I began working on the significantly more difficult Front lever. I started with the "tuck" which is a Front lever with both legs tucked in. The straight arms and back are paramount in building up the strength to move onto higher levels. I can now hold the one leg front lever and wide straddle front lever for about ten seconds.

7) Planche: I find this one extremely difficult as the inflexability in my forearms prevents me from leaning forward very far over my hands in the extended position (fingers stretched away from palm). I have been holding sets of five seconds in the tuck planche and regularly stretching my wrists to improve flexability. It is much easier on parrallel bars but I don't wish to be limited to them.

8) The Flag: I can pull slowly into a seventy-eighty degree flag and hold it for about eight seconds. I am working at strengthening my core to lift in the ninety degree position and a post will follow with my progression training. I never jump into the flag as I feel it's more satisfying to pull slowly into it.

9) Dragon Flag
: I have not attempted the Dragon flag since my tendonitis began as it is even worse than the OAP (one arm pull up) for destroying your flexor tendons. I was very close to it before and believe that it will take very little work to achieve from here.

10) The Iron Cross
: I began working on the rings five months ago but did not sart training the cross until the beginning of January 2009. I wanted to build up my stability with basic ring positions before takling the cross so that I'd have a lower risk of injury. I have been training with a device which replaces the usual rings and straps around your forearm as well as having the handle you hold onto where the ring would be. You can then attach the ropes higher up your arm (closer to the shoulder) in order to reduce the leverage and make the progression into the full cross more gradual. The device has five holes to attach the rope to which I will refer to as level 1 (starting near the elbow) through to level 5 (near the wrist). I began on two reps of level 1. I am now five weeks in and can manage sets of eight reps on level 1 and sets of three reps on level 2! A more detailed post will follow.

So there you have it, I feel like I've been training forever and I still have a long way to go. The important thing to remember is that the enjoyment is not derived from attaining a skill. The enjoyment comes from a sense of progression; a
gradual process of improvement which is punctuated at times with failure and frustrating plateaus. Don't for a moment ever believe that you'll be happy when you attain your goals because you wont; happiness doesn't work that way and every goal achieved will be replaced by an even greater goal. Instead realise that attainment is unimportant and that striving toward something is where happiness lies.

Friday, 20 February 2009

Tough Guy 2009

On the first of February, I entered the infamous Tough guy race. For those who haven't heard of it, Tough Guy is a bi-annual obstacle/endurance race held in the Midlands of my little Island Grande Bretagne. One event is held in the Summer (this one is called Nettle warrior for obvious reasons) and the other is held in the Winter (Tough Guy).

I was more than a little nervous on the drive into Wolverhampton and during the night before the event. This was partly because I'd foolishly told everyone I knew that I'd be entering the race. I could not fathom the true extent of their mockery should I not finish but I was mainly nervous because I'd not done a days cardiovascular training for it (having taken the place of a friend last minute).

One thing I would say to anyone entering is that there is absolutely no good food on sale anywhere near the farm after 7pm. By good food, I mean something other than the greasy burger and chips that would become my staple for the next day and a half. Correct nutrition is vital in this kind of event so either arrive early and hit a local restaurant or bring a plentiful supply of snacks and M&S picnic items.

Despite this shortcoming, I found the event to be run incredibly well. Several thousand people entered and it took a team of voluntary marshalls and Saint johns ambulance staff to ensure nobody died. They actually had a field hospital!

The race begins as a nice enough run through the "country miles" until you realise that Mr Mouse's (the event owner) definition of a country run is to hit you with eight foot trenches knee deep with frigid, muddy water 1km into the race! After these, we hit some log obstacles and encountered nothing more until we hit the towering "Tiger". The Tiger consists of two forty foot "A" frames punctuated with a series of electric fences carrying a hefty charge! I personally found this to be a bit of a pain as the racers had not separated sufficiently to prevent the exasperating bottleneck.

Fortunately, this was the only bottleneck that I encountered on the course though it distracted me enough so that I was all too unaware of the electric wire swinging behind me. The inevitable shock sent my arm rocketing into another racer who was not amused; not least because I caught him hard on the head.

After another run and copious amounts of mud you hit the Slalom; a series of nine or ten runs up and down the same steep hill. This is where you see people start to drop out. Even the fittest were fast walking by the last one. (It's worth mentioning that my late entry meant that I started in the back-squad referred to endearingly as the "late buggers" and so "the fittest" that I encountered were not nearly as fit as the top blokes from the front squad who had paid extra to be there).

River runs with ever deepening water that hit chest height in no time and nets and fences followed but the real obstacles begin when you finish the main run and hit the killing fields. Rope traverses, ponds, runs through fire, ponds, towering obstacles, and yet more ponds of which one is entered from a twenty foot diving platform are encountered here. This is where the real pain starts..

The most feared of all these obstacles is an underwater tunnel -no more than twenty foot long- in which the only part of your body to remain dry to this point, your head, becomes soaked with near freezing temp water. This was the day it decided to snow. Not just any snow but the worst snow in eighteen years. We emerged from the icy water seeking respite from the pain of the pond only to find that in the -8 degree wind chill, it was warmer in the pond than out.. no problem, we were soon confronted with another.

After twenty three obstacles, the killing fields relinquished the finish straight and a nice hefty brass medal to prove we'd done it. The fun wasn't over yet though, oh no.. I was fortunate to have maintained a good core temperature during the race unlike the many others who were taken to hospital or treated by the medics with hypothermia. However, the end of the run meant a very sudden drop in body temp. The "tepid bath" and "warm showers" as advertised in the leaflet were only several degrees warmer than the icy pools of hell outside and most of us did our best to skirt around it. (This was surprisingly difficult as it blocked the competitors exit from the finish area almost completely).

I stumbled around in a dazed pre-hypothermic stupor looking for my dry, warm clothes in the barn I was assigned to and found I was content -like many others- to sit down next to them growing increasingly cold as I willed them to dress me themselves. An eternity passed and I was dressed, though it took forty more minutes before I could hold a cup of tea without spilling it all over myself from the shivering.

This is a very worthwhile event and the sense of achievement at the end is unrivaled. Sure, it's not the longest run in the world at only nine miles-ish but it makes up for it by packing so much pain into each mile that by the end of it, you feel as if you've run two marathons! It also raises money for several charities including their own Mr Mouse's farm for the unfortunates - both a horse sanctuary and a charity with the aim of giving young offenders a more positive outlook on life. You can raise money for your own charity but must agree to split the money raised with the Tough Guy charities 50-50.

For more details, see the weblinks section of this blog.

The Challenge

Welcome to my blog. This blog began as a facebook group but, inspired by another blogger, I decided that updates would be easier on here.

This is the challenge I have set myself and anybody who wishes to join: I picked ten of the most difficult basic core, upper body, balance and flexibility techniques to work over the coming years. If anyone would like to join me in working any of them, or can already do one or more, i'd be interested to hear about it.

1- Handstand Push up (Free standing)
2- One armed chin up (Underhand grip)
3- One armed pull up (Overhand grip)
4- Box Splits
5- Front splits
6- Front Lever
7- Planche
8- The Flag
9- Dragon Flag
10- Iron Cross

The Rules
1- The Handstand push up must be performed without support, and you must complete three reps to claim it (Touching head to floor on each).

2-The one arm chin and pull ups must be the full range of motion from a straight arm and without momentum or aid.

3-They must be completed with both hands (obviously not at the same time) before you can lay claim to it.

4- Box splits and scissor splits must be performed with backside and legs flush against the ground

5- The planche must be straight armed, elbow levers do not count. It must be held for ten seconds to pass.

6- The Front lever must be straight armed, reverse levers, whilst still impressive, do not count. It must be held for ten seconds to pass.

7- The Flag must be performed ninety degrees to the floor and on a vertical apparatus. Must be held for ten seconds.

8- Dragon flags must be performed in a set of three to count with legs stopping six inches off the bench.

9- The iron cross must be held for five seconds. Arms must be straight with the head up. Must be performed on rings.

I will keep the blog up to date with my progress on each of the skills I'm working on. I've been working on several for some time.


Good luck to all!!