I’d like to tone it back a little bit for this post and focus purely on different exercises or movements and explain a little in relation to different goals. I’d also like to provide resources for anybody interested in more, because I’ve learned a great deal on all aspects of health and fitness from a very wide variety of sources, and I know there is an information overload out there and sometimes it’s hard to find the good stuff. And to explain this I think I’ll use my own ‘timeline’ of exercise regimes to outline it all. This may end up being a fairly long post but we’ll see. Before I start I will state that most of this article is focused solely on strength gain and building muscle. As far as the many components of ‘fitness’ as described in my first post is concerned, I have not touched on too many as this article has already gotten too long, I will do more posts on all the other aspects of fitness. Progressive overload as you see it in this post, however, definitely applies to all areas of fitness.
Well, funny enough I first began with calisthenics, but not nearly to the advanced point I am now. Before I really got into working out, I was using two books as a guide: Your are your Own Gym and Navy Seal Fitness (http://www.amazon.com/You-Are-Your-Own-Gym/dp/0345528581 and http://www.amazon.com/Navy-Seal-Workout-Compete-Total-Body/dp/0809229021/ref=sr_1_12?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1374783260&sr=1-12&keywords=navy+seal+fitness respectively). My fascination to these two books came from a natural awe I have for the special forces (both author’s being from the special forces). The great thing about both these books, which I still apply to date, are that they are focused solely on body weight exercises. The aim was to develop total body conditioning to the level of special forces personnel. So it included exercises and programs to really push you to your limits, and then some. The Navy Seal Workout was where I first really discovered what a pyramid workout is. These differ from traditional sets, instead you start with 1 repetition of the chosen exercise, rest between 5-15 seconds, then do 2, rest, do 3, and so on up to a set amount, and then you come back down to 1. These are incredibly tough and I highly recommend for anyone who wants a challenge or just to try something new.
So after a few months using these books as a guide, and developing a decent amount of strength (I couldn’t do a single ‘triangle’ push up in the beginning – push up with hands together), I wanted to expand. About this time I was working out with my best mate a few days a week and I brought up the idea of turning his garage into a gym. He thought it was a great idea, so over time we started buying bits and pieces – mostly second hand at incredibly good prices (a kilo is a kilo after all). So by the end we had a good amount of weight, a bench press, squat rack and pull up tower with dip bar. Basically, as I discovered, everything necessary to effectively train your body. So I’ll go into a little more detail about this.
When I wasn’t training, I was reading. I consumed every piece of knowledge on working out I could find. At first I’d find something and think oh my god this is the secret or the must do thing. After time, I started seeing trends in the things I was reading, common themes. What I found to be the most important was this: at the end of the day, what exercises or regimes you decide to do doesn’t matter, the most important thing is progressive overload. Second to that, which actually ties in with it, is that muscle stimulation – regardless of the kind of exercise – is all that is necessary. So, progressive overload and muscle stimulation – what does that really mean? Basically, your workouts need to effectively stimulate the muscles you wish to build and the intensity should increase as time passes.
One of the biggest problems with the fitness industry is unnecessary hype surrounding particular exercises. The junk you see in magazines about the ‘must do’ workout or the ‘secret to abs’ or ‘Get big like Hugh Jackman’. It’s all sales talk and distracts people from the very simple process of building muscle. The type of exercise isn’t really that important. Getting the basics right first will then allow you to tailor you’re own workouts much more effectively. If you’re unsure of what exercises stimulate which muscles, here is an incredible resource: http://www.exrx.net/Lists/Directory.html. This includes a great deal of body weight, machine, and weight exercises. I’ll give a simple list of exercises that would hit pretty much every muscle in your body adequately (These more or less comprised the majority of my weightlifting):
- Bench press
- Pull ups
- Chin ups
- Shoulder press
Just these alone will build a solid foundation of total body strength. But theres no cable flyes? There’s no tricep extensions? There’s no CURLS?? I’ll point out that this is a very general list that will, for the majority of people, hit enough of their muscles. Now I will point out that this does not completely apply to bodybuilding on a professional level. For them, they’ve surpassed the basic conditioning and their aim is about proportion and size. In their case, they will need certain exercises that target muscles much more effectively. However, for anybody beginning to work out, forget about finding the ‘right’ exercise, the ‘right’ workout plan and stick to the basics. There’s no perfect exercise, no perfect routine. Just find one, stick to it, progressively overload, and you’ll gain a great amount of muscle and strength. For the beginning, don’t worry if someone says ‘but you need to do ‘x’ exercise to get big. The best part is after this, you’ll have a much better understanding of it all and will be able to decide for yourself what other exercises you need or would like to implement. The idea is to tailor what you do to your goals, not anybody else’s.
For me, I stuck to pretty much just those for almost a year. I put on a decent amount of muscle and my strength skyrocketed. But, to be honest, I got bored of the same old iron lifting (I did vary the exercises a lot). My mind wondered. And, as it would be, it wondered straight back to body weight. Except, I learned just how far body weight movements can go. Before I thought a push up was a push up and a pull up was a pull up. I quickly learned just how much there is you can do and quickly fell in love with it all. So I’ll explain a couple of things now that I’m currently working on for a bit of an idea.
First, levers. Levers are basically where you hold your body completely straight either hanging from a bar or off the ground. They require a great deal of core strength, but in a way that stretches throughout your whole body. The progression of difficulty is generally – Elbow lever > Back Lever > Front lever. The elbow lever is best done on a straight bar but can be done on flat ground but I first found it harder. You place your hands about your hip width, and dig your elbows into your sides. From that you lean your body forward, raise your legs and straighten your body, balancing on your arms. Doesn’t sound like much but I guarantee on first attempt it will be humbling. Here is an example, my very first completely straight elbow lever:
It definitely looks pretty cool. I’m very close to a perfect back lever, and front levers are still a little far off. These are both performed hanging from a bar, a front lever you bring your legs and body up and parallel to the ground. Back lever you put your legs through your arms and bring your body down to parallel with the ground (so your body in the back lever is facing the ground).
What has probably become my focus right now is the planche push-up, which I described in detail in my post ‘Mastering Bodyweight and Intrinsic Purpose’. I won’t explain it all again but I will say I’m getting quite close, in fact here’s a latest progress pic: (Such a pretty face)
At that point I haven’t quite got complete control of my body and it was starting to come down. But that is pretty close to the normal starting position (arms need to be straight though), from then you come down forward until your chest is about bar height or even lower, then return to the top, keeping your legs like that. I’d like to stress that A) I’ve built a very strong push up foundation before this and B) It’s taken a great deal of work on balance and core strength to get here. But it IS possible for anybody to achieve.
Calisthenics style workouts are becoming increasingly popular around the world, arguably made famous by the ‘ghetto workout’ in New York. Now, there are ‘street workout’ championships and various ‘crews’ around the world devoted to this stuff. I believe the biggest one in Australia at the moment is the Bondi Beach Bar Brutes (https://www.facebook.com/BondiBeachBarBrutes). These guys are great. A friend of mine also runs his own home gym business here in Brisbane called Raising the Bar, which is tailored specifically to body weight exercises (http://www.raisingthebartraining.com.au/wp/) This guy is incredibly strong and I’ve seen some things he can do and it’s amazing to see in person. I can definitely see myself following in his footsteps in one capacity or another.
I think I should end it there before this gets way too long. I just wanted to dive a little deeper into actual training itself and hope to show people that there are endless amounts of ways to train and keep fit. It is only limited by your imagination. The point is that I wanted to get across was that when you start training, or want to try something different, pick something and stick with it for a while, while applying progressive overload. Don’t worry too much about the minor details or someone saying you should be doing something else. You can decide that for yourself after time. The key thing really is to choose based on your goals. It is your body. Your own goals should dictate what it does.