Sunday, September 19, 2010

Working "The Thick Bar"

Yesterday, Lindsey and I had a little double-dip.  We got after squats, bench and some Bulgarian split squats at the garage (I was able to get 12 solid reps at 295# on the squats, and 9 at 225# on the bench, both were weights I was happy with at this point).  We then hopped in the car to search for a public pull up bar as we do not have one set up anywhere.  After wandering around Washington Park for a bit and finding nothing, we remembered a small park by the highway that we knew would be empty.  It was, but the only issue was that Lindsey would have to be wedged into a tiny space so she could use the top of a sliding poll with a very slick grip, and I would be using a 9ft tall post holding the swings.  The bar I got to use was at least 3 inches in diameter, brutal!

3 rounds for time of:
400 meter run
21 KB swings 53#
12 pull ups

Last time I tried this was in May, and I was still recovering from my bike crash, I believe my cast had come off about two days before as well, and I got 8:10.  This time around I was hoping for sub-7:30, but that damn bar got to be pretty damn tough.  I finished in 7:57.  Lindsey struggled with her bar like crazy as well, and this got me thinking a little bit about using unconventional equipment for more reasons than just being cool.

I am a huge fan of using random pieces of equipment, or things found in nature as obstacles for fitness training.  Trees, ledges and trucks for pull ups, logs and rocks for press and throws, tires for throwing and flipping, bridges for scaling, benches and stumps for box jumps, water jugs for swings and carries etc.  The more I got into using this stuff, the more I thought about the effectiveness of doing this sort of thing.  For starters, it just breaks up the norm, keeps things fresh and interesting.  But when you look a little deeper at it all, it starts to make sense on pretty much any level you can think of.

I had a football player who had an issue with heights and literally, being on the edge of things.  I had a workout that involved scaling a bridge a handful of times, one that rested about 25-35 feet above a rocky creek.  I asked him to do this workout, and, while he was extremely hesitant at first, he ultimately got the hang of it and just tore it up.  I explained to him that while all his other football buddies were only spending time in the gym and track, doing bench presses, cleans, deadlifts and sprints, he would be doing all of that and more.  And because of the unconventional aspects of training incorporated into his programming, when he was faced with a potentially intimidating situation, he would be able to recognize that there really is nothing that he is scared of.  This summer he was able to break down a mental wall that I would argue had been his (and similarly, so many other peoples) most debilitating weakness up to that point.  The way I see it is, if you ever have a natural reaction of fear and/or doubt, training unconventionally will help to transform that reaction to possibility and excitement.  I have seen this happen with myself, and many, many clients and friends.

The positive effects of physical exercise should go without saying, so let us assume for this arguments sake that it is good to exercise.  How will it benefit you physically to use unconventional methods?  Think in terms of functionality of movement.  If you can hoist a bar loaded with 200 pounds from the ground to your shoulders, well, great.  This proves that you probably have mastered the most efficient method for your body to pick up that sort of weight in a dynamic manner.  You have stable joints and a strong, stable spine and core.  You have strong and powerful leg and back muscles, and you also have adequate mobility in your hips and shoulders.  But think of all the other movements your body CAN do.  Functional movement training is all about understanding the most efficient ways your body can move, then forcing it to get into any and every possible position, with any and every possible load, THEN testing its ability to function efficiently.  If you can now hoist a 200 pound rock from the ground to your shoulders, that bar is going to be pretty damn easy.  I am not saying that conventional methods are pointless, I am saying that incorporating unconventional methods will assist greatly in your conventional training gains.  The more diverse your athleticism, the better you will be at anything you want to accomplish athletically.

Unconventional exercise can be frustrating as hell.  You can go from being able to string together 20+ unbroken pull ups on the perfect pull up bar in your gym, to grabbing onto an awkward tree branch and only being able to get 5.  Knowing that you have the ability to pick up a specific amount of weight, or perform a certain number of reps with a given movement, and the second you use a different object at that weight, or perform the movement on a different terrain, you just can not do it is emotionally draining.  Training like this tests so much more than your physical ability.  The fact that it can be so frustrating, helps better your emotional approach to difficult situations by allowing you to recognize them.

As you can see, it is hugely beneficial to use unconventional methods when training.  Oh, and I almost forgot:  GPP.  One of the most popular of CrossFit acronyms, this stands for General Physical Preparedness.  The greater the diversity of training methods one uses, the greater ability to perform in any situation one has.  This is very similar to what I mentioned above in terms of an athlete competing, and it can be used for any aspect of life.  If you challenge yourself in all ways, you will be better prepared in any situation.  So, go use a thick bar, use rocks and trees, water and sand.  Use cinder blocks, bricks, ropes, tires, doorways, stools, trucks and cars.  Use barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells and bumper plates, use it all!

Never Stop, GET FIT.

Josh Courage

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