Agility Ladders

The majority of people in what I call “the online training communities” are general strength and conditioning trainees. That means they are lifting, doing high intensity conditioning, but not much else. They may be competing in powerlifting, Olympic weightlifting or CrossFit, but those sports or competitions feature testing movements that are repeated over and over in training, albeit in different variations. Unfortunately some athletic elements are neglected, no matter how much CrossFit wants to claim athletic supremacy or strength trainees want to claim magical athletic prowess just because they are stronger.

(Here’s a completely inarticulate video about agility ladders. Watch Chris on the ladder — he’s very deft for a 310 pound guy)

General strength and conditioning training doesn’t include many dynamic movements that require re-positioning the body in space. Or any activities that require reaction to visual or other sensory stimulus. And there especially aren’t any rotation or lateral shear stresses on the spine, though we won’t be getting into that today. Instead, we’re focusing on those important athletic skills under the umbrella of “mobility” like agility, speed, balance, and overall kinesthetic coordination. These skills aren’t present in most general types of training, but are prevalent in high school, collegiate, and professional sport training programs. And I think it’s something everyone should utilize.

Agility, or foot work, drills are the easiest activity to add to your training. They aren’t significantly stressful, they can be done in a short amount of time, and can be done as part of your warm-up. Agility drills will also be a safe way for your lower leg structures to adapt to actual activity — stuff other than walking around and squatting. The drills will develop overall coordination, improve balance, and do so dynamically. It’s one thing to think, “I have good balance” when your feet are planted firmly under your shoulders, but it’s another thing entirely to move quickly and need to change direction without losing your balance. At the very least this is useful in a worst case scenario (dodging a moving car, fighting someone, etc.).

Agility ladder drills are a great way to perform foot drills and can be performed as part of the warm-up. I suggest doing your mobility work first, then go ahead and start on the ladder. Drills can be done for 5 to 10 minutes as a general warm-up before moving to your lifting schedule. Whatever drills you perform won’t be debilitating to your lifting, and if it is you are probably out of shape and need to do some conditioning work anyway. If you were going to lift maximally, then I would excuse you from agility work, but if you don’t compete in a strength sport I would have you do agility ladder drills as part of your warm-up every day. Especially for team sport athletes and soldiers.

I’m not going to get into the drills here — this is more of a post to teach the utility in doing agility ladder work — but some of the good ones include one foot in every hole (forward and lateral), one foot in every other hole (forward or lateral), single Ickey shuffle, double Ickey shuffle, and hop scotch. Running through each of those seven drills once will only take a few minutes. You can do two reps of each drill to get some more work in. The best drills are the single and double Ickey shuffles with the single version being the best. It’s excellent at teaching a person how to shift their weight laterally, how to maintain balance while changing directions, and improves foot speed. These drills can also be used as high intensity conditioning work, and you could even time your rest periods. If you aimed to use ladder drills as conditioning, then it would be okay to do them at the end of your training session (though your skill and agility development will be inhibited when you are fatigued).

Briefly, a point of emphasis in all agility work, including ladder drills, is to keep the feet under the hips. If the feet extend out in front, behind, or to the sides of the hips, then the base of support diminishes. Change of direction is dependent on having your feet under your center of mass to quickly apply force to stop or start, so keep the feet under the hips. To use the single Ickey shuffle as an example (which is what Chris and I do in the video above), must people will step too far lateral with their outside foot preventing a good base to push off that foot to move in the opposite direction — Chris does this a little bit. Keeping the feet under the hips is the key to agility and lateral speed. It’s also useful to burst into a ten yard sprint after completing the last segment of the ladder drill — it will teach the transition from agility or lateral movement to linear speed.

You can find cheap ladders on Amazon or sport stores, but I am partial to ladder segments that don’t slide up and down the straps. It can be quite annoying setting up a ladder with segments pushed around in a big bungle fuck. Most ladders are about 10 yards long, and that’s all you would need for training (we used a longer one in the above video).

If you want a new, interesting, method to warm-up and develop important athletic skills, then try out an agility ladder. When I played football I prided myself on my foot work and lateral speed, but that was probably due to the fact that I was linearly slow. Throw it in as a regular warm-up, or put it at the end of your workout for conditioning (doing agility work when tired is better than no agility work at all). Focus on a good, athletic body position (knees/hips bent, slight forward lean) with the feet under the hips. You’ll improve your coordination, perform conditioning that isn’t laborious, and ultimately improve your athletic ability with regular work.

Olympia

The Mr. Olympia bodybuilding competition occurred this past weekend. I’m not a huge fan of the bodybuilding competitions, male or female, since it has changed so much than the “glory days” in the ’60s and ’70s, yet there are still some interesting categories that include competitors that we can learn from.

I’ve posted some videos of Kai Greene on the site before (including mentioning him in “Contraction vs. Moving Weight” and “Bodybuilding, Fact or Fiction?“). Despite his best efforts, he only placed second at the Olympia underneath Phil Heath.

Erin Stern at the 2012 Figure Olympia

If you follow this site, you know I’m a fan of Erin Stern (I’ve written about her in posts such as “Hahd Werk“, “The Enemy“, and “Getting Girls to Train — Part 2“). She seems to have a great personality, sets a good example for good year-round nutritional and training habits, and trains explosively (with track work and some Olympic lifts). Well, Erin won first place in the figure category this past weekend, so congratulations to her (video of finals is here). The figure category is a step down from the bodybuilding category — the latter consists of creepily ‘roided-out women while the former is a more natural, healthy look.

Other categories include bikini, which is a fairly new style of competition that puts less emphasis on muscle mass and seemingly has no quantifiable judging criteria (though it can be entertaining for men — video of the finals for proof). Another interesting female category is “fitness”; these competitors are judged on both their physiques as well as a fitness routine that requires impressive ability. This typically attracts shorter, athletic girls with gymnastics or dance backgrounds. 40-year-old Adela Garcia won her seventh Fitness Olympia title this past weekend (video of the fitness routines here). I’d also point your attention to Oksana Grishina, a Russian and former gymnast; her routine was pretty impressive and I’ve heard grumbling that she should have won.

Oksana Grishina is another role model for consistency and athleticism

You may wonder why this post is about physique competitions when 70′s Big makes a point to acquire physique through performance training. I think that figure and fitness competitors set themselves apart from bodybuilding since their form is the result of function (especially for the fitness competitors). We poopoo bodybuilding as a whole, but the truth is that there are many good role models to look up to — consistent and hard-training people like Erin Stern or the impressive Adela Garcia, a 40-year-old woman who can “out-athlete” anyone half her age.

Sure, our end goal or training methods are different, but there is still a lot we can learn from these women. Erin Stern, for example, stays quite lean year-round with healthy eating — something that’s incredibly difficult mentally and physically. She commits herself to excellency not only in the gym, but outside of it. That is certainly a lesson that we, male or female, can benefit from. I can think of worse female role models than hard-working women who eat right and set goals.

We can all learn something from Erin Stern’s work ethic

 

The Revolutionary Guide to Manly Short Shorts

Yes it’s true, I wear short shorts un-apologetically. And you should too.

Exhibit A

What I’m talking about is drawing a line in the sand. Unchecked aggression. We have a dedicated enemy, a worthy fucking adversary. Men. Women. This is what we’re up against (Exhibit A).

The metrosexual. The skinny guy. The college kid. The hipster. The hippy. They come in many forms, yet they are all the same. And they’re trying to steal America away from us! It’s time to make a stand, and we do that by proudly revealing two meaty, bouldering thighs that emit a testosterone-filled musk that inspire women to savagely claw at your hairy chest, urging you to take them to the promised land.

This is your density.

If we are to make a stand, to show this country that masculinity is not only en vogue, but necessary to teach young children that waify, frail, useless humans are not the future, that children can work hard and have something to show for it, then we must — repeat MUST — reduce the length of our shorts. It is the only way; it is known. (By the way, I don’t know what “en vogue” means, but I think you can take penicillin for it.)

I will teach you the way of the short shorts. I will begin as a leader, but evolve into a member of the resistance, the last chance we have at rescuing the children — THE CHILDREN! Let me show you the way.

What Short Shorts Are Not

As indicated above, evoking masculinity through your short choice does not start with khaki. Sure, khaki must inevitably be worn if you are dragged to a quasi-nice house party in the middle of the summer, but my friend Jeremy and his wife can attest to the fact that I showed up to a quiet house party and not only was I the only one not in a collared shirt, I was the only one wearing short shorts and a tank-top. At first I thought, “This is mildly inappropriate, especially since I don’t know these people.” Then I embraced it, because this is our last hurrah in the “I’m A Little Pansy-Man Frontier”.

Exhibit B

And in case you were curious, masculinity is not emitted in the form of rolled up jean shorts, capris, or shorts that have fake paint splattered on them (Exhibit B). GOD DAMN IT, A REAL MAN SPLATTERS HIS OWN PAINT ON A CUTOFF PAIR OF LEVIS THAT HE HAD TO CUT BECAUSE HIS THIGHS GREW TOO FUCKING BIG FROM SQUATTING HIS DICK OFF EVERY WEEK. This, by the way, is the only acceptable reason to own or wear jean shorts. And if you do wear them, for fuck’s sake…put on some underwear.

Make no mistake, short shorts are not a show of style; they are a show of attitude. Keep this in mind when selecting your shorts. I don’t even understand “style” anyway.

The only exception to wearing capri pants is if your name is Arnold Shwarzenegger in the ’70s and you cut the bottoms of your pants off to remind yourself how skinny your calves are. The only other acceptable reason is if you are a prisoner of war and the enemy is making you wear them to psychologically weaken you. But then you could just rip the bottoms off to make short shorts, and then use the torn pieces to wear a sweet headband.

What Short Shorts Are

Short shorts are a necessary social statement that say, “I’m a man, damn it.” Either that or “Eat shit, skinny guy.” There are several requirements to pulling off the short shorts.

1. Be muscular. 

This should be a no-brainer, but once we start this bandwagon, everyone is gonna want to join. You can’t make a statement about masculinity when you don’t embody the evolutionary male archetype. That’d be like Martin Luther King, Jr. staging a civil rights sit-in protest as a nerdy white guy. If the line of your thigh from your knees to your hips is straight, then you do not qualify.

Additionally, “muscular” means there is shape to your quads instead of just a fatty log. Clean up your diet and clap dem cheeks let your quads boulder out over each other. The more those striations pop, the more effective your message, especially when you just got done squatting over 4 or 500 pounds.

2. Don’t be creepy. 

The last thing we want when trying to induce a lustful rage in women and inspire children is to give them the “I’m a creepy uncle” or “no-no” feeling. If you’re pretty fat and hairy, you’re gonna creep them out. Sorry dude, that’s just how it is. Get less fat by cleaning up your diet, and reduce the scare of your hairy-ass thighs by getting them in the sun. A tan/hairy specimen is much better than a pale/hairy one.

This last part is the most important part: trim your pubes. I don’t know where it became cool to not trim certain body hair, but if you don’t trim your groin area, and you inevitably put your foot up on the couch when talking to your nieces, you don’t want your ball hair to protrude out and tickle their noses. Please, think of the children. If you aren’t willing to trim, well, maybe short shorts are not for you.

3. Don’t wear a t-shirt.

Unless you’re doing squad PT, take that ridiculous shirt off. The sun is out, it’s over 70 degrrees (F), and you should enjoy some quality Vitamin D. Go shirtless or bump a sweet tank top. The best tank top I’ve ever seen is this “bear wearing sunglasses” one that my friend Norman has. Note that rocking a tank-top or going shirtless requires the machoism to shine from your upper body too, so hurry up and press over 200, bench over 300, and then do at least 1,000 barbell rows every week.

4. Don’t neglect the hams

One of the worst things you can do for our cause — other than make a child sneeze with your pube hair — is to not develop your hamstrings. We aren’t mirror lifters. So RDL your fucking face off. With, like, a bajillion reps a week.

5. Have the right shorts. 

Exhibit C

And finally to the equipment section. Some of you may remember the sweet shorts that Arnold Schwarzenegger wore in Pumping Iron (Exhibit C). These were undoubtedly my inspiration.

I don’t know how Arnold came across some used high school football shorts, but he inadvertently set the tone for our social movement. Though I will point out that wearing Keds with long socks is a bit out of style. That’ll put you in the “creepy” category, especially if you’re hairy and fat.

When shopping for a pair of shorts, ensure that a) there is a liner inside of them and b) the tip of your dugan is not easily visible when viewing the front of your shorts. The liner will help hold your junk in place, and the “not showing your mushroom tip” will prevent us from being banned from cable television. Oh, and Marine Corps “silkies” made by Soffee will inevitably outline your wang, so steer away from those. And if your dong isn’t outlined, you probably should stop wearing them now that everyone knows it’s supposed to be outlined and they’ll just think you have a wee little pee-pee.

Exhibit D

People usually ask where I get my shorts (Exhibit D), and I usually get them on military bases/posts for about $10 a pair. Soffees are pretty cheap on their website, but then you run into that “everyone is drinking in the view of my bone” thing. Feel free to post other brands to the comments, but I highly recommend having a liner in your shorts. The last thing anyone needs is an “accidental ballsack discharge” or “peek-a-boo-wiener”.

Fight the Good Fight

Remember, every time you clothe yourself in the morning you make a statement. Do you want that statement to say, “I will conform to how skinny, no-lifting puke-faces are shaping modern society”? Or will you say, “God damn it, I’m a man”? I know some of you have real jobs and can’t show up to work wearing short shorts, but the aforementioned Jeremy routinely shows up to the office wearing multi-colored cowboy boots and a beard. He paves his own way.

We shall take back America!

Join the resistance — WEAR SHORT SHORTS!

Belts Redux

I just finished my third day of driving, so don’t expect the great American novel. I’ve been listening to a lot of the Paleo Solution Podcast with Robb Wolf and Greg Everett. It’s a solid podcast, mostly because it’s probably kept me awake and not dead. While listening earlier, some random guy was writing in about belts. The guy asking the question cited something Rippetoe said about wearing flared belts backwards (Greg snickered) and then referenced ME. But he didn’t even reference me correctly, he took something I said out of context.

A long time ago when I still lived in Texas I noted on 70′s Big how I wore a velcro belt for the Olympic lifts (because the bar would hit my suede belt if I wore it), the suede belt on squat and press, and a thinner leather belt for deadlifts (because the suede belt pinched me when I was just a boy). Nowadays I just wear the suede belt on everything (including clean and jerk). I wasn’t recommending that everyone do the above, merely pointing out what I did at the time. Greg interrupted himself from reading the question and said pointedly, “Everyone on the internet is wrong.” I just stopped the podcast right there and said aloud to my dogs, “Can’t do it.”

It’s natural for me to get lumped in with Rippetoe considering I managed his gym for a year and half, but I haven’t been there in over two years so equating us would be inaccurate. But I’m more talking about my shame, man, my shame! I actually don’t know if I should be ashamed cause I didn’t finish listening.

Look, I don’t know what the hell I’m talking about. I’ve been driving for three days straight and I’m about to go to sleep; things aren’t coherent. I just wanted to add some information to the plethora of belt knowledge in the archives and it sounded like a good intro. We get new readers all the time, so covering old topics will never hurt.

Cool pic of Dr. Di Pasquale and his belt

1. Belts improve performance
Chris’ master’s thesis looked at comparing a belted and un-belted 1RM in trained lifters (guys who could squat at least 1.5 times body weight). Everyone, including the guy who had never worn a belt before, squatted more in their belted attempts in this blind study (i.e. they didn’t know what weight was on the bar). Even Brent squatted more, and he most likely aimed to do the opposite just to fuck with the study. The sample size was small (7 guys or so), yet it’s the only study that looks at the performance of the belt as opposed to the obvious pressure increased caused by wearing the belt. Which leads us to…

2. Belts increase pressure
I put this in here because the guy asking Robb/Greg the question wasn’t technically correct. The belt increases pressure in two ways. The first is that it decreases the volume of the trunk. If we assume the same big breath of air (same quantity) with the decreased volume, Boyle’s Law shows us that the pressure increases. The second is that the abdominals contract harder into the surface area of the belt. The result is an increase of pressure in a) the intraabdominal cavity and b) the intrathoracic cavity. These are two distinct areas and they both have a resultant pressure increase.

3. There’s a training effect from chronic belt use.
People always ask, “How much more weight should I be able to squat with a belt?” It doesn’t work like that; there isn’t a standardized amount that you can accomplish with and without a belt. And even if there was, it would be an individualized thing. If you accept that the abdominals contract harder (and this can be felt after the first few belted sessions — the abs are distinctly sore), then that means they are trained differently (i.e. more) when belted. After a given amount of time, say 8 weeks, the trainee will be stronger with a belt than they would have been without the belt. Since pretty much everyone squats more with a belt, that means the un-belted strength will also have increased more compared to if the trainee had never worn the belt in that 8 weeks.

4. Belts improve efficiency, safety.
The pressure increases in the torso act as a pneumatic brace against the anterior portion of the spine. This “air brace” helps stabilize and solidify the trunk, allowing for all of the force of the working muscles to be transferred into the bar. This extra stabilization also means that the trunk is safer than it would be if the belt were not being used. Remember: in lifting, safety = efficiency.

5. Inzer makes great belts.
I highly recommend Inzer belts for their great quality and durability. They were kind enough to send Chris several belts to use for his study.

6. You are not Russian.
There are a lot of assholes like Brent who think they don’t need a belt. Hey, if you’ve been lifting since you were nine years old and were given exemplary supplements, you’d be so jacked you wouldn’t need a belt. But you aren’t. You’re just some dude who picked up the sport recently. You are not a beautiful snowflake; you’re just some crusty piece of ice falling from Klokov’s frozen ball hair. Put the belt on. Or don’t, I don’t care.

To read more about belts and other gear, see this post.

York Barbell Products

I guess you could say I’m an unofficial York Barbell rep and this will benefit you if you’re in the market for some equipment. I can get you in excess of 25% off on quality strength training equipment (depending on the product). Unfortunately if you go to the York Barbell website, it’s difficult to find the products you are probably interested in (ex. Olympic weightlifting stuff compared to fitness barbells). I have the catalogs that are full of power bars, Olympic weightlifting bars, plates (iron/bumper), dumbbells, squat stands, racks, etc. If you’re interested in browsing or you know you want to make a purchase, E-MAIL ME and I can help get you the catalog and the quote (including shipping).

I’ve lifted with different kinds of York equipment and seem to prefer it over other brands. Iron york plates that have hard edges stay on the bar better when you’re squatting and since the diameter of the hole is tighter, the bar doesn’t flop to the side when you’re deadlifting. Some of you have probably done some Olympic lifting on a York power bar that has been called something else. I’ve even used this particular bar to power clean and power snatch, and it was pretty fluid for a power bar! If you’ve used a cheap bar for your Olympic lifts, then I feel sorry for you. The other day I did power cleans in a fitness facility and about broke my damn wrists trying to turn the bar over — crappy bars will not spin.

I own the York Olympic training bar, and I love it. I can feel it’s whip in the middle of my pulls, especially as I pull the first part of my clean off the floor and when I dip/drive for the jerk. My first opportunity to go heavy in the Olympic lifts was in early August since nationals (mid June), and I clean and jerked 155kg (157 at nats) and kinda passed out after a 160kg clean (I’ve got the whole passing out thing taken care of). I know the whip of the training bar I was using was critical in sticking the jerks as they got heavier. The bar just seemed to rebound and rubber band it’s way to my lockout position. A beautiful feeling.

So if you’re interested in stuff for your gym or your basement/garage, send me an e-mail and you can browse the catalog. I’ve even used the squat stands, which are standard for Olympic weightlifters and the next best thing to a full rack. Shoot me an E-MAIL and we’ll get it rolling. Dealing with crappy equipment is never fun.