Monday, September 27, 2010

A Journey of Strength (Part 1)

recently read a book called "Convict Conditioning" about using ones own bodyweight for strength training. Really loved the concept and I have applied some of those principles to our training program. I have seen athlete after athlete come through our doors and not be able to squat or lunge with proper form, do a basic Push Up or a Pull Up. Walk into virtually any gym in the world and you will find any number of pumped up athletes who think that they are "strong" athletes because they can bench press a heavy bar, have eighteen inch arms or look big in a tank top or T-shirt.

But how many of them are truly strong?

  1. How many of them have genuine athletic strength they can use?
  2. How many of them could drop and give you twenty perfect one-arm Push Ups?
  3. How many have the pure knee and hip strength to squat right down to the ground and stand up again - on one leg?
  4. How many of them could grab hold of an overhead bar and execute a flawless one-arm Pull Up?

    The answer is
    Almost none.

    You will find almost no athlete today, whether it is a FOOTBALL to SOFTBALL athlete who can perform these simple body-weight feats. In today's sports performance world being able to bench press 300 lb, power clean (who cares about technique) 400 lbs, flip a monster truck tire (my biggest pet peeve) 100 yards has become the accepted status quo of ultimate conditioning. This seems like total insanity to me. What does it matter how much weight you claim to be able to lift in a gym or on a special machine? How can somebody be considered to be "strong" if they can not move their own body around as nature itended.

    Calisthenics is not a word commonly heard much in strength circles anymore, indeed, most personal trainers would have trouble even spelling it. The word itself has been used in the English language since at least the nineteenth century, but the term has very ancient origins. It comes from the ancient Greek kallos meaning, "beauty", and sthénos, which means "strength."

    Calisthenics is basically the art of using the body's own weight and qualities of inertia as a means of physical development. Unfortuantley modern calisthenics is not really understood as a hardcore strength training technology. If you mention calisthenics today, most people would think only of high reptition Push Ups, crunches (a worthless exercise), and less taxing exercises like jumping jacks or running on the sport. Calisthenics has become a secondary option, a cheap form of circuit training more like an aerobic exercise. But it wasn't always this way.

    I could pretty much write a thesis on why old school calisthenics is in a different league to modern, gym-based training. But since space is short, I'm going to stick to the basics. Here are six dang important reasons where old school calisthenics scores over other, more modern methods:

    1. Bodyweight Training Requires Very Little Equipment: There has never been a system of strength training more perfectly in harmony with the principles of independence and economy, and there never will be. Even the most ardent weightlifter will have to admit this fact. For the master of calisthenics, his or her body becomes a gymnasium
    2. Bodyweight Training Develops Useful, Functional Athletic Abilities:Calisthenics is the ultimate in functional training. In most sports, the human body doesn't need to move barbells or dumbbells around. Before it can move anything external at all, it has to be able to move itself around!
    3. Bodyweight Training Maximizes Strength: Calisthenics movements are the most efficient exercises possible, because they work the body as it evolved to work; not by using individual muscles, or the portions of a muscle, but as in an integrated unit. This means developing the tendons, joints, and nervous system as well as the muscles.
    4. Bodyweight Training Protects the Joints and Makes Them Stronger - For Life: One of the major problems with modern forms of strength and resistance training is the damage they do to the joints. The joints of the body are supported by delicate soft tissues - tendons, fascia, ligaments and bursae - which are simply not evolved to take the pounding of heavy weight training. Weak areas include the wrists, elbows, knees, lower back, hips, and the rhomboid - complex, spine and neck. The shoulders are particularly susceptible to damage from bodybuilding motions.
    5. Bodyweight Training Quickly Develops the Physique to Perfection: Strength and health should be the major goals of your training. You need to be as powerful and functional as you possibly can be, for long time into your old age. Calisthenics can give you that.
    6. Bodyweight Training Normalizes and Regulates Your Body Fat Levels: Weight-training and the psychology of overeating go hand in hand.Before a hard session, an athlete convinces themselves that if they eat more, they'll lift better and put on beef. After a hard session, an athlete is artificially depleted and his appetite increases accordingly. The opposite dynamic occurs when an athlete begins training seriously in calisthenics. If obesity and bodybuilding are best friends, obesity and calisthenics arenatural enemies. If your goal is to bench press 300 lbs., you could overeat as much as you like and probably still meet your goal despite carrying around a massive gut. But you couldn't set a goal doing one-arm Pull Ups with out watching your bodyweight. Nobody ever became better at calisthenics by bulking up into a big fat pig.
    In the next several newsletters I will take you on a Journey of Strength.If you would like to take that Journey than make a commitment to your - self and joining me on this journey. If you would like to join just post your commitment on our Facebook Page.

Your Coach,
Wade, P. (2010). Convict condtioning. St. Paul, MN: Dragon Door Puclications, Inc.