|Posted by Strength & Speed on April 15, 2021 at 4:40 PM|
As I run out of things to say about the physical side of preparing, competing and performing, I have started actually using my undergraduate psychology degree from Johns Hopkins combined with some critical thinking to deep dive into the mind of athletes.
This deep dive will eventually culminate with my book, coming out in 2021 called “On Endurance: A Practical Guide to Unlocking the Secrets of Super Human Performance”. The book focuses on the mental side of endurance training and performance. Thus instead of being an Obstacle Course Racing (OCR) specific book it can be used by anyone competing in any endurance sports like running, cycling, triathlon or even sports we wouldn’t necessarily consider endurance. Endurance is largely self-identified based off pervious life experiences and future goals. For example, a two minute max effort strongman event might be what you consider endurance as a strength athlete, and this book will help you mentally prepare for that.
An unintended side effect of this contemplationon the mental side of endurance training is I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be an athlete. Some of that material doesn’t necessarily make the final cut of the book due to it not fitting well with the overall logical line of thought, so you get some articles on what is going on inside the athlete’s mind.
Check back here over the next couple of weeks to explore the mind of athletes with the first two articles “You’re Only as Good as Your Last Race” and “If I’m not an athlete, then what?”
|Posted by Strength & Speed on November 19, 2018 at 5:50 PM|
When I say the word ultra-endurance to people they typically think skinny runner logging a ton of miles that probably can’t do a single pull-up. However, there is a world where you need ultra-endurance running capability combined with ultra-strength in your upper body, it is called Ultra-Obstacle Course Racing (Ultra-OCR). This is the world I train for, enjoy and thrive in.
Ultra-OCR usually involves running for a set period of time (usually 6, 8, 12 or 24 hours) on a course that is around five miles in length with around 20 obstacles. It is the big brother of OCR which usually runs between one and 13 miles of obstacles on a single lap course. In OCR and Ultra-OCR, sometimes the obstacles are very easy like crawling through this pipe, swimming across the body of water or going over a five foot wall. Other times the obstacles look like something out of ninja warrior with monkey bars, rotating wheels and hanging grips. Sometimes it involves strength like carrying a sandbag or turning a heavy crank attached to a several hundred pound sled, yet other times it tests your fears through things like ice baths, electricity and 40 foot cliff jumps.
These are the races I run and to prepare for them I train with weights. To effectively do obstacles for 8 or 24 hours, you need to overload your body with the progressive stress of weights. I use three main products in my training and used these extensively as I prepared for then completed the record setting 48 hour Ultra-OCR Endure The Gauntlet, a charity event that raised money for Folds of Honor (scholarship money for children whose parents were killed or wounded in US Military service).
1) Harbinger Big Grip Bar Grips: Grip strength is of paramount importance in OCR and Ultra-OCR so there is no better tool than Big Grip Bar Grips so you are working on grip strength with every single exercise. Anytime I touch a bar, my grips go on them. It ensures I am constantly stressing grip regardless of the exercise.
2) Harbinger Dip Belt: Too often athletes I train and work with will focus on bodyweight only exercises. While can be great for sport specific movements, it often leads to a plateau. Athletes will get better and once they reach a certain level they no longer have to adapt to get stronger. This is where the dip belt comes in and is great for things like dips or weighted pull-ups. The ability to add insane weights lets you overload the muscle. This is a feeling I know all too well after trying to cross a set of monkey bars for the 15th time after 18 hours of running/walking.
3) Harbinger Weight Vest: Besides the Big Grip Bar Grips, this is a staple of Ultra-OCR training. The extreme races require you to wear a wetsuit to prevent hypothermia. It is unfeasible to train in a wetsuit in most conditions. However, you can wear a weight vest for practicing obstacles with a similar amount of additional weight on your body. Whether you are doing hill repeats to strengthen the legs, climbing over a wall or crossing a rig, Harbinger’s weight vest with adjustable weights gives you the tools you need for success.
Strength training is not just for bodybuilders, powerlifters or strength athletes. It isn’t even just for Ultra-OCR athletes. Strength training is for all athletes. The strength and power developed from working with weights can fix imbalances, build bone density, increase testosterone and make you a better athlete in your chosen sport. Train hard and go out and crush your goals
|Posted by Strength & Speed on November 24, 2017 at 9:45 AM|
1. Captain America
As if there was ever a doubt…Captain America, the superhero created using drugs. Captain America’s “super serum” is real, but modern day people call it steroids and human growth hormone. They literally inject him with this stuff and he goes from skinny to jacked. While actual performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) require more work, the concept is still the same. Even my favorite group of nerds over at Dorkly agree with me. Check out this video:
Batman’s juiced up, back breaking enemy is definitely on drugs. Instead of “super serum” he calls it “Venom”. I’m assuming that it is a mix of steroids, HGH plus probably a couple of other things. Maybe that singlet is hiding the gynocomastia around his nipples. I would say Bane is a pretty open and shut case too.
3. The Incredible Hulk
While not quite as bad as the top two injecting themselves to achieve their massive physiques, I am pretty sure gamma radiation would fall be banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) if it gave you super strength instead of just making you sick and giving you cancer. At 7 ft. tall and 1040 lbs. I do not think there is much grey area there (unless you are Grey Hulk….nerd pun!)
1000+ pounds with chest striations and veins?
Alright Bruce Wayne is not on the definite list, but I’m throwing him up there as very suspect. I mean the guy runs a billion dollar company, fights crime almost every night and still has time to train to be in top shape? Something has to give. He probably says they are “for recovery” like some of the baseball players were citing. Definitely suspect….luckily there are not drug tests to enter the Justice League.
Do I really care my super heroes are doped up? No not really, but I think it is good to look at things from more than one angle instead of just accepting things at face value. What do you think? Did I miss any known super hero or super villain egregious PED users? Comment below or on the Facebook post that led you here.
|Posted by Strength & Speed on October 2, 2017 at 11:10 PM|
This is the final article in the series. The first one covered a general overview, the second one covered crushing (open and closed hand), the third one talked about pinching (open and closed hand) and now to complete the cube we will talk about intensity along with supporting exercises.
Working on intensity it just a matter of working your rep schemes for any of the above training tools. If you want to improve your 1 rep max strength you are going to follow very low reps, such as five and below. If you want to work on endurance, you are going to follow higher reps, like 8-20. Both are important for OCR. While most obstacles are primarily endurance focused, 1 rep max strength is also important as demonstrated by anyone who has grabbed an extra wide bar on a rig but failed to have the strength to hold on.
You may be thinking, where do all those wrist curls and reverse wrist curls come into play for grip strength? Exercises like that will strengthen the forearm, which help stabilize the hand providing power and muscle balance. Bottom line is you still want to finish off your grip strength focused workout(s) with some standard forearm curls, reverse forearms curls and weighted wrist rotations to ensure you have covered all the facets of grip strength. Just like with pinch grip training, if you are going to purchase grip tools, focus on crushing tools first before buying items that focus on support muscles. Items like:
Heavy Hammer II or Wrist Reinforcer: These are basically an adjustable dumbbell but you can only add weight to one side, making what resembles a weighted hammer. Where it differs is the handle is thicker than a normal handle so not only is it training those supporting muscles but also working your crushing open hand grip.
Twist Yo’ Wrist and One Wicked Wrist Roller: Both are variations of a piece of gym equipment I rarely see anymore. They involve twisting a spool (Twist Yo’ Wrist) or a bar (One Wicked Wrist Roller) with a weight dangling from a rope. As you twist the rope gets wrapped around the spool or bar pulling the weight higher. These definitely burn the forearms as the weight reaches closer to the top and fatigue sets in.
Wrist curls, Reverse Wrist Curls and Wrist Rotations: Finally, using standard dumbbells, or if you have them available thick bar dumbbells, wrist curls and reverse wrist curls are great to finish off your forearm training. These are great for a final forearm pump at the end of your workout. Adding in some rotations while holding a weight, helps build endurance in those supporting muscles along your forearm. While most people can go pretty heavy in wrist curls, reverse wrist curls and rotation will require you to drop the weight significantly due to the smaller muscles involved. You can even use a thicker barbell to further stress your crushing open hand strength.
After four posts, we have covered the eight facets of grip strength in depth. If this did not satisfy your quest for the ultimate grip strength knowledge be sure to look at www.Ironmind.com and think about ordering their publication MILO. Specifically be sure to check out the June 2016 issue, which has an article by me. In those articles I list one of my favorite grip strength workouts for Obstacle Course Racing, which uses a mix of Ironmind store bought products and items found around the gym. If you have ever raced and failed an obstacle due to inadequate grip strength, then you are not going to want to miss these training tips. MILO is the only place this specific workout has ever been published since my book had already gone to the publishers by the time I developed these techniques. Do not miss it.
|Posted by Strength & Speed on September 18, 2017 at 11:05 PM|
Last article I covered crushing, which is the main prime mover for grip strength related to Obstacle Course Racing (OCR). Crushing is where you should spend the majority of your effort and the majority of your money when purchasing grip tools. However, having good pinching ability is still relevant for a couple of reasons. First, it creates a well-rounded athlete. Second, you never know what the course designers are going to throw at you.
Since pinching is less relevant to OCR, I would spend my money first on crushing products and improvise for pinching products. However, if your birthday wish list still has a couple of empty spots on it, here are some options:
Blockbuster Pinch Grip: The Blockbuster Pinch Grip is essentially a block with an eyelet at the bottom, which allows it to be connected to a loading pin or a pulley machine. Just as with any attachment, this can be used an a pulley machine to turn any of your exercises into a pinch grip exercise such as upright rows, one arm triceps pull-down, one arm lat pull-down, lateral raise, reverse lateral raise or front raise.
IMTUG: IMTUG are what appear to be mini-grippers. However, IMTUG are not grippers for children, they are smaller versions of their big brother Captains of Crush (COC) that are designed for individual finger strengthening. By using only a couple of fingers on IMTUG you can improve your pinch grip along with strengthening individual digits. Just like COC, there are various levels to test your pinching ability. Unlike COC, the IMTUG are rated differently so just because you can close an IMTUG No. 3 do not think that you will be able to close a COC No. 3.
Pinching thin plates together: Without buying any fancy equipment you can still train pinch grip by plate pinching. Pinching two plates, whether they be Olympic style bumper plates or the standard barbell plates (you will probably max out at 25 lbs. plates for both, style of plate and exercise dependent). These can be used for low carries, holds for time, shrugs or upright rows. All work muscles in your upper body while simultaneously enhancing your pinch grip.
Hub: The hub is designed after the center hole of a York 45 lbs. plates. Although you can still find gyms with York plates that allow for hub lifts, most people I have met cannot lift the 45 lbs. plate initially. By purchasing the hub you can incrementally work your way up to the 45 lbs. goal using either the loading pin to add weight or a pulley machine.
Titan’s Telegraph: If you are looking or a piece of equipment that just does pinch gripping, then Titan’s Telegraph is for you. The machine looks like a giant telegraph that you add weight to and practice pinch griping closed. If the little IMTUG gripers are not doing it for you, this will take training to the next level and allow you to find tune the amount of weight you are adding to your pinch grip training.
Pinching thick plates together: If you do not want to spend the extra money, pinch grip training can be accomplished by pinching plates together. To work your open hand pinch grip try using thicker plates whether that be thicker versions of standard plate loaded weights in your gym or the rubberized Olympic plates. Just like training with thinner plates while pinch gripping, these can be used for low carries, holds for time, shrugs, upright rows or even lateral raises.
With many options for pinch grip training from Ironmind and around your gym, a well-rounded training routine using all aspects of the cube will help advance your grip strength. Although not the primary grip facet used for obstacle course racing (OCR), you should not neglect pinch gripping in your training. After all, the world of OCR is constantly changing and the only real limit is the imagination of the course designers.
|Posted by Strength & Speed on September 4, 2017 at 10:55 PM|
If you missed the last post about Ironmind’s methodology for training, be sure to go back and review it now. Now that you have a basic understanding of the 8 facets of grip strength, we will examine some of Ironmind’s more popular products to help you improve specifically as it relates to Obstacle Course Racing.
Captains of Crush (COC) Grippers: COC Grippers take gripper training to a new level. These are not the cheap grippers you will find a sporting goods store where you can do 30 repetitions while driving your car, these are serious training tools that require concentration and time spent in the gym, just like any other exercise. They provide strength along a full range of motion by stressing open hand crushing at the beginning and closed hand crushing at the end. They come in various strengths from Novice (rated at 60 lbs.) to Number 4 (rated at 365 lbs.). I recommend purchasing 1.5 or lower since I have yet to meet someone in person that can consistently close a Number 2.
Little Big Horn: Little Big Horn is an attachment that is shaped like the point of an anvil. This unique shape provides closed hand crushing training by presenting an odd shape to grab. This can be used not only for low rep near max lifts for strength improvement, but can also be used as an attachment to a pulley machine for endurance focused training.
Silver Bullet (and Silver Bullet Disc): Using a COC Gripper with the Silver Bullet accessory you can change COC Grippers from low repetition maximum strength training to primarily endurance focused. Closing the gripper with the silver bullet in between the legs of the gripper allows you to hang weight from it and hold the gripper closed for time.
Any other thin bar training options (such as a normal dumbbell or barbell): This does not require specific tools but anytime you grab a bar in the gym, that is crushing closed hand training. Whether that involves regular pull-ups or standard dumbbell farmers carries, you are working crushing, closed hand and endurance.
Rolling Thunder: Rolling Thunder is a thick bar attachment where the center can rotate. The standard method for using this is attaching it to a loading pin and doing one arm deadlifts. However, it can also be used as a handle for almost any exercise you would normally use at the pulley station from one arm lat pull downs, to reverse grip tricep extensions to single arm curls.
Eagle Loops: These are fabric loops for your fingers that attach to a dumbbell or pulley machine. By putting your fingers through the loops, it forces your hand into an open hand position while exercising. They can be used for lat pulldowns and cable rows, but they can also be attached to a dumbbell for things like bent over dumbbell row. Using less than the full four fingers in the Eagle Loops can help target individual fingers along and in focus on specific parts of your forearms.
Endless Loops: Although endless loops are not a tool that can be used by themselves for grip strength training, they can be used to build a rig. By looping the sewn heavy duty fabric loops over the crossbeam of a pulley machine and adding in different grips like rings, climbing holds and ropes, it creates a mini-rig in your gym. This allows you to practice traversing from one side to the other and then back to the beginning. The medium, long or extra-long loops are going to provide you with an appropriate length of material to ensure you can tie a girth hitch over the crossbeam and on the attachment.
Any other thick bar training options including Olympic Husky Handle Dumbbell Bar: Whenever you grab any thick bar or oversized handle, it is also working open hand crushing strength. This can be accomplished through a special bar or simply by doing pull ups on different objects like the crossbeam of a pulley station, support structure of a squat rack or the top of the Smith machine. Basically look around the gym and be creative when choosing where you plan on doing pull-ups.
This Is just a sample of crushing grip training options using a mix of store bought equipment (from www.Ironmind.com) and objects already in your local gym. Not everything needs to be purchased to enhance your grip strength training, but having a couple of products with you in your gym bag can help take things the next level. Finally, as you continue your grip strength journey, be sure to be creative and find your own awkwardly shaped objects and techniques for training your grip.
|Posted by Strength & Speed on August 15, 2017 at 10:50 AM|
One of the things I have been telling people about Obstacle Course Racing (OCR) is that although the sport itself is new, the problems facing the athletes are not new. So when looking to improve various aspects of OCR I look towards other sports to solve the problems at hand. For improving endurance for events like World’s Toughest Mudder (24 hr OCR) I look to ultra-runners. For maintaining a lean physique with low body fat but quality muscle I look towards the bodybuilders. So when it came time to improve grip strength, I look towards the people who turned it into a sport on its own, Ironmind.
Ironmind is a website for serious grip strength training. In fact it is so serious they have competitions that revolve around the various aspects of grip strength including but not limited to the ability to bend nails, close grippers, hold grippers closed for time and a variety of lifts using what I call non-standard holds. One of the key aspects of Ironmind’s training methodology is the Crushed to Dust Cube. This cube provides eight different facets of grip strength broken into three categories:
Prime mover: Crushing (majority of power provided by four fingers)
Vs. Pinching (majority of power provided by thumb)
These prime movers can each be broken down into open hand or closed hand positions.
Crushing: The primary force holding the object is coming from your four fingers and not your thumb.
Closed Hand: Used when finishing off a gripper, grapping a thin monkey bar or carrying a jerry can with a thin handle
Open Hand: When lifting a thick bar, carrying a weighted bucket, grabbing a thick monkey bar, or the top of a wall
Pinching: The primary force holding the object is coming from your thumb rather than your four fingers.
Closed Hand: When gripping a thin object like a barbell plate
Open Hand: When you pinch a thick object like bumper plates
Each of these four options can be trained using two different modes of intensity.
Intensity: One Rep Max: Used when grabbing an awkward shaped obstacle or powering through a tough obstacle like the Platinum Rig.
Endurance: The ability to repeatedly use the above techniques over the course of a race, whether that be a 8 mile Spartan Super, a 6.5 hour Battlefrog Xtreme or a 24 hour World’s Toughest Mudder.
The two different intensities multiplied by the two different hand positions of the two different prime movers creates 8 total facets of grip strength. Additionally a supporting role is played by the wrist/forearm and the extensors to stabilize the hand. By doing thing like wrist curls and reverse wrist curls it specifically targets these supporting muscles.
For obstacle course racing, we want to focus on primarily crushing by doing both closed hand and open hand work. This is due to the variety of objects we grab over the course of an event from extra wide bars, tops of walls, thin monkey bars and objects used for farmer’s carries. However, in order to be well rounded some pinching work should be incorporated because you never know what obstacles the course designed will throw at you. While this may still be confusing for some, in the next post I will give you specific exercises associated with each and tools you can make or purchase to enhance the 8 facets of grip strength.
|Posted by Strength & Speed on June 5, 2017 at 10:15 PM|
As a lifetime drug free athlete I post about Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs) a lot, probably more than I should. However, I try to provide Strength & Speed with new, interesting and fresh content. Many of my friends no longer subscribe to magazines like FLEX, Muscle & Fitness or do not pick up new ones like Bodybuilding.com’s Train because the content is just rehashed year after year. How long can you tell people to lift weights, follow rep schemes and eat high protein healthy food. There is only so much you can write about the topic without just reusing information.
None of the above magazines ever talk about PEDs. The only fitness magazine I have found that takes about PEDs is Muscular Development (MD). MD is generally “pro-steroid” but still gives out advice like consider risks and understand side effects prior to use. While steroid use seems very obvious to me when I look at bodybuilders or fitness models due to years of reading magazines, reading books and watching documentaries, it is not obvious to the average consumer. When I first started reading these magazines, I thought no one used steroids because drugs are illegal and bad, so why would anyone use them? However, after spending some time in the fitness industry you realize that major stars like Stallone, Schwarzenegger, The Rock, Mark Wahlberg and Van Dam have all used them at one point (they all admitted it or their usage signs were very obvious).
As a drug free bodybuilder (although I do not plan on competing for another couple of years), I struggle to find information that has not already been beaten to death. The social taboo of PED use leaves that topic relatively unexplored in many fitness magazines. While not an advocate of PEDs, I do think that not talking about them at all is worse for sports. To me, not discussing PEDs, is just ignoring the elephant in the room and sets false expectations for people.
Just as I have seen many people complain about the beauty magazines photo shopping their models and how people should be aware of this, I think the same should be true about bodybuilding magazines. Readers should know that being 240 lbs. at 5% is possible but only through the use of anabolic substances or even being a lighter weight than that and staying shredded all year. Anyway, I hope you enjoy some of these posts and learn something in the process and I try to space out the PED articles with some other relevant strength content that is not just rehashed Muscle & Fitness articles.
Arnold photo found via a Google Search
Big Ramy photo from FlexOnline
|Posted by Strength & Speed on April 16, 2017 at 11:40 AM|
“Everyone I know that took steroids looks like crap.” I have said it before and I will probably say it again in the future. I am not referring to the damaging health effects of steroids but I am referring to the quality of their physique. If you are reading this, you may be thinking I am saying steroids do not work effectively at building muscle. That is also not what I am saying.
What I am saying is that most of the people I know who have admitted to anabolic substance use currently have mediocre to poor physiques. People who I work with or have trained with that used Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs) usually look like crap because they were missing the key ingredient to begin with….consistent hard work. Most of the guys I know who turned to PEDs is because they were looking for the quick fix from a couple months of hard work. However, eventually other things take priority, the drugs become too expensive or they just lose interest. The missing ingredient, consistent had work comes back to bite them in the ass.
Once they stop using and the major effects of the drug wear off, their shitty work ethic shines through. This leaves them with less than exceptional physiques, often leaving me with the thought “You used steroids?!?! Maybe you should ask for a refund.”
There are obviously a ton of exceptions to this as demonstrated by hundreds of bodybuilders and physique competitors just one Google search away. There are also a ton Facebook and Instagram which are also just a click away. Consistent hard work plus PEDs will produce significant results as demonstrated by Lance Armstrong, Alberto Cantador, any professional IFBB bodybuilder, Rita Jeptoo or Justin Gatlin.
If you plan on using PEDs (which I am against), then make sure you are at least putting the key ingredient of consistent hard work before using them. Furthermore, if you do plan on using them stay away from competitive races (see my article about Lance Armstrong showing interest in Obstacle Course Racing) and organizations/events that are declared as drug free. If you do your research feel free to legally take them if you plan on competing in drug using events (NPC, IFBB, some powerlifting and strongman organizations) or are using it solely for aesthetic reasons. In my opinion if you are not competing it is not much different than getting plastic surgery to improve you appearance and consists of a personal choice.
|Posted by Strength & Speed on January 15, 2017 at 10:50 AM|
It is the New Year and while the gym is overflowing with resolution members, chances are if you are reading this you have not stopped going to the gym at all this year. However, your progress may have stalled over the last couple of weeks (or months). How do you break this plateau? The answer is dropping your rep range.
Even if your goal is not to be a powerlifter, anyone looking for a better physique or more strength can benefit from dropping your rep range. Most people have heard that rep ranges of 10 (or 8-12) is the best for hypertrophy or building a physique that looks impressive. While that is still good advice, if you never lower your reps you will most likely stall your progress. By taking some of your complex or compound movements and lowering your rep range to five or below, you will gain strength. Then when you go back to lifting around 10 reps, you will be able to do ten reps but with more weight than you could before.
What rep scheme should you follow? Feel free to look around for powerlifting routines to figure out which one you should follow. I like to do 5x5 for four weeks, 3x3 for two weeks and 2x2 for two weeks. That entire progression takes two months. Afterwards if I am interested, I will do a one rep max test to see how much I have progressed. Although sometimes I just switch back up to a bodybuilding style rep scheme focusing on 8-12 reps.
Whatever scheme you choose, the important thing to do is change things up for a little while to break that plateau. A word of caution, that does not mean do random exercise from week to week with no planned progression. A method many people call muscle confusion will not help getting stronger at specific lifts. For most athletes that are looking for hypertrophy, I recommend this technique once or twice a year. This allows for strength progression while spending the majority of your time focused on the 8-12 rep range.
Another benefit of this plan is crushing some big weights in front of New Year’s Resolutions can help you feel even stronger. After all if you have been working hard all year, this is a good chance to show off your dedication.