Tuesday, May 1, 2007

No 98 Pound Weaklings

About 8 years ago, I ran a marathon. It was a great experience and I intend to duplicate it sometime in the next several years. Nevertheless, I was surprised at how out of shape I actually was when I finished. I looked at myself in the mirror and realized that I was actually kind of fat. Now, to put that into perspective, I realize that my fat may well be someone else’s sleek and svelte. But I had a slight spare tire around my waste (not so much a Michelin…more of a mountain bike tire), very little upper body muscle tone, and kind of lame pasty doughy appearance. I decided that running marathons, although diverting in its own way, left something to be desired in terms of overall fitness.
Two friends introduced me to the world of bodybuilding through a program called Body For Life. You may have seen the book. It’s the one with a million photos of people before and after the completed the program. The photos are amazing, and that is what finally sold the book for me. I figured if I achieved half of what these folks achieved I would be very happy with the results. In short, BFL is set up so that in 12 weeks you can dramatically reduce your percentage of body fat, add lots of muscle and generally reshape your body. It’s a great program, and it worked. I’ll spare you my before and after photos, but they were quite dramatic. I cut my body fat percentage from 15% to 9%. While I dropped several pounds of fat, I also gained several pounds of muscle so my net weight ended up almost the same, but distributed VERY differently. I found it to be a great introduction to strength training.
Soon after completing the program, however, I started to want something more. My primary objective for lifting is not so much to gain big muscles to impress the girls. Actually, I simply want to be functionally stronger so that I could count on my body to do more things I want it to do – like lift up my girls. BFL’s focus is very much on bodybuilding. I definitely saw improvements in strength, but there was just too much emphasis on how you LOOK – especially if that meant big pecs, big biceps and flexing them all on the beach. A true strongman does not look like the guys on the covers of today’s muscle magazines. If you look at pictures of the old time strongmen, they really look totally different. They are definitely hard looking, but usually much more compact, not all bulgy. And the things they could DO!!! So I began to seek out non-traditional methods of strength training.
Today, I use a combination of bodyweight training (caslisthenics) and weight lifting using a rather unusual device of torture known commonly as a kettlebell. A kettlebell is a ball of iron with an integral loop handle. It comes is various sizes, the typical starting weight for men is 16kg (about 35 lbs), with most men who work at it regularly will move up to the standard 24kg (about 53 lbs). What makes the kb particularly devious is that the use of the eccentrically placed handle allows for ballistic movements and off-center positioning of the weight when picked up.
In addition to using a kettlebell I am fond of unusual forms of pushups including the hindu pushup, the handstand pushup, the one-handed pushup and all manner of arrangements and contortions. When combined with squats (aka deep knee bends) I find that one can achieve quite dramatic results without the use of weights or complex equipment.
I don’ need no stinking gym.
Last year I was able to perform 100 consecutive Hindu Pushups. This year I intend to perform 500 consecutive two arm Kettlebell swings. I fully expect that when I have completed this senseless act of personal violence against myself that I will promptly cough up a lung. After which I will also pick up my house over my head, just to show that I can.
Why? Perhaps it is a latent need to perform penance for my sins. Mostly though, it's because chicks dig a guy that can tear a phone book in half with his bare hands.

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