June 2004 archives

June 1, 2004

Some kind of monster flu

Filed under: General, Music

what's left of the ticketDown with a flu again, the kind where you feel like you have a temperature, only you don’t. The kind you don’t want to train with. The kind you get after sitting for 5½ hours listening to The Lostprophets, Slipknot and Metallica on an exceptionally chilly May evening in Helsinki.

The first two bands weren’t worth another short training break. Not that they are not good bands but their music, especially Slipknot’s act with three frantic drummers on stage, warped into a mess of sounds echoing over each other. Metallica was another story. Their powerful riffs and Hetfield’s strong vocals sounded great even in the unmerciful acoustic environment provided by the Olympic Stadium. After seeing them pound away at Master of Puppets my appreciation for their skill level went through the roof. Having 50,000 guys and girls in black around you, one percent of Finland’s population, go wild also helps. Although my hair style might lead you to believe otherwise, I am not much of a headbanger. Too bad, it would have kept me warmer than the limited stomping and twitching I did.

June 7, 2004

Call from beyond

Filed under: Workouts

the grand prizeWeird flu I got. Still not the energy bunny reincarnated, but with the lower back starting to subtly remind me of its existence again… it was time. Didn’t try to nail my balls to the walls, but worked up to a decent triple with 36 kg/80 lbs on the dumbell press and stopped there. Then did some stability ball stuff and finished with my surprisingly challenging new rehab program. Will try to get it on tape sometime this week.

Oh boy. June 2nd passed during my flu, so the bench guessing competition is now officially over with the same 97.5 kg/215 lbs still standing. Today I sent the $15 Amazon gift certificate to none other than my fiancée, who having put in the most conservative guess of 112.5 kg/249 lbs, won the competition. All in all, I am pleased with the gain as I was benching a measly 75 kg/166 lbs a year ago, but enough of this dry season already. Time to draw up a concrete battle plan. There will be triples. Perhaps chains? Hmmm…

And in case you wondered, there will be another competition announced in the near future.

ME Bench, 7 June 2004

Dumbell bench:
10 @ 18 kg/40 lbs
6 @ 24 kg/53 lbs
6 @ 28 kg/61 lbs
5 @ 34 kg/75 lbs
3 @ 36 kg/80 lbs

Tate press, on stability ball: 12,7 @ 16 kg/35 lbs
Side raise, kneeling on stability ball: 2x12 @ 12 kg/27 lbs
Kraftwerk one-handed row: 2x7 @ 110 kg/243 lbs


Muscle activation, lat pulley: 30 reps each of facing, right and left @ 15 kg/33 lbs
Upper body cable turn: 30 @ 10 kg/22 lbs
Lower cable twist: 25 @ 10 kg/22 lbs
Walk out with side twist: 7
Hyperextension on stability ball: 2x20
Ab holds: 30 seconds right and left (short rest in between)
Back extension: 10

Total training time: 67 min

June 9, 2004


Filed under: Workouts

how low will you go?Acronyms abound in powerlifting. So what the Blood Mary is a GHR?! GHR is TNT for the hamstrings. One of the corner stones in the WSB fortress. A furry friend from the former USSR originally used by sprinters.

Strictly speaking, the Glute Ham Raise (GHR) is a movement done on a specially designed Glute Ham Raise bench with the hamstrings, gluteus and gastrocnemius as the prime movers. But GHR benches are few and far between, so people tend to do them off the floor, strategically positioned benches or even stability balls. As with the reverse hyper, some are very keen to point out that unless done on the real thing, it ain’t a glute ham raise (Dave Tate calls it a manual leg curl, detesting the natural glute ham raise label used by many lifters).

Semantics and vested interests aside, it is true that the real deal is a much more dynamic multi-joint affair owing to the rounded pad that allows the knees to move a little. On the GHR bench there is also a back plate to dig the toes into and some momentum is generated by the upper body off the bottom. Makeshift varieties tend to lock everything in place making the movement much harder and less functional. Even so, this is one tremendous movement. Call it what you want, do it however you can.

The movement is so taxing that few people first trying it can crank out more than a few reps on a GHR bench, or even a single rep in a makeshift setup. Thus, novice GHR chaps tend to use some sort of assistance whether from a training partner, upper pulley or rubber band (a mini band works well).

I decided to premier this movement in the lat pulldown. Raised the sitting pad high to stabilize the feet and added an extra coil to make the cable long enough. Found that 30 kg/66 lbs was the most assist I could use, otherwise I had trouble getting past the top of the movement. Could have used a little more assist, but luckily my training partner Måns was ready as ever to give me some extra push for those reps when I found myself stuck with nearly locked legs and a straight body. If you want to try a novel way to spend the evening, do this exercise without a spotter.

I next took the smallest stability/swiss ball for negative GHR reps. Now reassuringly close to the ground, it was easy to break the free fall that inevitably ensured after lowering myself 45 degrees and push off the ground to get some help in getting back up. Worked well, but didn’t feel as techno as doing it in the lat pulley.

Both varieties were hard on both hams and calves; those prone to cramps might have a knotty start. The position felt a little awkward for the hams as I’ve never subjected them to any similar movement (lying leg curls are very different). Totally back friendly (my back) and strenuous; sounds like a good candidate to do as a max exercise this summer, don’t you think?

Finished off with some quad pumping and calves. My back complained a little on the Kraftwerk lying squat machine, so stopped after a lightish set of 10. A short workout, but there should be ample muscle trauma in the hams and calves to produce some nice n’ nasty soreness. No rehab today as the Monday workout was still with me.

The video? Here (3.7M).


Exercise description over at Elite Fitness Systems where Tate outlines his prescription for beginners: do the GHR as a warm-up exercise every training day, then when you get strong enough also do it as a main exercise. GHR!!!!!! indeed.

Roman cousins by Chip Conrad, a very general intro.

Brent Mikesell talks about elevating the back of a GHR bench to make it even harder. “I was surprised as I felt I had superior hamstring strength”… nothing for beginners.

The Dark Side by Coach Davies. “For proper development of the hamstring to occur it needs be done so that the muscle acts as a hip extensor and knee flexor as opposed to purely as biceps type movement.”

Video clips
GHR on GHR bench (westsidebar.net)
GHR in upper pulley with bands (Marko Patteri)
GHR with mini band assist (westsidebar.net)
GHR with bicycle inner tube assist (westsidebar.net)
Exercise description (infinityfitness.com)
Ball ham raises, a similar but easier exercise (infinityfitness.com)

ME Squat/Deadlift, 9 June 2004

Pulley assisted glute ham raise (GHR): 2x5 @ 30 kg/66 lbs assist
Push-up assisted glute ham raise on stability ball: 5,4
Kraftwerk lying squat: worked up to 10 @ 120 kg/265 lbs
Seated leg extension: 12 @ 45 kg/99 lbs
Seated calf raise: 2x10 @ 80 kg/177 lbs

Total training time: 40 min

June 11, 2004

30 minutes

Filed under: Workouts

A quick and hasty workout before making the journey to our summer cottage where I will be unpacking Toffe’s Gym over the weekend. Felt slow and sluggish, especially on the Blakley speed bench. That’s what you get when you first split a bottle of your favorite Tuscan wine over a nice dinner and then proceed to sit up for most of the night configuring a server. Life is life.

DE Bench, 11 June 2004

Blakley speed bench: 7x3 @ 60 kg/133 lbs
Wide-grip pulldown: 3x12 @ 70 kg/155 lbs (took it easy on these)
Rope face pull: 2x12 @ 40 kg/88 lbs
Incline hammer curl: 5,5,4 @ 18 kg/40 lbs

Total training time: 30 minutes flat

June 13, 2004

Making a balance board

Filed under: Handiwork, Rehab

balance board in the makingThe usual post-winter chores at our summer cottage involve a fair share of lifting in the form of boats, bags of fertilizer for my dad’s countless roses and furniture that wants to come out in the sun. Nothing super heavy, but I was slightly afraid the highly repetitive lifting would be a little too much for my back. Happily it wasn’t.

On the training front, I have occupied myself with thinking about how to best upgrade Toffe’s Gym to an outdoor powerlifting mecca. One of the most urgent additions is a stability ball for my rehab and stability work, but unfortunately I could not locate a ball in the city that was guaranteed to be both burst-proof and loadable to at least 300 kg/663 lbs. Am going back to Helsinki for a few days tomorrow, so will get one there.

With no ball and no cable machine, I summoned Kris the carpenter and set out to construct a balance board that I could do the prescribed bodyweight squats on. After extensive prototyping, I ended up splitting a piece of alder in two with the axe and tapering down the sides of it so that it would rock not only sideways but forward and backward as well. Next I molested an old car tire to get a suitable piece of rubber to drape the piece of wood in. After all, this balance board should be stable in outdoor conditions, even in the eventuality that it has rained. Finally, I nailed a board on top of it and put some more tire on top of the board for the feet. Thus the All-weather Balance Board was born.

Today’s mini clip (520 KB) should give you the general idea of how this board behaves. Although I did eventually manage to do a few bodyweight squats on it without touching the ground, it will be a challenge to get comfortable on top of it. Stability training is never boring, let me tell you. Think I will try side raises standing on the board tomorrow as part of the first hardcore outdoor session of the year. Until then, remember that whatever the road conditions, the All-weather Balance Board delivers.

We have a world record holder among us

Filed under: General

Remember Vincent Scelfo, the chiropractor who sustained a good morning injury shortly after resuming powerlifting training at age 46 after a 15 year break? We have kept in touch ever since and he has kept me updated on his progress. Some three weeks ago, Vince told me he had heard of a new association, NAP (National Alliance of Powerlifters), and since their drug-free status, meet location and equipment rules felt right he just decided he would make his comeback in one of their meets on 12 June. Imagine my surprise when he wrote me that he is now the official NAP world record holder in the 148 lbs/67 kg Masters 45-49 division with a 358 lbs/162 kg squat, a 178 lbs/81 kg bench and a 297 lbs/134 kg deadlift at a bodyweight of 143 lbs/65 kg! Yes, NAP is a new organization with a clean world record slate, but this does not at all detract from Vince’s great achievement coming back from a long layoff and a potentially chronic injury. I just hope this doesn’t mean that Vince is going to retire again now that he finally has become a world record holder… We want more! We want more!

Hats off for Vince!

June 14, 2004

Barbell meets spruce

Filed under: Workouts

a breeze runs through the forestI hereby declare the outdoor training season officially OOOPEEEEEEN! To honor this event and give you a glimpse of Toffe’s Gym, I taped the whole workout (5.3MB). Don’t watch it if you find training to bird song revolting.

It was a good day to pump under the bare sky; unlike the last few weeks, today was comfortably warm. Some soreness remained from Friday’s DE Bench workout (yeah, well…), but decided to go for a triple anyway. Not wanting to trust my Weider Cobra bench on any heavy lifts, I took refuge in my trusty squat rack for floor presses. As the sun was slowly making its way past the nearest spruce, I had to set up with feet off the wooden floor as I did not feel any particular need to show off doing floor presses with my eyes shut. The setup off plates turned out to be a teeny weenie bit too low, which made it hard to get the elbows under the lift from the start. Also had to brush off some ants between sets as one of their main highways runs over the western edge of the rack. Despite the hardship, I managed a very average 90 kg/199 lbs double.

If the floor press went only so-so, the Bradfords went through the roof sky. My previous best was 3x10 @ 40 kg/88 lbs dating from Easter, but as that weight was like paper in the breeze from the sea, I went on for a fiver. Nearly lost my scalp, but 52.5 kg/116 lbs was worth it. Finally some sign of progress! The Bradfords are nice for my back, as I can handle a lot less weight on these compared to normal standing presses.

One of the advantages of training at Toffe’s Gym is that it is very easy to setup lying rows by just flinging a thick board over the squat rack support beams. I just plain love this movement, and it is high time I did some other rowing exercises than the supported T-bars I’ve been doing a lot lately. Row, row, row your barbell gently up the air, merrily merrily merrily merrily, a rep is but a squeeze…

Side raises, aka side delt flyes, is quickly becoming the exercise that I always do in an unstable environment for the sake of training the core muscles around the spine. A good choice it is too, for it definitively ranks among those exercises that won’t do a whole lot for overall strength so it doesn’t matter too much if I have to sacrifice some side delt pump for a good balance exercise. My newly made stability board made me sway in sync with the trees, but got the last four reps with 12 kg/27 lbs without touching the ground. Ain’t pretty, but my multifidus will thank me for it.

The last few days I have been really dissecting John Brookfield’s excellent book Mastery of Hand Strength that I got for my birthday back in September. The outdoor setting is perfect for trying out sledgehammer lever lifts, axe head lifting and other lifts that would have me banned for life from my regular gym (webcam) if I tried them there. Come autumn, I probably need to get some of IronMind’s civilized replacements… Although I will soon add direct forearm training to the mix to rectify the feeling that my wrists are quickly becoming the weak link in the heavy benching chain, today was only about setting a base line for plate pinch gripping. To quote Brookfield,

If you can lift two 25-lb. [11 kg] plates by the smooth side with one hand, you have a fairly good grip; most men cannot lift two 25-lb. plates in this manner. If you can lift two 35-lb. [16 kg] plates in a pinch grip, you have a very good grip; and if you are able to lift 90 pounds, or two 45-lb. [20 kg] plates in this fashion you have a world class pinch grip.
John Brookfield, 1995: Mastery of Hand Strength, IronMind Enterprises; pp. 9.

Hoping to at least show up on Brookfield’s radar, I first attempted two 10 kg/22 lbs plates. I got them off the ground for a quick 2 second hold with my right, but the left got a good 3 seconds. Yes!! As he recommends doing sets with a weight that can be held for 5 seconds, I dropped down to two 5 kg/11 lbs plates with a pipe through the holes for additional plates. With this lighter setup, the supremacy of the left pinch grip was demonstrated even more clearly, with its 13 seconds against the 5 seconds of the right. On the Captains of Crush grippers it was the other way around. I’ve always thought that my right was the stronger hand, but apparently it is only in the crushing grip domain with the pinching grip being stronger on the left. In clear text, this means that my left thumb is a lot stronger than my right one.

After the workout I took a plunge into the sea. A refreshing 16 ‘C/60.8 ‘F.

ME Bench, 14 June 2004

Floor press off floor, medium grip:
2x5 @ 60 kg/133 lbs
3 @ 70 kg/155 lbs
3 @ 80 kg/177 lbs
2 @ 90 kg/199 lbs

Bradford press:
12 @ 20 kg/44 lbs
13 @ 40 kg/88 lbs
5 @ 45 kg/99 lbs
5 @ 50 kg/111 lbs
5 @ 52.5 kg/116 lbs

Lying row, reverse grip: 3x5 @ 70 kg/155 lbs
Side raise on stability board: 3x8 @ 12 kg/27 lbs

Plate pinch gripping:
right 2 sec, left 3 sec @ 20 kg/44 lbs
right 5 sec, left 13 sec @ 18.5 kg/41 lbs

Captains of Crush: right 7 @ I, 25 @ Trainer (a few reps less for left)

Total training time: 95 min (heavy camera tax)

June 16, 2004

The final stand?

Filed under: General

Looking through my web statistics, a chain of events somehow led me to discover Mark Reifkind’s blog where I found him doing kettlebell work standing on a stability ball. Mark, who is operating the private training studio Girya, seems to be able to lure even some of his older clientele on top of a ball. Me thinks there is another challenge around the corner after I master my balance board… But, one should never forget that there is always another challenge! Ad infinitum.

Mark also has an interesting article on combining kettlebells and powerlifting (scroll down).

Repeat offender

Filed under: Workouts

I was really missing the fresh air and non-sweaty paws of outdoor training as I went through my workout in the crowdy gym. On the other hand, it was raining outside. It took me almost a week to get rid of the ham and calf soreness induced by last week’s GHRs, but today I was up for them again. I managed to get the first two sets almost by myself, but seriously required a helping hand on the last set. A single set of GHRs on the stability ball and a light set of pull-throughs ensured that there would be enough money in the bank to last me another week.

As my back had silently complained on the Kraftwerk lying squat, I now did them one leg at a time allowing me to go to failure without overloading the back. Followed with the rehab routine, but it remains untaped as I was too lazy to mess with the camera. That might explain how I suddenly clocked in under an hour despite the spottin’ n’ talkin’…

ME Squat/Deadlift, 16 June 2004

Pulley assisted glute ham raise (GHR): 6,6,5 @ 30 kg/66 lbs assist
Push-up assisted glute ham raise on stability ball: 7
Pull-through, bent-legged: 20 @ 60 kg/133 lbs
Kraftwerk lying squat, one-legged: 8 @ 70 kg/155 lbs, 7 @ 80 kg/177 lbs


Muscle activation, lat pulley: 30 reps each of facing, right and left @ 15 kg/33 lbs
Upper body cable turn: 30 @ 15 kg/33 lbs
Lower cable twist: 25 @ 10 kg/22 lbs
Walk out with side twist: 8
Hyperextension on stability ball: 2x20
Ab holds: 40 seconds right and left (short rest in between)
Back extension: 10

Total training time: 57 min

June 20, 2004

Fit balling in the rain

Filed under: Workouts

group rehabGot myself a stability ball for Toffe’s Gym. Its box looks retro in a 60s kind of way, but it is burst-proof and guaranteed for 300 kg/663 lbs. Dark clouds gathered above as I started my rehab workout, and a few minutes later I was doing my ball crunches with rain hitting my face from above. The stability ball got a little slippery, but hey, this is functional training. Still, I am seriously considering adding a roof to the power rack I hope to make next week or so…

Skipped Friday’s DE bench workout as most of the day went packing and making the 450 km journey from Helsinki up north to our summer cottage. Next week I will make up for this by speed benching with chains. Can’t wait!

Rehab, 20 June 2004

Ball crunch: 2x30
Stability board standing: 2x2 minutes
Stability board squat: 30 reps with pauses
Muscle activation with dumbells: 10 @ 2 kg/4 lbs
Low plate twists: 10 @ 10 kg/22 lbs
Walk out with side twist: 9,6
Hyperextension on stability ball: 2x23
Ab holds: c. 40 seconds right and left (short rest in between)
Back extension: 10

Total training time: c. 25 minutes

June 21, 2004

Maxing out on JMs

Filed under: Workouts

boulderdashNot wanting to tax my old dangly Weider bench too much, I opted for a triple max on the JM Press instead of any heavy benching. As I think I have the technique down fairly well by now, this seemed like a doable equation. Put a boulder on the other end of the bench to keep it from tipping over. Wasn’t too pretty (video 1.4MB), but worked up to a triple at 47.5 kg/105 lbs. Then tried 50 kg/111 lbs, but as the first rep took a lot of effort I didn’t try for more. Perhaps it’s just me, but max triple attempts seem to gravitate towards a final double or single… The heaviest I had done before was sets of 5 with 42.5 kg/94 lbs.

Worked fairly quickly through 5x5 on the bradfords and lying rows, but then the workout started slowing down as I started experimenting. Side raises sitting on my new stability ball with the feet on the balance board proved shakier than doing them kneeling on the ball. Added some wrist curls to supplement the grip work, but there is still a lot to be desired on that front. Might consider doing forearm/grip work as extra workouts to help de-bloat my workouts.

The good thing about having your own gym? You get to select the music. Kalmah.

ME Bench, 21 June 2004

JM Press:
10 @ 20 kg/44 lbs
5 @ 30 kg/66 lbs
3 @ 35 kg/77 lbs
3 @ 40 kg/88 lbs
3 @ 45 kg/99 lbs
3 @ 47.5 kg/105 lbs
1 @ 50 kg/111 lbs

Bradford press: 5x5 @ 47.5 kg/105 lbs
Lying row, reverse-grip: 5x5 @ 70 kg/155 lbs
Side raise sitting on stability ball with feet on balance board: 2x10 @ 12 kg/27 lbs
Plate pinching:
      right: 5,7 sec @ 18.5 kg/41 lbs
      left: 8,7 @ 18.5 kg/41 lbs
Behind-back wrist curl: 2x10 @ 70 kg/155 lbs
Reverse wrist curl: 3 @ 30 kg/66 lbs, 6 @ 25 kg/55 lbs
Captains of Crush:
      right: 7 @ I, 25 @ Trainer
      left: 5 @ I, 20 @ Trainer

Total training time: 95 min

June 23, 2004

Enter lunges

Filed under: Workouts

I’ve never been a fan of lunges. In my search for free weight exercises that I could use to keep my legs in some kind of shape during rehab I’ve come to reconsider their worth. Not much load is required to go heavy, in fact repping with just the bar was fairly taxing. Lunges are also somewhat of a balance challenge, so they fit right into the mix. It remains to be seen how my back reacts when I progressively up the weight, but for now they definitively join the GHRs as a main squat/dead exercise. In contrast, a few reps of Romanian deadlifts with only the bar told me that they are still far from being an option. No surprise there.

Finally got my first ten repper on the walk outs. I always fail on these when I can no longer keep my body straight, so this is definitively a big stability improvement over the 5 reps I started out with. I am also approaching a minute on the ab holds. The balance board squats are also becoming easier by the workout. Core hardening is rewarding once you realize how pitifully weak you have been when it comes to such elementary stuff as keeping your body straight straddling a canyon.

ME Squat/Deadlift rehab, 23 June 2004

Swiss ball back bridge hamstring curl: 2x20
Front lunge, alternating: 3x5 @ 20 kg/44 lbs
Romanian deadlift: 2x15 @ 20 kg/44 lbs
Ball crunch: 2x25 @ 5 kg/11 lbs
Stability board standing: 2x2 minutes
Stability board squat: 30 reps with pauses
Muscle activation with dumbells: 10 @ 2 kg/4 lbs
Low plate twists: 25 @ 10 kg/22 lbs
Walk out with side twist: 10,6
Hyperextension on stability ball: 2x15 @ 5 kg/11 lbs
Ab holds: 50 seconds right and left (short rest in between)
Back extension: 10

Total training time: 58 min

June 24, 2004

Bring on the chains!

Filed under: General, Handiwork

a chainy day

One of the things I decided when embarking on Westside training was to do at least a full year of basic training before even considering chains, bands, weight releasers and other such intensity boosters that have become something of a hallmark of the Westside school of powerlifting. It is not only because these gadgets are too advanced when just making the switch to powerlifting, but also because I wanted to save them for when my gains started slowing down. Simply put, don’t use the sledgehammer until you really need to. Having heard many people rave about what chains and bands did for their bench, I think it is now time to see if they can help me get out of the rut.

Chain theory and contrast with bands

Thin loading chains are used to hang thick chains from the bar sleeves and adjusted so that most of the heavy chain is on the floor at the bottom of the movement. What chains do is to progressively increase the resistance towards the lockout as more and more chain leaves the ground. In Westside terms, this is a way of accommodating resistance, of making the strength curve better match the resistance. Movements on which the chains are used usually get easier towards the top due to better leverage towards lockout and acceleration off the bottom. The chains offset this lightening, thus ensuring that the lift remains heavy to the [bitter] end.

Chains are especially valued for speed work as they force the body to accelerate against increasing resistance. Not only does this make the lift challenging, but, according to Westside theoreticians, the added resistance also forces you to drive the bar higher before starting the largely unconscious deceleration phase that stops you from either throwing the bar or injuring your elbows. Without chains (or bands) the bar simply moves too fast at the top forcing you to step on the break sooner so you have time to stop the bar. This dilemma can’t be solved by adding more weight to the bar, since the lift would then be too heavy at the bottom making the degree of acceleration insufficient for speed gains. With chains you have only the bar weight at the bottom and 10-20% extra at lockout. By allowing you to drive the bar higher at high speed, chains help produce a favorable neurological response that will teach the body to drive through sticking points with max weights.

Chains are also used for max effort work on such movements as floor presses and good mornings. As bar speed is low compared to speed work, the neurological response is largely lacking. But as chains make the movement harder, the muscles need to strain more thus leading to larger overload. Time under tension with heavy weight, an essential component of strength gain, is increased as it takes longer to complete the 1-3 reps than without chains. Chains can also be used in max effort work to combat specific sticking points by adjusting the loading chain so that the extra weight kicks in just below the problem.

The effect of bands (and bungees) is similar, but, unlike chains, the resistance does not increase linearly but exponentially as the resistance grows stronger and stronger the more the band stretches. Bands also create much more eccentric tension, i.e. it not only adds weight but also pulls against you. Drop the bar with chains and it fill “merely” fall on you, drop it with bands at it will be propelled down at you as if from a slung. Bands also tend to add more resistance than chains, i.e. in the neighborhood of 20-30% of bar weight at lockout on speed work. If chains are a semi-advanced method, bands are highly advanced and should not really be used extensively before reaching a plateau. At Westside, chains were introduced only in the late 1990s long after the club had reached fame, with Jump Stretch bands making their appearance a good three years later. These strong guys and girls certainly got their base strength from plain old straight weight before going for chains and bands. Barbender242 put it well over in the T-nation forums:

Chains and bands are just two more weapons in your battle to gain strength. I think too many new lifters want to do everything and use everything at once. When beginning, go ahead and cycle some chains in, it will help with lockout weaknesses. But the best advice on bands came from Chuck V., he said that you should not use bands until you have completely stopped gaining from straight weight and chains (for most people, this is longer than you think). That way by the time you get to the point where you need to use bands, you already have a solid training base and the bands will get you jump started to even bigger numbers. The problem is when you have people who have just started training and are nowhere near any type of plateau, trying to get under band tension without a solid base.

No bands for me for at least another year. Might be difficult as I ordered a pair of minis for use with GHR assists and rehab work.

Chain loading

Below is the recommended chain weight chart for speed work, an amalgam of this and that, to use with speed box squats and speed benching on top of what straight weight you would normally use for speed work. Recall that bar speed is ultimately the indicator, i.e. if you can’t complete three reps within three seconds you have too much weight on the bar and/or too much chain.

Raw bench max Chain weight at lockout Sample chains by link size
Under 200 lbs/91 kg 20-30 lbs/9-14 kg one 1/2″/13 mm
200-400 lbs/91-181 kg 40-50 lbs/18-22 kg one 5/8″/16 mm
400-500 lbs/181-226 kg 60-70 lbs/27-32 kg one 1/2″/13 mm + one 5/8″/16 mm
500-600 lbs/226 kg-271 kg 80-90 lbs/36-40 kg two 5/8″/16 mm
Over 600 lbs/271 kg 100 lbs/45 kg one 1/2/13mm + two 5/8″/16 mm
Raw squat max Chain weight at lockout Sample chains by link size
Under 200 lbs/91 kg 40-50 lbs/18-22 kg one 5/8″/16 mm
200-400 lbs/91-181 kg 50-60 lbs/22-27 kg one 1/2″/13 mm + one 5/8″/16 mm
400-500 lbs/181-226 kg 60-70 lbs/27-32 kg one 1/2″/13 mm + one 5/8″/16 mm
500-600 lbs/226-271 kg 80-90 lbs/36-40 kg two 5/8″/16 mm
600-800 lbs/271-362 kg 90-100 lbs/40-45 kg one 1/2″/13 mm + two 5/8″/16 mm
Over 800 lbs/362 kg 120-140 lbs/54-63 kg three 5/8″/16 mm

Note that my Westside Barbell DE Bench Guidelines script can make all the calculations for you. Generally about half of the 5 foot/1.5 meter chain will be on the floor at the top of the lift, which is a good rule of thumb if you need to find out how much weight a certain chain will add to the lockout.

For max effort work more chain would generally be used, having up to 50% of the weight come from chains is not uncommon. There are two basic ways of working with chains for max effort work: 1) work up to 50-80% of max and then add chains to failure, 2) add a set number of chains first and then add weight to failure.

Setting up chains

The same set of chains can be used for all lifts by simply adjusting the length of the loading chain to satisfy the rule that most, if not all, of the heavy chain should be on the floor at the bottom of the lift. The exception is floor presses, where the chain is draped directly over the sleeves as the bar is too near the floor for loading chains to make any sense. Here is the setup directions straight from the big horse’s mouth as given for box squats:

To set up the chains you’ll need a five foot 1/4 inch chain to act as the support chain. This chain is suspended from the bar sleeves. A metal ring will be suspended in the 1/4 inch support chain. Then the training chains (five feet long, either 5/8″ or 1/2″ thickness) will pass through the metal rings so one half of the chain falls on each side of the ring. You’ll set the support chain so three links on each side of the training chain are on the floor at the top of the lift. When you sit down on the box most of the training chain will be on the floor. You have to keep a certain amount of the chain on the bar to avoid the chains swaying back and forth throughout the movement.

A man and his chain

My plan is to first add the chains to the speed bench. When I have a power rack at Toffe’s Gym, I will also alternate with doing them on ME exercises like floor presses and benches. While surveying material for the rack, I stumbled upon a guy selling 1/2″/13 mm chain. Although I should be using a 5/8″/16 mm chain, I figured they would be good for easing into chain benching. I ended up paying 28 euros for two pieces slightly longer than 5 feet/1.5 meters. It took another 6 euro for two 5 feet/1.5 meter pieces of thin loading chain and two attaching links before the package was complete. I have a feeling 5/8″/16 mm chain will be more expensive if I can find it. Elite Fitness Systems sells these for $99.95, but the shipping would kill me.

Being as anal as always, I did not want to rely on the math to find out how much weight the chains add to the lockout. After adjusting the chains to a suitable length, I had Sanna determine how high the bar is off the floor at the bottom (71 cm) and the top (112 cm, I have a 41 cm stroke with my current minimal arch). Next, I piled enough junk on my soon to be retired Weider bench so that I could get a scale up at the 112 cm mark. Then weighed the bar (19 kg/42 lbs) and added the chains. The final 26 kg/57 lbs reading told me that the chains added 6½ kg/14 lbs to the top. I gather that a 1/2″ chain with smaller loops would reach the full 9 kg/20 lbs generally expected of a 1/2″/13 mm chain. Tomorrow it remains to try them out.

Recommended readings

Chain Reaction: Accommodating Leverages by Louie Simmons. The classic article, which has some interesting things to say about the neurological effect of chains. “Training with chains in this manner accomplishes three things. 1) We have maintained our original weight in order to use the correct percentage for explosive training. 2) We have overloaded the top portion of the lift, which normally does not receive sufficient work because of increased body leverage at this position. 3) A neurological response to build explosive strength is developed. This training will train you to drive to the top because you cannot slack off at the top phase as you used to.”

Accommodating Resistance: How to use bands and chains to increase your max lifts by Dave Tate. A pocket bible on the topic. “I don’t care how you lift the weight, at some point you have to begin to decelerate. If not you’d have to actually throw the barbell. Now at what point do you begin to decelerate? Is it at three or four inches before the lockout, or three to four inches off your chest in the bench? I don’t know for sure, but I can guess it’s different for everyone and is based on several individual things such as joint angles, fatigue, and previous training experience. Bands and chains can train you to break through these sticking points.”

Chains and Bands by Louie Simmons. Talks about loading in detail. “If you want to excel at powerlifting or any sport, then you must develop speed strength, increase acceleration, and gain absolute strength. Bands and chains can be instrumental in developing these aspects of strength. I highly recommend that you try them as soon as possible.”

Researching Resistance by Louie Simmons. “This is exactly why you must use bands or chains to accommodate resistance [when doing speed work]. Without them the bar moves too fast at the top.”

Workin’ on the chain gain?and more by Ken O’Neill. Excellent article with pictures that also discusses purchasing chain and has a nice chart of how much various thickness of chain weigh by the foot. “Chains provide a low cost way of doing what Arthur Jones set out to accomplish with his original Nautilus machines.”

Bands, Chains and Bungees by Bob Strauss (photos). “Chains operate differently than bands or bungees. They add the exact same amount of weight per unit of distance moved, whereas bands increase, and bungees increase further. The fact that chains start adding an even amount of resistance make them good for helping a point lower down than bands or bungees.”

The Science Behind Bands and Chains by Rob Haan. “Is the use of bands and chains some magical tool that will create supermen? No, the process of getting stronger is slow and takes years of hard work, bands make the work harder not easier. The bands and chains are just a way of stimulating the muscle in a different way and changing the strength curve and the force velocity curve.”

June 25, 2004

I call myself Chain Bencher

Filed under: Workouts

sounds like a ghost to meI have now joined the chain benching tribe albeit with a little too tiny a chain. The extra 7 kg/15 lbs added by the 1/2″/13 mm chain was hardly noticeable when going all out on the speed bench, but I could really feel it when doing a few slow warm-up reps. I could also feel it in my ears; ear plugs would not be a totally ridiculous idea. Here’s the video (0.5MB).

I took this opportunity to switch back to normal 3-rep Westside speed benching from the Blakley speed benching I’ve done lately. I conclude that on good days the preliminary slow-medium-fast rep scheme feels good, but when feeling sluggish the slower reps have a tendency to make the bar feel needlessly heavy. I could not really see any difference in bar path consistency between the two methods either, as measured by chalking the middle of the bar.

Did some heavy french presses with the EZ bar, an exercise I have nearly forgotten since being bit by the JM bug. Pull-ups is an exercise my ego hoped I had forgotten. V-bar pull-ups used to be easy back when I was a light 75 kg/166 lbs dude, but with 20 kg/44 lbs more on my frame it does not really help that I am now much stronger on pulldowns… Did as many half-assed reps as I could muster. Perhaps this is where I really could make some good use of bands, i.e. for band-assisted pull-up work

Some bicep and forearm work. The End.

DE Bench, 25 June 2004

Speed bench, close to wide grip: 9x3 @ 57.5 kg/127 lbs + one 1/2″/13 mm chain per side
EZ French press, behind head: 3x5 @ 40 kg/88 lbs
V-bar pull-up: 5,4x3
Dumbell power clean on stability ball: 2x10 @ 12 kg/27 lbs
EZ bar curls with back against tree: 5,5,4 @ 40 kg/88 lbs
Seated concentration curl: 6 @ 16 kg/35 lbs
Reverse curl: 8,7 @ 30 kg/66 lbs

Total training time: 67 min

June 28, 2004

Thumbsaver to the rescue

Filed under: Workouts, Rehab

artificial thumbSome days you feel dandy and are prepared for soaring to new heights, until you actually start flapping. Did not need more than the barbell itself to realize that the usual spot on the front of both shoulder had again turned into tight knotty bands (blame the chains?). Being all pre-occupied with my back, I have lately come to neglect the shoulder massage, so here we are again. The tightness can usually be dissolved within a day or two by massaging hard for one minute several times a day, i.e. normal trigger point massage. I still find a tennis ball excellent for the job, but have also started to use a so-called thumbsaver I bought from the Thera Cane central for $6.95. Made of wood with a pointy rubber head, it is perfect for staying on the spot and going deep. Doing this with a thumb works, but after that you have a strained thumb on your hands… The thumbsaver is also small enough to be easy to carry around in your pocket, and, unlike the tennis ball, you don’t need to have a wall handy.

Felt the shoulders could handle some work without going spastic; sets of five on close-grip benches were suddenly basking in a very attractive light. Worked up to 5 @ 80 kg/177 lbs, then it was time to bail out. Not wanting to beat the shoulders any further, I just did a single set of JMs before moving into the usual back and forearm work. Just for fun, I tried lying rows with the chains hanging double from the sleeves of the bar. Unlike benching, this movement gets harder the further up you get, so a good explosive start proved imperative if I wanted to get the bar to touch the board. Quite nice actually.

For the first time, I tried some plate curling for the forearms. The idea is simple: grip a weight plate in a pinch grip, then do a normal curl with it. Although it looks like a biceps exercise, the real deal is trying to keep the wrist from bending backwards during the curl. I found a 10 kg/22 lbs plate a little too much, but pinching a 5 kg/11 lbs and a 2.5 kg/6 lbs plate together was just enough. I highly recommend this one. There are several variations on the theme, from curling the plate with a finger through the hole via curling with a board to wrist curling plates.

And oh yes, skipped Sunday’s rehab workout as my hamstrings and pals were all tied up from Wednesday’s lunge workout.

ME Bench, 28 June 2004

Close-grip bench:
       10 @ 20 kg/44 lbs
       5 @ 40 kg/88 lbs
       5 @ 50 kg/111 lbs
       5 @ 60 kg/133 lbs
       5 @ 70 kg/155 lbs
       5 @ 80 kg/177 lbs

JM Press on stability ball: 12 @ 35 kg/77 lbs
Lying rows, wide-grip:
       10 @ 50 kg/111 lbs
       5 @ 50 kg/111 lbs + one 1/2″/13 mm chain
       5 @ 60 kg/133 lbs + one 1/2″/13 mm chain
       3x5 @ 70 kg/155 lbs + one 1/2″/13 mm chain
       5 @ 70 kg/155 lbs

Behind-the-back wrist curl: 2x6 @ 60 kg/133 lbs
Reverse wrist curl sitting on stability ball: 9,6 @ 25 kg/55 lbs
Plate curl: 2x5 @ pinching 5kg+2.5kg/11 lbs+6 lbs plates
Captains of Crush grippers:
       right: 8+5 neg, left: 5+5 neg @ I
       right: 21 sec, left: 21 sec hold @ T
       right: 12, left: 12 @ T

Total training time: 68 min

June 30, 2004

Staying close to the flames

Filed under: General

warming flamesIt was pouring down the whole day. The rain was simply too heavy for me to want to not care and call it functional. Stayed inside in front of the fireplace and enjoyed watching Portugal beat Holland 2-1 in the UEFA Euro 2004 soccer cup. The rest of the time I was working my brains out on a Tibetan/Chinese digital library project that suddenly came up with a very tight deadline. I fear that Deadline will beat Sleep at least 4-1 for the next few days.