Lift Something Heavy Contest Winner! (finally!)

Posted June 9th, 2010 in Contests by Clint

Speaking of engineer bags, we finally have enough entries to declare a winner for the “lift something heavy” contest I started way back at the beginning of this blog.

Okay this has been a while in coming, but I’ll start off by saying I’ve been at this for just over 6 weeks. Here is my gear:wow, people are actually doing this thing. cool.

I thought different colors of duct tape would make things more fun, and to a point, it does. I’m not entirely happy about the bag I got, though. It’s big enough that I can fit all of my weights into it and have room for plenty more. I could probably fit myself into it if I wanted. But because I have relatively short legs, I find it pretty difficult to lift by the handles properly, which means I need to grab it from the bottom for deadlifts.

I bought 20 pairs of XXXL socks and three bags of pea gravel. I would stuff a sock as much pea gravel as I could fit, then I would work another sock over it in the opposite direction, and finally I would tape them up. This worked out pretty well, I fit two bags of pea gravel into 10 weights this way. I still have another bag of gravel but I doubt I’ll need to make more than five more weights. There is some variation in the weights – in particular, one of the blue ones weighs much less than the others, but I just make sure to leave that one out for the exercises with only a few weights, and put it in for the ones with most or all. I’m deliberately not weighing them to avoid the psychological barrier as suggested. I would guess they’re somewhere between 15 and 20 pounds though.

Other than that, I’ve bought a sleeping mask and a good amount of whey protein, and I’m trying to follow the 40/40/20 split. I do tend to go a bit high on carbs, though. Nevertheless, I’ve maintained a weight of 180 pounds while gaining a significant amount of muscle. It’s also nice to easily move things that I found daunting not long ago. I’m stronger than I’ve ever been, and it feels great.

Congratulations to EC for both his winning entry and his dedication and progress.

Also, don’t let the contest being resolves stop anyone from submitting pictures of their training equipment or setups. I always like to see how people are making it happen.

AtA: Engineer Bags Revisited

Posted June 4th, 2010 in Ask the Author by Clint

In buying your “engineer bags,” is it worth paying extra to get one with a flat bottom, or is round fine? It seems like round would roll off you when you try to do a weighted pushup? On the same note, it seems like you might be doing a disservice by continuing to call it an “engineer bag” when searching for that turns up only different things, while “duffle bag” is mostly correct. As a reader I’d rather just see links to a few inexpensive “recommended” ones on your site, though.

I apologize for the confusion; for effectively all of my life I’ve heard them referred to as engineer bags. It’s a heavy duty canvas bag that’s typically early 20th century issue, available at pretty much any Army/Navy store, suitable for carrying tools or parts in, and thick enough that chunks of metal won’t slice through it. “Duffel bag” to me is the big canvas tube-like backpack you see infantrymen carrying their clothing and worldly possessions in. And most people seem to think of the thin nylon/plastic ‘gym bag’ as a ‘duffel bag’ as well.

Whenever I’m not at home and I’m building a new engineer bag (which happens frequently if I’m traveling, at a workshop, helping a friend/client put one together, whatever), it’s pretty much an hour job. I go to a local Army/Navy (or failing that, sporting goods store) so I can physically touch the bags and see what seems most durable (and grab a bag of tube socks while I’m there), then go to a hardware/home improvement store and get 2-4 bags (100-200lbs) of gravel. About $20USD total cost. I usually take the recipient of the bag along so they can pick something that appeals to them (some people don’t appreciate having an olive drab sack in the corner of their nice living room).

I would feel uncomfortable recommending ones off Amazon that I haven’t tried, so I’ve ordered a couple and will test them out and let you know what I would recommend.

As far as flat bottom or round, my current pair are rounded. The rocks will ‘flatten out’ on the bottom and be more of a significant factor in stability than a seam will, for push-ups or whatever. But it’s not that big a deal either way.tl;dr get something durable that pleases you aesthetically. Straps going all the way around the bag for support. Many readers also recommend handles on the side as well as the top.

AtA: Wacky Antics and Chair Alternatives

Posted May 31st, 2010 in Ask the Author by Clint

Alrighty, so I read the e-book, and I really enjoyed the information and presentation and will definitely start giving in to my whacky side more by skipping to class and the like.

I don’t want to dissuade your originality or individualism in any way, but if you want to get some leverage on yourself and make things interesting, you might consider doing ‘whacky’ stuff with a buddy. Not only is it fun and motivating to have someone to race, but herd mentality suggests that if there is one person doing something out of the ordinary, people view that person with skepticism and suspicion. But if you go screaming by with a friend (or two), it makes people question if in fact you’re doing the right thing and they’re screwing up somehow.

Be sure to link the news article if you somehow get a majority of people on campus to dash frantically between classes. You trendsetter you.

But I have one question, what would you suggest as an alternate to a chair?

This is both an excellent question and a seemingly never-ending frustration to me. I have tried all manner of ergonomic chairs, kneeling chairs, silly bosu-ball chair things, even hammocks, beanbags, and recliners. I also know more than one trainer who puts their laptop on a tall shelf or bar and just stands up while they use the computer. The fact most people generally lean forward to get at the computer only complicates matters. But I am still searching for something that biomechanically makes sense.

At present, I personally have a regular ergonomic office chair approved by various back-health organizations, but truth be told I probably spend half of my time with my feet in it, squatting. Like right now. I’m not even kidding.

Since using a computer is typically the easiest way to be stuck in a chair for long periods, the best trick I can suggest at this point is to simply alter your position frequently, and also to stand up when you can. If you’re not interacting with the keyboard at any given moment, standing up, turning around, squatting down, doing any sort of movement that helps break up a static, prolonged position is probably the best damage control you can do.

AtA: Exercise Frequency and Off-day Meals

Posted May 26th, 2010 in Ask the Author by Clint

What is your take on daily exercise? If I lift a 5×5 three a week, is it okay to spin on the in between days, or should I let my muscles recover?

Also, do you eat a peak meal on days that you don’t exercise?

As I mention in the book, I think it’s great. The more the merrier. I might debate the merits of Spin class, but as long as the intensity is high enough there’s nothing wrong with using it as an interval exercise.

One thing I would recommend (and I do recommend in the book) is that you allow for proper recovery, which includes both adequate sleep and active recovery, such as taking a decently long walk. Honestly, if you had the time on your hands, there’s nothing wrong with weight training every day and doing interval, provided you get proper recovery. If you find yourself fatigued or with reduced performance, you simply either increase active recovery (more massage, more rest, more walking and so on) or scale back training. It’s pretty straight-forward.

It’s not like in ye olden times (of a whole century ago) dudes would be like “hell, guess I can’t toil in the fields since I just chopped wood. I’ll overtrain! MWF is butter churning, T-Th is for wrangling livestock. Better eat mah glucose snakes.” What a horribly hamfisted analogy, but hopefully the gist is clear.

As for Peak meals, no. I don’t recommend them if they don’t accompany an appropriately intense activity. I sometimes take a Sunday off as a complete rest/recovery day, and those days basically mirror a meal plan from a ketogenic low carb diet.

AtA: The Skinny on General Movement

Posted May 24th, 2010 in Ask the Author by Clint

I wanted to clarify something about “general movement” – you say it essentially helps with the recovery process from interval and resistance training, but does it really do anything on its own? I know people take the stairs and do other slightly physically exerting tasks, claiming that they’re “getting a little exercise in” but otherwise never exercise.

You specifically list
-circulates nutrients
-higher levels of activity, metabolism, and energy states
-stimulates body into recovery mode

but it just kind of sounds like vague crap to make people feel better about taking the stairs and breaking into a sweat from the effort because they weigh 400 pounds.

I understand that doing anything is better than nothing, it just seems strange to have an entire chapter on something that intuitively seems frivolous. You’re the expert though, and I don’t know dick about this, which is why I’m asking.

One thing I stress repeatedly is that it is one of several elements to health; on its own, the effects are certainly better than ‘nothing’, but the synergistic benefits reaped from combining the suggested practices are when things really get good.

For example:

page 58:

There are three different types of exercise discussed in this chapter, each a major contributor to total health and each essential in its own way.

If upon reading the book, someone only takes away “I need to walk more” and actually does it, then their lives will be better for it. Not nearly as good as if they’d actually put together more of the pieces, but certainly better. I don’t consider it to be a justification for eating a triple baconator and dying from a coronary at 34, and I believe the person who does would have rationalized their actions however they had to. I can only offer the information, not force people to take action.

That said, that wasn’t the point of the chapter. For anyone who is actually doing either of both of the other types of exercise (Interval and Resistance), they will see improvement from simple things like walking that they otherwise would not. One thing I run into constantly are guys who perform prodigious feats of strength during their workout, then literally do nothing until their next workout. Sit in a chair and read these forums, play Gamebox X360, whatever.

However, by incorporating (by example) a 30-minute leisurely walk around the park each evening, they would find their recovery, gains, metabolism and energy levels all significantly improved. Soreness would be reduced and recede faster, and they’d even be able to work out more frequently if they so wished.

Both endurance athletes and musclesharks benefit from incorporating low-intensity movement; as I said, it’s actually a form of ‘rest’ as active recovery, not a ‘workout’ that entitles one to a Peak meal (or a Krispy Kreme).

AtA: So I’ve got these dumbbells, see

Posted May 19th, 2010 in Ask the Author by Clint

I’ve got a pair of dumbbells, up to 7.5kg on each (or more like 15kg if you put all the weights onto one bar.) I’ve read the section about doing hip and shoulder pull and push exercise, and I was wondering if you could recommend any exercises I could do with those weights that involve the areas mentioned in the book?

Although you can certainly abuse physics to some extent by using unilateral movements such as split-squats, single-hand OH push or lawnmowers, honestly that’s just not enough weight. You’ll quickly outgrow it (if you haven’t already), and more importantly you won’t get the crucial loading-stimulus on your frame or spine that hoisting a heavier weight will do.

But this is a wide world full of heavy stuff. 50lb bags of pea gravel are $3USD at a hardware store, and an engineer bag will fit in any corner. Or if the engineer bag doesn’t suit you, make due with what’s around (I’ve done a full workout with a mini-fridge before). One guy I train with from time to time has a workout based around his wheel barrow. Fill it up with the shovel, leverage squats, walking deadlifts, press, etc. You can also use crates, kegs, just about anything you’ve got. And the more cumbersome and unwieldy, generally the less weight you need since leverage and torque works against you (which is the sort of physics you can abuse without cheating yourself out of the benefits).

I regularly receive inquiries along the lines of  ”Well, I already have [miscellaneous piece of equipment], how can I use that?” If it’s a piece of gimmicky equipment like an ab circle lounger antelope strider pro plus, don’t bother unless you have fun using it. If you enjoy it, go for it, but bear in mind that almost none of them will provide a high enough intensity to count as an Interval Exercise; you’ll still benefit from the General Movement but don’t expect it to fulfill your exercise requirements. If it’s a home gym setup with tracks or rails, you’re better off (and safer) doing free-standing lifts with a heavy object. Sell the machine, buy a canvas sack and some pea gravel, and spend the rest on meat.

AtA: Engineer Bags vs Freeweights

Posted May 10th, 2010 in Ask the Author by Clint

I have a question about your suggestion for using an engineer bag stuffed with weights as resistance training, though [...] but I really wonder how favorably it compares to pumping iron with real free weight equipment.

I should preface by stating that the engineer bag (or other suitably heavy object you might train with) is not a short-cut or temporary fix to get people started with resistance training; it is a fully-formed method suitable for people of virtually any level of fitness, and can be an effective program for life. The barbell is less than a century old; it’s not like prior to that humans were just wads of cookie dough with stick arms.

A lot of ‘underground’ fitness methods do Strongman-style training, with tire-flipping, sandbags, car pushing, stone lifting, and so on. For all intent and purpose, you can build an incredible physique and immense strength doing basic movements with challenging free-weight of any kind. It’s just mass being moved, simple as that.

That said, it would depend on your goals and how you define them.

Bodybuilders, to start off with (and pardon me if I paraphrase something you might have already read, I say a lot of things more than once) are particularly suited to using barbells and dumbbells because what they are doing is in essence being sculptors, with their own body as the medium. Even amateur-level bodybuilders spend hours just critiquing their own physique, and by having a wide range of tools and stimuli available they are able to shape each curve, angle and plane. In that case, not only would you want the more refined tools that a gym offers, but a host of other isolation exercises that I don’t get into in the book.

Powerlifters and other competitive weightlifters I consider to be athletes, and lifting barbells as a sport. From the lowly gymrat up to the girthiest (sure that’s a word shut up) of pro powerlifters, they seek to make the numbers go higher, same as a runner wants to make the numbers go lower. In this case, I would recommend you seek a gym as well; it’s significantly easier to lift 225 on a bar, even in a front squat, than it is to do the same with an engineer bag or any other unwieldy load. This isn’t to say it’s somehow less of an accomplishment, but like any other sport, some powerlifters wear special suits and practice special techniques (and often have horrifying physiques and form) just to get the numbers a little higher. It’s not a means to an end, it’s the end itself.

There are obviously other purposes that I may not need to get into for the moment, but suffice to say if you goal is “be leaner”, “be stronger”, “look good naked” or most of the reasons people want to ‘do exercise’, the engineer bag is not only a valid choice, it’s one of the better ones available. Though I personally love the gym in theory and in practice, and consider my power cage to be a part of the family, it’s not necessary. I (and you) could accomplish basically the same thing with a good sized rock.

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