Sunday, December 16, 2007

Modding the Crazy Plate Bench Press for Low Budget Lifting

Below is a Youtube video showing a guy doing a crazy plate bench press. Now I'm sure that guy or whoever owns the gym he's at paid a nice hefty price for that bamboo lifting bar, but I think this concept can be used to get a great low-budget-warrior type of workout as well. First, watch the video:

Notice that the free-hanging barbell plates make the lift more difficult, that's the only reason for doing this lift in a gym with nice equipment and lots of barbell plates. Your muscles will be screaming when you're done.

Now, how does this translate to low-budget lifting? As I've noted before, when I started lifting I was supporting a family of four on a budget of less than $16,000 a year. I had NO money to buy equipment with. Anyone that doesn't have $150 to buy a set of weights can easily lift heavy by modifying the crazy plate concept. For the bar, use an old metal fence post or a long section of pipe (at least 1" in diameter) or anything similar. For weights, hang a 5-gallon bucket or half of a 50-gallon drum from each end (make sure you use rope to tie them in place, the bucket's handles may not be strong enough). Fill the bucket/barrell with anything heavy, from sand and brick to old car parts and farm equipment, getting the weight as balanced as you can. Find the balanced center of the bar and start lifting. You could also use a rope or chain to tie on concrete blocks or homemade concrete plates like I used to use.

Here's an article from that talks more about homemade weights:

By the way, big thanks to for pointing out the crazy plate video.

God bless, stay strong, stay fit


Are Strong Chicks Sexy?

You don't have to be around the fitness industry long before you start hearing ladies complaining that they don't want to lift heavy weights because they don't want to get huge, bulging muscles that will make them unattractive. Personally, I just about burst out in laughter whenever I hear something like that, because such a statement contains several misconceptions. Here are my arguments to those misconceptions:

  1. Muscle is sexy--Ever see a guy turn his nose up in disgust at a pair of firm, muscular thighs? Not talkin' about the babes on steroids with no trace of body fat. Talkin' about athletes, dancers, fitness models and the like. Nope, muscle makes a body curvacious and attractive.
  2. Bulky muscles don't happen by accident--Those gals in muscle mags that women think of so often when they think about weightlifting don't get that way just because they lift heavy. Most of them are also on juice, train excessively and maintain an unhealthy bodyfat level. Few gals (maybe 1% of the population) will gain lots of muscle mass just by lifting heavy weights a couple days each week. If muscle mass were easy to get, every guy in America would look like Arnold Schwarzenegger. And even if you fall into the 1% of women who do gain muscle easily, review point No. 1 above and be happy!
  3. Strength is health--So many health problems from bad posture and back pain to heart disease and high cholesterol can be solved with strength training. Strong muscles prevent injury, correct posture, and make your body more capable. Training for strength increases heart and lung health (provided your training reaches intensities that raise your heart rate significantly) and increase high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, which is the "good" cholesterol. Sickliness, including muscles wasted away by excessive aerobic conditioning, and weakness are never sexy.

My wife used to tell me that she didn't want to do heavy weightlifting because she didn't want to get all bulky with muscles. She's been doing kettlebells for a year or two now, but that's not really heavy lifting--great exercise, but not heavy. But this summer she started lifting with me--working at her 5-rep-max and such. We just tested her 1 RM on Friday and she pulled 215 on deadlift and pressed 100 pounds off the bench! She wont' win any contests at that level, but she's stronger than most American women. She feels great about what her new strength allows her to do. And to look at her, you'd never suspect that she likes to lift heavy. She's curvacious and firm, but not bounding with mutant-looking muscles. And in the bedroom . . .well, that's between me and her (wink, wink, nudge, nudge).

So, what do you think? Are strong chicks sexy? Let me know by leaving comments on my blog.

For a list of resources that the gals can use to start gaining the benfits of heavy strength training, check out the ladies' page on my Low Budget Warrior web site:

Also, here's a gal that's got a great attitude about heavy lifting:

God bless, stay strong, stay fit


Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Systema for Real-Life Martial Arts

I've been taking an interest in a Russian martial art called Systema. It is apparently growing in popularity in the U.S. since the Iron Curtain came down over a decade ago. What I like about it is that, as the martial art of of Russian special forces, it's a no-B.S. art that equips a person to be prepared for real-life encounters and it prepares you quickly. While I have great respect for the discipline and training required to master the traditional martial arts of the orient, I think military martial arts offer an individual accelerated training to be able to handle a situtation on the street--a skill that every honest Joe should have. To get started in your systema training, there are lots of videos on YouTube. Here's one of my favorites, dealing with getting the bad guy before he gets you:

BTW, for those of you into martial arts, Pavel has a great set of training videos geared to ramp up your martial power and really put a hurt on your opponents:

Martial Power: Hard-Hitting Combat Secrets from the Russian Special Ops

Here's what one reviewer said about the videos:
"This is one badass intensive martial arts power training video. I would recommand this video to anyone who is discipline enough to handle this explosive lantern of power." Onebadhero - North Carolina, NC USA

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Does Low-Carb Stress You Out?

I came across an interesting book recently that I thought I would share with you all, because it provokes some interesting thought on how food affects our moods and why some people may have trouble maintaining certain kinds of diets.

The book is Peak Performance Living: Easy, Drug-Free Ways to Alter Your Own Brain Chemistry for Improved Productivity, Greater Energy, Sharper Thinking, Optimal Health. It's writen by Dr. Joel Robertson. Published in 1996, it's a bit of an older book, but contains some intriguing ideas.

What I really like about this book is that it doesn't treat everybody as being the same. Robertson recognizes that people respond differently to environments, food, and activity differently, depending on their personality and what they are mentally, emotionally and physically accustomed to. Robertson's theory is that people have different neurochemical persnoalities. That is, they are most comfortable when their seratonin, dopamine and other neurochemicals that slow or speed up neurotransmission are at certain levels. Some people like high levels of dopamine that make them energetic and don't like high levels of seratonin, which makes them feel sluggish. On the other hand, some people get agitated and stressed out when dopamine levels are high and prefer the ability to concentrate that high seratonin levels afford them. Robertson identifies nine neurochemical personality types and their preferred balance of neurochemicals.

Why am I talking about this in a health and fitness blog? Because, according to Robertson, the easiest way to achieve your most comfortable level of neurochemistry is through food and exercise. Here's the jist of it: proteins boost dopamine and similar chemicals, thus giving you a boost of energy and accelerating performance; meanwhile, carbohydrates boost seratonin and provide a satiated feeling and improving concentration. Moderate exercise, Robertson says, will boost dopamine and energize you, while exhaustive exercise boosts dopamine temporarily, but then exhausts it and boosts seratonin. Bottom line is if you need an energy boost, eat protein and exercise lightly, but if you want to relax or concentrate, eat carbs and exercise until you can't stand upright (my translation).

Since we live in a performance-based society and getting more things done and having more energy always seems like a good idea, it would seem that Robertson's theories would support a low-carbohydrate/hgh-protein diet. But hang on a minute. If some people actually get stressed out from high dopamine levels--and Robertson indicates this stress can get pretty severe, then a low-carb diet is likely to be unproductive for personalities that have a preference for feeling satiated and comfortable. For these people, a high-protein/low-carb diet would just put them on edge and the resulting stress would eventually impair their ability to function at an optimum level. Also, if high dopamine levels can make it hard to concentrate, then there are obviously times when having high seratonin levels and eating a few carbs are beneficial to the performance factor.

Now, I'm neither a proponent nor opponent of healthy low-carb diets. But I think that it's well worth considering that some people will have more trouble than other adapting to a low-carb/high-protein diet because of their neurochemical personality. A person who gets stressed out by high dopamine levels is going to have a difficult time with such a diet compared to somebody who loves the adrenaline rush and likes to go-go-go. Although Robertson doesn't specifically address low-carb diets, his theories seem to suggest that high-seratonin-type people, which he calls "satiation personalities", who want to lose weight should focus more and reducing fat intake and refrain from consuming excessive carbs rather than eliminating grain-based carbs altogether. And while these folks may not find exercise enjoyable, they're likely to prefer the end result of exhaustive-type exercise more than the energy boost from light exercise.

I don't mean to vouch for Robertson's credibility or suggest that his theories are the be-all end-all of neurochemistry and diet. But the individuality of a person plays a siginificant role in their ability to lose weight, build muscle and perform. So I think this idea is worth taking a look at. Robertson's book is available at if you want to take a look.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Sugar vs. Broccoli: Does it really matter what you eat?

I recently overheard a guy at church talking to some older folks at church about sugar consumption and how bad it is for you. Now, I didn't hear the whole conversation, but what I did hear just about made me laugh out loud. He was telling them how sugar just stays in the body and messes everything up. I mean he was talking as if after eating a candy bar you would have granules of sugar floating around in your blood stream. Ludicrous.

It doesn't work that way.

First of all, your body treats all carbohydrates the same way. It doesn't matter if those carbs come from a teaspoon of sugar and corn syrup or whole grains and vegetables. The body turns all carbohydrates into glucose. Glucose is a simple sugar that the body utilizes to create ATP, which is the fuel for cellular metabolism. Some glucose is stored as glycogen in the muscles and liver.

Now, it is true that when you consume sugar, corn syrup and other simple carbs that your blood sugar level spikes dramatically. This is because simple sugars are easily digested and it takes less time to donvert them to glucose and get them into the blood stream. An occasional spike in blood sugar level is of little consequence to most people. Folks who aren't diabetic have a natural response mechanism (insulin release) that causes the body's cells to start taking in glucose and storing it either as glycogen in muscles and other tissue or combining it with fat to store in fat cells.

The problem with high blood sugar levels is that if they occur frequently the cells max out their ability to store glucose and can become resistant to insulin. This causes the body to release even more insulin in an attempt to lower blood sugar level. If this pattern continues over a long period of time, it seems that the pancreas, which produces insulin, wears down and has difficulty making the amount of insulin needed. This is the current theory on how Type 2 diabetes develops.

Additionally, when the tissue cells reach their maximum capacity for storing glycogen, the only way the body can lower blood sugar levels is by combining the glucose with fat to create triglycerides and storing them in the fat cells. Fat cells seem to have a nearly unlimited capacity for storage. This is why overeating, obesity and type 2 diabetes seem to go hand in hand so often.

But here's the thing, it doesn't matter whether the glucose that causes the problem comes from simple sugars or from whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Glucose is glucose. Technically speaking, you can develop obesity and diabetes from eating too much broccoli. Of couse, it's a lot harder to eat too much broccoli than it is to eat too much sugar or corn syrup, which leads me to my next point . . .

The reason sugar, corn syrup, highly-refined grain products and other simple sugars are so detrimental to our health is not because they act differently once digested. It's because it's too easy to overeat them. Whole grains, fruits and vegetables require a longer digestive process, which means the resulting glucose takes longer to get into the blood, so blood sugar levels don't spike as often. This reduces the chance of developing insulin resistance and diabetes. Since digestion takes longer, it also means we feel "full" longer and are less likely to consume as much.

By way of comparison, a candy bar contains three times as many total carbohydrates and four times as many sugars as a banana. You would have to eat three bananas to get the same glucose reaction in your body as eating a candy bar. A banana also has a fraction of the fat of a candy bar and a fourth of the total calories. Most people wouldn't eat more than one banana at a time. They also wouldn't eat less than a whole candy bar at a time. When you consider how many fewer carbs, fat and calories a banana has--not to mention all the extra nutrients that the candy bar doesn't have--it's easy to see why fruits, vegetables and whole grains are a better source of carbohydrates than candy and junk food. But it's not because the body reacts differently to those carbs. It's about quantity.

More information about metabolism and how it affects your health can be found in my upcoming eBook Secrets of a Turbocharged Metabolism published by Lifeline Publishing LLC. Keep an eye out for it at

Live long, stay strong

John Fike

Monday, July 9, 2007

Thank You Punching Bag Ebook Readers

Thank you to all who have downloaded my ebook How to Build Your Own 150-Pound Heavy Punching Bag.

I've got some more ebooks coming, including some on stonebells and kettlebells. I just have to find the time to finishe writing them.

If you want a copy of the punching bag ebook, you can sign up to get it at If you want to see what it looks like, there's a video on my previous post:

Thanks again to all my fellow warriors who took an interest

Stay strong, stay fit.

John Fike

Build Lightning-fast Timing In Your Combat Skills

If you train in the martial arts, whether for sport or self-defense, you need to have a certain book in your training library. That book is Timing in the Fighting Arts: Your Guide to Winning in the Ring and Surviving on the Street by Loren Christensen and Wim Demeere.

This book has been invaluable to me in developing my timing with strikes, kicks, defense and movement. The precision of not only my timing, but striking location as well has improved dramatically since working the drills in this book and adopting the authors' strategies. The authors are go very deep into explaining the thought processes in good timing and how to use your opponent's reaction speed against him. The drills are very well thought out and adaptable to most any training situation. I train most of them on my heavy punching bag and with partners.

I highly recommend you get Timing in the Fighting Arts immediately if you are a fighter in any martial or combat art.

Stay strong, stay fit

John Fike

Friday, June 29, 2007

Awesome Kettlebell Training

Here's an awesome bit of kettlebell training:

Thursday, May 24, 2007

150-Pound Punching Bag DIY Instructions Now Available

I'm a little slow getting these around, but the instructions for building your own

150-pound heavy punching bag are now available.

I've written them up with a lot of detail and put them in an ebook that includes photos,

diagrams and even a short video to help you with one part that's particularly


The ebook and video are absolutely free, but the files are really huge so I didn't want

to put them right in the blog -- OK, I also wanted a way to know who all is really

reading this blog. Just put your name--I don't care whether it's real or made up--and

your email address in the form below and hit "send".

Although the confirmation message will indicate you're subscribing to something, you

really aren't--I just need a place to send your ebook.

id="GRSubscribeForm" accept-charset="UTF-8">


Powered by GetResponse email marketing software

Monday, May 21, 2007

Warrior Style Weight Loss

In my own training right now I'm backing off the strength training just a bit and putting some effort toward deflating my spare tire.

Now, I'm not normally real concerned with keeping my midsection real trim, when I realized that I was beginning to outgrow the pants that I bought because I had outgrown the previous set of pants, I decided it was time to do a little maintenance.

I'm really big into the warrior mentality and I hate aerobics, stair-steppers, treadmills and Fit-TV (though I do watch a program from time to time for a good laugh.). Tae-bo might be alright if it wasn't set to sissy pop music. That said, I thought my fellow warriors out there might like to know some of my tactics for eliminating the enemy at my waistline.

Here are the main components:
1. Get disciplined about food--Discipline is essential to the warrior's success. Starve your enemy out by controlling the supply line--don't take in more food and calories than you need each day.

2. Morning walk every day--I stumbled on this pretty much by accident, though it fit some theories I've known about. I started walking as a means of spiritual discipline. AFter dropping off the kids at school, I go for a walk to pray and think before starting my day. I only go a mile or two, which only burns about 100 to 200 calories, but it boosts my metabolism for most of the day until I can get to my main workout.

3. Kettlebells --Three days a week, baby! Right now I'm diong the “> Enter the Kettlebell program, which includes clean & press ladders, snatches and swings. Kettlebells burn lots of calories while conditioning the body for combat situations.

4. Minimize strength training--With the high calorie burn going on, it's difficult to add much muscle, so I do just enough strength training that I don't lose what I've gained over the last year. That amounts to barbell training one day a week and odd-object lifting (stones, barrells, pipes, sand bags) once a week.

5. Heavy bag work--After training with barbells, I do 30 to 45 minutes of punching and kicking on my heavy bag. I work various drills and combinations and try to keep my heart rate up around 150-160 and push it to 180-185 two or three times during the workout. If the weather is good, I use my homemade 150-pound bag outside. (Detailed instructions for making your own will get posted later this week).

6. Jumproping & sprinting--After my mid-week kettlebell workout, I do 20-30 minutes of alternating jumproping with spriting (100 rope jumps, two sprints up and down the alley, couple minutes of rest; repeat 4 to 6 times).

Schedule works like this:

Monday-light kettlebells: 5 clean & press ladders up to 3 reps per side, 10 minutes of snatches at a comfortable pace

Tuesday-Barbells (Deadlifts, bench press, squats) and heavy bag work

Wednesday- moderate kettlebells: 5 clean & press ladders up to 4 reps per side, 10 minutes of snatches and swings at a challenging pace

Thursday-odd-object lifting

Friday- off

Saturday- Heavy kettlebells: 5 clean & press ladders up to 5 reps per side, 10 minutes of swings doing as many as I possibly can in that time (175 this weekend).


Of course, 5 kids and a business to run get me off schedule from time to time, but I pretty much stick to this.

Stay strong, stay fit

John Fike

Friday, May 4, 2007

Homemade Heavy Bag is Like Hitting a Real Opponent

In my basement I have a 70-pound Everlast heavy punching bag. The only problem with it is that when I hit it, it doesn't feel all that heavy. It swings all over the place--especially when I kick it. Now that's not so bad for practicing timing and mobility, but it doesn't condition me for hitting a live human being. Let's face it, the point of self-defense and martial arts is to be able to defend against another person, so you have to train to do that and most adults weight a lot more than 70 pounds.

For a couple years now I've had some ideas about how to build a heavier punching bag. A couple weeks ago, I finally put those plans into action. The end result is a 150-pound heavy bag that does a wonderful job of conditioning joints, bones and muscle to endure the impact of hitting a real person. As you can see from the vido below, the bag barely moves when I hit it! It's also tall enough that I can practice hitting any location on an opponent from knees to head--my 70-pound bag barely lets me get a groin shot in if I hang it high enough for head strikes.

Check it out:

If you want to try building one of thse for yourself, I basically took two bags of tube sand and wrapped them in carpet and carpet padding. Then covered it in 3 mil plastic to resis moisture and finished it off with a layer of duct tape. The carpet is in two layers; the first layer has the soft pile facing the sand bags to minimize abrasion that might tear the bags, the second layer faces outward to give more cushioning to the hands when striking the bag. Between the two layers of carpet is where I wrapped the rope for hanging the bag. The rope is covered with duct tape to keep the carpet backing from fraying it. Tube sand was out of season at local stores when I finally got around to building this, so I made my own from heavy-duty 3 mil plastic garbage bags (box of 12 for about $8) and duct tape. In all, I used 120 yards of duct tape.

First time I used this heavy bag I didn't wear wrist wraps and it didn't take long before I had to switch to kicks to give my wrists a break. I won't make that mistake again in the near future. You can make your bag more wrist friendly by using more carpet padding than I did. It might also work to include a couple layers of bubble wrap between the carpet and carpet padding.

Good luck with yours, more detailed instructions will be available soon.

Stay strong, stay fit.


Monday, April 30, 2007

Debut of the Stonebell

It's done and it works great!

My experiment in creating the perfect Stonebell was a success. It's got the shape of a regular iron kettlebell (for the most part anyway), but you can make it at home with some concrete and a few other materials. Here's a couple of photos:

Here's the short version of how I made it:

  1. Cover a children's play ball with plaster of paris, leaving holes to insert ends of the handle into and a way to divide the plaster shell to get the handle in.

  2. Once plaster is dry, deflate the ball and remove it.

  3. Make the handle out of stiff 1-inch diameter rubber tubing over a 24" piece of re-bar.

  4. Place the handle between the two halves of the mold and tape the mold together.

  5. Mix up and pour concrete into mold.

  6. Let stand until concrete is hardened; remove mold and allow to cure for about a week.

  7. To make it adjustable with barbell plates, before pouring concrete screw a 1/2-inch diameter bolt about 3/8 of an inch into a threaded-bar coupler and suspend the bolt end of it in the center of the mold. The open end of the coupler should be flush with the top of the mold so that, in the end, it looks like this:

Use another bolt and a washer to bolt barbell plates onto the bottom. I use a 25-pound plate in the photo above, but 10 and 5-pound plates work just as well.

I haven't had a chance to write up the detailed instructions, but will do so before too long and make them available to you all. For now, take a look at my video using the Stonebell.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

2 Ways to Build Endurance

When it comes to training the endurance of your body, the body adapts and increases capacity in the same way that it becomes stronger or adapts to other physiological needs. The body likes to keep capacity one step ahead of whatever demands are placed on it as part of its regular routine. So, someone who regularly doesn’t get more exercise than walking from the parking lot to his office only has enough endurance capacity to do that and a little more.

By staying just ahead of needs, the body reduces the chance of becoming damaged when occasionally pressed a little beyond what it’s used to, but doesn’t waste resources maintaining systems that have more capacity than is needed. It’s like choosing what kind of car to drive. If the vast majority of the driving you do is by yourself on city streets with lots of traffic, then (ego aside) all you need is a small, compact car that gets great gas mileage. You don’t need a gas-guzzling SUV or 4-wheel-drive truck with tires the size of a Buick. However, if you work on a ranch or construction crew and do lots of heavy hauling over rough terrain, then a Honda Civic just isn’t going to cut it and you’ll have to trade up to the big truck.

If your routine suggests to your body that a Honda Civic endurance capacity is all that is needed, it’s not going waste resources maintaining a monster truck endurance capacity. However, when your body perceives that it is more often being required to do more work, it automatically upgrades to the next level of vehicle. So the key to increasing your endurance capacity is to do enough extra work on a regular basis that your body decides it’s time for an upgrade.

There are two ways to trigger this adaptation. The first way, which I call the Slow & Easy method, is to make small increases in your daily activity. For example, if you don’t get any exercise beyond walking to and from your car each day, start by going for a stroll around the block each day. After a month, increase the distance or add a set of 20 jumping jacks before heading out on your stroll. Every couple of weeks, add a little more exercise or do the same exercise in a little less time. Make very small increases because you are getting this exercise on a daily basis; if the increases are too large, your body won’t be able to adapt quick enough and you’ll actually damage your body rather than make it stronger.

The second way, which I call the Hard & Sweaty method, is to periodically press your body to its physical limits and give it time to recover before stressing it again. For example, once a week you might jog or do calisthenics to the point of total exhaustion and maybe another workout once or twice a week that is about half of that big workout. This routine creates an immediate demand for growth and adaptation, but supplies sufficient downtime for the body to recover and meet that demand.

If you are someone who doesn’t get a lot of regular exercise or are just starting to add endurance training to your routine, I recommend you use the Slow & Easy method for at least the first six months. This will allow you to acclimate your body to a new type of conditioning. If you exercise regularly, especially if your training already involves an aerobic'>aerobic component, I suggest using the Hard & Sweaty method to increase your endurance.

In the next installment of this series, I’ll discuss how to apply these training principles to the two kinds of endurance that I discussed in the last installment. Until then . . .

Stay strong,
Live well.

John Fike

Monday, April 23, 2007

New DIY gym equipment on its way!!

Busy, busy busy.

Man, it's been difficult getting enough time to post all the stuff I want to post. If you've been looking forward to the second installment of my article on endurance training, I apologize. Hopefully it will be up in the next couple of days.

One of the things that's been keeping me busy is the planning and building of several new pieces of home-made gym equipment. This weekend I completed a 100-pound sand bag and a 150-pound heavy punching bag.

I also am only one step away from completing what I'm calling The Perfect Stonebell. What is a stonebell you ask? Well, it's a kettlebell made out of stone--concrete actually. I call this the Perfect stonebell because it's relatively easy to build, uses inexpensive materials and IT'S ADJUSTABLE! Yep, it's made of concrete AND you can adjust the weight. If you're interested in working out with kettlebells but don't want to fork out over $100 for one of Pavel's, this project ought to really interest you.

The concrete is poured and as soon as its cured, I'll remove it from the mold and give it a test run. Then I'll be putting together detailed instructions on how to build one. I'll be putting together detailed instructions for the 150-pound heavy bag and sand bag as well. In the meantime here are a couple of photos to whet your appetite:
Making the stonebell mold:

Getting Ready to Cast:

My son posing wtih the nearly-finished 150-pound punching bag:

Monday, April 9, 2007

Two Kinds of Endurance

Most of the time on this blog I talk about strength and power. That's because I believe that the first element of truly functional fitness is strength and power. Strong, powerful muscles stabilize your skeletal structure, correct muscle imbalances and posture, and decrease the risk of injury in your daily activities and recreation.

The second element of functional fitness is endurance. In my book there are two kinds of endurance:

  1. High-intensity endurance
  2. Low-intensity endurance

I differentiate them based on the kind of nutrient utilized as feul and the purpose which they serve. I'm sure exercise physiologists have different, more-scientiffic names these two kinds of endurance, but these labels make sense to me. Today I'm just going to hit on the primary differences and why they're important. In upcoming posts, I'll tell you how to train to increase both kinds of endurance.

High-intensity endurance is a matter of how long can you engage in vigorous activity like swinging lifting weights or sprinting. This kind of high-intensity activity primarily utilizes the anaerobic energy system, which is feuled strictly by carbohydrates. All muscular contractions depend on a chemical known as ATP. In high-intensity exercise the muscles first consume ATP already available in the muscle fibers. Then the mitochondria in the fibers turn on its energy systems to make more ATP. The Anaerobic systems are the first to be utilized because ATP is produced more quickly and doesn't require the high quantity of oxygen that the aerobic energy system requires. However, the anaerobic systems do not create ATP in as much abundance as the aerobic system and the byproduct is lactic acid, the build up of which leads to muscle failure.

Increasing your high-intensity endurance increases the amount of time you can engage in high-intensity activity before muscle failure due to decreased availability of ATP and build-up of lactic acid. A real-world appliction might be a self-defense situtation in which you either need to fight off an attacker or sprint to escape one. High-intensity endurance keeps your fighting stronger and more accurately long enough to finish the job and enables you to sprint far enough to outrun the attacker. High-intensity endurance will also help you catch that bus when you're running late to work.

Low-intensity endurance is about how long you can engage in a less-intense activity before exhausting your energy systems. It doesn't matter whether we're talking about a marathon run or playing outside with your kids. Low-intensity endurance lets you engage in activity for longer. It also determines how long before you can engage in the next bout of high-intensity activity, because the ATP produced can be used for any sort of activity. That's why you rest between sets of weightlifting; the aerobic energy systems supplement the anaerobic systems to provide enough energy for that next set.

Low-intensity endurance is primarily feuled by the aerobic energy systems, which consume fat, carbohydrates and protein to manufacture ATP. The less intense the activity, the higher the ratio of fat is being burned. That's why jogging, aerobics and similar activities are so popular for weight loss--they increase the number of calories being burned and, because of the low intensity, burn more fat calories than anything else. However, the aerobic systems are also utilized to replace the ATP consumed during high-intensity of exercise and the highest ratio of fat is burned during periods of rest. Since high-intensity exercise burns more ATP and calories in less time, it may be more efficient to burn calories with high-intensity exercise and let the aerobic system burn fat to replace that energy during recovery.

Anyway, in my estimation, the greatest reason for increasing low-intensity endurance is that it increases your energy levels and endurance for ALL activities--even sitting in your office typing on the computer. By training your low-intensity endurance capacity, you increase your energy levels for daily actitivities and increase your overall metabolism, which results in more energy, more fat burn, yada yada yada.

Next time we'll discuss how to increase your endurance capacity.

Live strong, live well

John Fike

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Low Budget Warrior: DIY gym equipment

Yo, warriors:

Straight to the Bar located some awesome resources on building your own gym equipment. Check it out: DIY: Home-made gym equipment

1,000 Kettlebell Swing Challenge

If you're looking for a simple way to get cardio without running, cycling, etc. the 10,000 Kettlebell Swing Challenge is a great way to go. Check it out on the Inner Grr blog by Kerry Kriener-Althen: 10,000 Kettlebell Swing Challenge. I started mine this week, but since I've not been doing as many swings and snatches during the winter (no room overhead in the basement) I'm starting out at 200 swings every day or two instead of the 300 per day Kerry's client started with.

Remember, if you don't own a kettlebell you can substitute a dumbbell or even a barbell plate with built-in grip handle. If you want to buy one, the best place to get an authentic Russian Kettlebell is

By the way, Kerry's site is an excellent one for you Amazon warrior women. Lot's of good fitness and strength tips catered to your needs.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Low Budget Warrior Tip No. 103:
No Bench Required (Part 2)

Last week I went over several exercises based on the basic pushup. This week I want to cover some barbell, kettlebell and dumbbell exercise that train the chest without using a bench. The first three of these I have to thank Pavel Tsatsouline for bringing to my attention several years ago through his books “Power to the People!” and “The Russian Kettlebell Challenge”. Since then I’ve found several other references to these exercises, which have been around since the old-time strong men like Arthur Saxon and Eugene Sandow.

Without further ado, here are six exercises for strengthening the chest without a bench:

  1. Side Press—Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Grab your dumbbell, kettlebell or barbell in one hand and clean it to your shoulder. If you’re using a barbell, make sure you grab the bar at the center of balance before attempting to lift it off the ground. Now, shift your center of gravity over the leg opposite of your lifting arm and lean to the side away from the bell. As you shift your weight, rotate your hand so that the back of your hand is facing behind you and your thumb and fingers are facing forward. Ideally, your elbow should be a little bit behind you so that your triceps will be resting on your lats—not directly on your ribs. Turn your head so that you are facing the bell and tense up the entire body, especially the core muscles. Keeping eye contact with the bell, engage the lat and press the bell upward until you can lock your arm out. Maintain tension as you return the bell to the lowered position.
    Kettlebell Sidepress Step 1Kettlebell Sidepress Step 2
  2. Bent Press—This is similar to the side press, but I like it better because I think it works the pecs even more than the side press. Start in the same stance as for the side press and hold the bell in the same position. But, instead of pressing the bell up, bend at the waist to lower your torso to the side and slightly to the front and press with your pecs and lats so that the bell rises almost naturally as you press your body away from it. Once your arm is locked out, keep it straight overhead as you raise your torso back to a standing position. At the end of the motion, you are standing straight up with your arm locked straight up, supporting the bell. Slowly lower your arm back to the starting position for the next rep.
    Barbell bent press 1Barbell bent press 2Barbell bent press 3
    Barbell bent press 4Barbell bent press 5Barbell bent press 6
  3. Floor Press—This is essentially a bench press, but you are lying on the floor instead of a bench. Because your elbows cannot drop lower than your back, you won’t get the bar or bells to your chest, but you will get sufficient range of motion. There are two ways to get into position. You can either lie down and have someone hand you the weights, or you can maneuver the weights into position as you lie down. Some of the old-time strongmen would roll a barbell up their body as they laid back, but this takes a lot of muscling around. For floor press, I prefer to use dumbbells or kettlebells, because you can hold them to your chest while sitting up, then lay back and they almost automatically fall into position.

  4. Neck Bridge Press—This is a floor press except that before pressing the weights up, you arch your belly toward the ceiling so that only your head and heels are on the floor. This lets you get a more complete range of motion, but you have to start with very light weights until your neck and spine become accustomed to the exercise. Be EXTREMELY careful performing this exercise and don’t use any more weight than you are confident with. Only do this with a spotter around who can take the weights if anything goes wrong. This is a very effective exercise, but stupidity will get you injured quickly.

  5. Floor Fly—Lay on your back with a dumbbell/kettlebell in each hand. Stretch your arms straight out to the sides. Keep your arms straight as you use your pecs to pull them up and inward. At the top of the fly, your arms are locked straight toward the ceiling. Slowly lower your arms back to the floor. If this exercise is new to you, start with very light weights.

  6. Isometric Press/Punch—From a standing or lying position with clenched fists held to the sides of your chest, slowly punch or press one fist out. Resist the punching motion with your biceps and back muscles. It should look and feel like you are moving your arm through wet concrete and you should feel the burn of effort in your chest, back, triceps and biceps.

    Well, that should keep you busy for a week.

    Stay strong, live well.

    John Fike

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Low Budget Warrior Tip No. 102: No Bench Required

When the subject of lifting weights for exercise comes up, one of the first exercises people think of is the bench press. The bench press is one of the signature exercises of the modern bodybuilding culture. To be fair, the bench press is an efficient way to build strength and size in the pectoralis muscles of the chest. However, it is not the only way to do so and other exercises build functional chest strength better. After all, how often do you find yourself lying on your back and pressing something off your chest?

The pectoralis muscles are important to functional strength. They play a key role in punching, overhead lifting, holding and carrying large objects and similar motions. They also assist in maintaining structure and alignment of the shoulders, providing counter force to the trapezius and other muscles of the upper back. Because of the importance of the pectoralis muscles, we want to be sure to include them in our strength training program. But if you don’t want to spend money on a bench or don’t want to clutter your home with exercise equipment, we need to have ways to train those muscles without a weightlifting bench.

Obviously, pushups are the simplest substitute for the bench press, but it won’t be long before you have stopped gaining strength and are just increasing muscular endurance by doing more and more repetitions. Some solutions to this are to increase resistance by doing one of the following:

  1. Incline pushups—elevate your feet. The higher your feet, the more difficult the pushup becomes.
    Drawback: eventually you’ll get your feet high enough that you are working the anterior deltoid (shoulder muscle) more than the pectoralis muscles.
  2. One-arm pushups—Not only are you lifting the same weight with one hand that you previously did with two, but the leverage of the exercise effectively multiplies the weight. It is unlikely that you will be able to do one-arm pushups from the floor correctly the first time you attempt them. Start by placing your hand on an elevated surface with your feet on the floor. This shifts your center of gravity toward your feet and effectively reduces the weight you are pushing up. Work your way toward the floor over weeks and months until you can pushup off the floor.
    Drawbacks: Requires tremendous muscular control and balance to execute and thoroughly exhausts the Central Nervous System.
    Resource: Best instruction I’ve ever seen on performing a one-arm pushup is in Pavel Tsatsouline's book The Naked Warrior. Check it out.
  3. Add resistance with bands—stretch them across your shoulders and upper back and pin the ends to the floor with your hands.
    Drawback: resistance increases as the bands are stretched and decreases as the bands contract. To apply more resistance on the bottom of the pushup, shorten the bands and do half pushups.
  4. Add resistance with weights—put weights (either barbell plates, sand bags or other heavy objects) in a backpack and put the backpack on. Do pushups as usual.
    Drawbacks: You can only get so much weight in a back pack and it can be awkward to get on and off when its heavy.
  5. Have a partner add resistance—partner stands either in front of you or straddles your waist and places hands on the trapezius between the shoulder blades. Partner applies just enough resistance to make the pushups challenging. Drawbacks: Requires a partner, so you can’t do it alone, and the partner must be attuned to your needs so that the resistance applied is neither too great nor too little.

    Next week we’ll discuss several ways to use dumbbells, kettlebells and barbells to exercise the chest without a bench.

    Stay strong, live well.

    John Fike

Engage the Lats for a Better Bench Press

Use back muscles to exercise the chest?


By tensing up the lats, along with the pectoral and arm muscles, you bring into effect the phenomenon known as hyperirradiation. In hyperirradiation, muscles other than the targeted muscles are tensed and hardened to give support to the targeted muscles and stabilize the joints. In this case, the tense lats (Latissimus dorsi) stabilize the shoulder and support the action of the pectoralis major. The end result is a stronger lift and, perhaps more importantly, a safer lift that is less prone to injury.

Think of it this way: Imagine a ladder lying on the ground and you have to lift it to a vertical position by pulling on one of the rungs. If you just heave on the rung without bracing it, the ladder will be very difficult to control and you will use most of your strength to keep the ladder from swinging out of control. But if you brace the ends of the ladder with your feet or have an assistant steady the ladder, you can focus your strength on raising the ladder into place. Hyperirradiation works the same way, the assisting muscles stabilize the joint and supply a firm foundation for the movement so that the pectoralis major can focus its strength on pressing, rather than stabilizing.

In addition to stabilizing the joints, the additional muscular activity of hyperirradiation also stimulates more neural activity in the targeted muscle, i.e. pecs.

Power to the People, Pavel Tsatsouline says this about the effects of hyperirradiation:
“Powerlifters (to) whom I taught this deceptively simple move report a typical increase of ten pounds on their bench press the first time they try it!”

To engage the lats from the bottom position of the bench press, prior to pressing tense up the lats by making an inward twisting motion with the arms as if you were attempting to bend the barbell. Maintain tension on the lats throughout the press. You can do the same thing starting from the top position and maintaining the tension through the eccentric (lowering) motion.

Another way to employ hyperirradiation to improve your bench press is to crush the bar with your grip. The forearm muscles activated by the grip will stabilize the elbow and wrist and lend strength to the triceps. With solid, tense muscles all the way up the arm, the force generated by the pecs and lats goes right to the bar instead of being absorbed by the shoulder, elbow and wrist.

Stay strong, live well.

John Fike

Monday, March 5, 2007

Low Budget Warrior Tip #101: Hindu Squat

Hindu squats are a great stationary exercise for cardiovascular training and building endurance. They are a bodyweight exercise, so no equipment is necessary. I first learned about them from Matt Furey at

I use Hindu squats mostly to warm up for a workout, because they quickly elevate body temperature and get the blood flowing. They are not so much a strength exercise, as there is no really good way to increase the resistance, but the do increase muscular endurance in the legs, hips and buttocks. At high repetitions (over 300), Hindu squats can also train you to a higher lactate threshold, which means you will be able to exercise longer before your performance begins to suffer due to the high levels of lactic acid in your muscles and blood.

  1. Start by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart and your arms arms at your sides.
  2. While keeping your back relatively straight back and looking straight ahead, bend at your knees and hips to drop into a squatting position. Let your heels come off the floor and touch your buttocks to your heels or back of your calves, if you can.
  3. As you descend, your arms hang straight and slightly behind you. As you reach the bottom of your squat, begin swinging them out in front of you.
  4. Press through your toes and stand up again.
  5. As you stand, continue swinging your arms up in front of you until they are parallel to the floor.
  6. When you are standing again, let your heels return to the floor and pull your hands into your armpits with a forceful motion.
    The arm motions should be circular and the whole exercise should be performed in a fluid motion. Exhale on the downward motion and inhale during the standing phase.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Sandbags: Low Budget Weight Training

Getting strong and fit without spending a lot of money is always a good idea. In fact, it's the whole basis of my Low Budget Warrior web site. Sandbags are by far the easiest and least expensive way to train heavy. What's really awesome about sandbags, besides their low cost, is that they are extremely adjustable--just add or remove sand as needed.

Straight to the Bar recently posted an entry with instructions on how to make a sandbag for less than $10. Though I've not tried his method yet, it looks durable and excellently suited for adjusting the weight. In his method, the sand is divided into smaller bags then put in a larger sack for lifting. With this method, you can add or remove sand easily depending on the exercise and your ability and not make a mess spilling sand all over. The smaller bags will also keep the sand from shifting quite as much I imagine, which may be good or bad depending on what you're looking from a sandbag .

Once you've made your sandbag, here are 10 things you can do with it to build strength, endurance and power:

  1. Bearhug the sandbag and carry it as far as you can. You may need more than the 45 pounds of sand called for in the Straight to the Bar version to make this challenging.

  2. Deadlift it from the floor with two hands--again, you may need more than 45 pounds.

  3. Put it on one or both shoulders and squat with it.

  4. Press it from chest to overhead with two hands.

  5. Press it overhead with one hand using military press, side press or bent press. (Pavel's Power to the People and Enter the Kettlebell books have excellent instructions for these exercises)

  6. From the floor between your feet, use two hands to sling it up onto your shoulder. Return to floor, then sling it to the other shoulder. Make sure you use your legs and hips to power the sling and keep your back straight and firm.

  7. Use a kettlebell-style clean to clean it from floor to chest.

  8. Combine the clean with an overhead press and squat for power and cardio development.

  9. Lay on your back and chest press the sandbag .

  10. Set it on the floor next to you and, from a standing position, bend at the hips and grab it with two hands. Then lift it up to your chest, followed by bending at your hips to set on the floor on the opposite side that you started from. Repeat going the reverse direction. This is a good exercise for obliques and lower back, which are essential core muscles.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Serious Strength in Only 15 Minutes Per Day

Here's another article that I recently wrote for on how to make significant strength increases by working out only 15 minutes a day. It's a fairly detailed article, including suggested exercises, sets, reps et al. It also explains why this 15-minute routine will result in rapid strength gains. An excerpt from it is below, but you can read the whole article here: Serious Strength in Only 15 Minutes Per Day

By John Fike : Health & Fitness :
Most weightlifting programs these days have people working out in the gym for long periods of time, anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour and a half. They instruct people to do 8 to 15 exercises and to do at least three sets of 8 to 15 repetitions, sometimes more.

Supposedly, these routines are designed to make a person stronger and more muscular. Really, though, they make people big, sore and tired, and they take far too much time out of a person’s day. People with busy schedules don’t even start such programs, because they can’t make the time commitment.

Really, though, if your goal is to increase your strength, you don’t need to spend more than 15 minutes working out each day. With the routine I’m going to share with you in just a minute, you can squeeze in your workout before taking your shower each morning.

Read the rest of the article: Serious Strength in Only 15 Minutes Per Day

To learn more about cycles for strength gain, I highly recommend reading Power to the People by Pavel Tsatsouline, former strength trainer for soviet special forces.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Swing Your Way to Power, Strength & Health

I recently wrote an article for on how to use kettlebell or dumbbell swings to improve your physical health. An excerpt from it is below, but you can read the whole article here: Swing Your Way to Power, Strength & Health

. . . The beauty of this exercise is that it strengthens and develops all the core muscles, especially those associated with the hips, back, buttocks and thighs, because it is a full-body movement. You’ll also use muscles in your arms, legs and just about everything in between.

Swings are fast-paced, explosive movements that quickly elevate the heart rate and breathing. They will quickly wake you from whatever daze you may be in and, once you get used to them, will energize you for the rest of the day.

As a full-body exercise, swings burn incredible quantities of calories and, since you can perform them at an aerobic pace, they are a good choice for burning fat and raising your metabolism.

If you only have time for one exercise in your routine, the versatility and broad range of development provided by swings, makes them hands-down the exercise of choice. Swings are not technically difficult, so nearly anyone can do them and you can combine them with many other exercises.

Read the rest of the article at

Here's a video demonstration of kettlebell swings from my Low Budget Warrior site:

If the YouTube link isn't working, you can also view it on my site:

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Strongman Training Video

Video Description: Train up for AZ Strongman Contest -

While books about lifting and doing strongman exercises are abundant, trying to get a video of various lifts or exercises is a bit of a pain--they're either hard to find or expensive. Here's a free video on YouTube from TroyBCF that shows several examples of several strongman lifts, including the farmer's walk, Atlas stone lift and sandbag carry. Enjoy and be strong.

John Fike

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Enter the Kettlebell Addresses Details of Kettlebell Exercises and Routines


For Christmas this year I received a copy of Pavel Tsatsouline’s
Enter the Kettlebell. Since I’ve had a month to thoroughly digest the book and put some of its suggestions to use, I thought this would be a good time to review it.

Enter the Kettlebell is a follow-up to Pavel’s original book on The Russian Kettlebell Challenge which re-introduced the The Russian Kettlebell Challenge, Dragon Door Publishing have started an annual kettlebell convention.

The Russian Kettlebell Challenge introduced lots of exercises that were new to most of the strength-training and body-building community and took a fairly free-form approach to planning workout sessions. This didn’t fly too well with American audiences, because they were used to being spoon-fed detailed workout schedules that they could follow without putting much thought into it. This is where Enter the Kettlebell comes in.

While I had hoped that
Enter the Kettlebell would have more kettlebell exercises, Pavel actually reduced the number of exercises to reduce confusion. In fact, Pavel’s recommended program for beginners (called the RKC Program Minimum) consists of two exercises: the Turkish Getup and the Swing. The advanced program (RKC Rite of Passage) consists of three: the clean, the pull and the snatch.

However, Pavel makes up for the lack of variety, by giving more detailed instructions on how to perform those exercises—which is a good thing since
The Russian Kettlebell Challenge left a lot to be desired in terms of exercise detail and photos and really required the companion DVD to see how they were really supposed to be done. Although Enter the Kettlebell also has a companion DVD, which I have yet to review, the book reduces the need for the video.

Enter the Kettlebell also responds to American demands for imagination-free workouts by prescribing workout routines and schedules with exact numbers of sets and reps. It also includes precise instructions for including some variations and for integrating kettlebell workouts with Pavel’s other popular strength training programs from Power to the People and The Naked Warrior. By the way, both of those programs only consist of two exercises each as well since Pavel is a proponent of doing a few exercises correctly rather than myriads of exercises poorly or infrequently.

Enter the Kettlebell is a great introduction into exercising with kettlebells if they are new to you. However, if you’ve been doing kettlebell swings, snatches, presses and cleans for years and have followed the Dragon Door discussion forums, there is little new here to learn. Once you’ve mastered those exercises I suggest moving on to the More Russian Kettlebell Challenges or Resilient videos—or just get a bigger

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Strong stomach and glutes eliminate lower back pain

For my first post to this new blog, I want to share an e-mail conversation about lower back pain that I recently had with a relative. He was sharing with me how he has dealt with pain in the lumbar region over the years and I explained why that worked and how to further relieve and prevent lumbar pain:

HIM: I've always found, ever since I was in the furniture business, that when I have back pain or even discomfort, the first thing I do is start a regimen of sit-ups. Even the first 20 or 30 help things considerably, but if I do that for several days, that back pain just disappears completely. I think those muscles and bones in there need to be moved around and strained to help them get back into activity. I remember one time (my wife) and I were in New York City at the SOFA show, it was May. We'd been walking around this huge exhibition center all day. My back started giving me a problem, and it got worse as the day progressed. So when we got back to the room, I just laid down on the floor and went to work with about 30 situps, and that took care of the issue.

ME: What those situps are doing is pulling the front of your pelvis up, which straightens escessive curvature in the lower spine and provides relief to the overworked lumbar muscles. However, situps can also strengthen the psoas muscles, which attach to the inside of the lumbar, run through the pelvis and attach to the upper leg bones (femoris) which flex the hip joints. The psoas doesn't get stretched much, so it can pull excessively on the lumbar, thus contributing to excessive curvature and more lower back pain, especially when standing a lot. Strong muscles in the butt and hamstrings counteract the pull of the psoas by pulling down on the back of the pelvis and having the same effect as strong abdominal muscles. That's why I like deadlifts so much, they strengthen butt and hamstrings--and provide some real shapeliness in those areas for the female population!

Try this next time your lower back hurts from standing or walking: contract the stomach muscles and squeeze your buttocks so that the front of the pelvis tilts upward and straightens out the spine. The motion of the pelvis is similar to certain movements during sex, but is subtle enough that you won't get strange looks from those around you. You should experience some immediate relief.

For more information on how to relieve back pain related to muscle imbalances like the situations described above, look up this resource from the Healthy Back Institute:

Back Pain Relief Guide

John E. Fike, Fitness Writer