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.