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