I’m constantly trying to think of creative ways to work out without the hassle of having to pack up and travel to the gym. Here is a quick tutorial on one of the methods I have come up with to solve the problem of having too little space to store a bench and too little time to travel back and forth to the gym. The idea is to turn your coffee table into a bench for pressing. Now, in order to do this you need a few tools at your disposal. Though the dumbbell bench might not be necessary, the dumbbells aren’t negotiable. You definitely need something to press, be it a dumbbell, kettlebell, a relative, etc. Secondly, you’ll need to make sure that you have a decent life insurance plan in place should this coffee table of yours suddenly not be able to withstand the weight you are putting on it. Personally, I double check that the screws are tight and that’s so far worked pretty well for me (knock on wood).

A couple of steps:

1. Make sure that you won’t slip around the table. I put a yoga mat over the top. The yoga mat is made up of a plastic material that has some tensile grip. It works well to keep me from sliding around.

2. Add some padding. Any blanket or towel will do.

3. You’re ready to go.

You can of course perform the exercises without prepping the table through steps 1 and 2. However, I have used a bare coffee table in the past and from experience I can tell you that the grinding of your shoulder blade will be extremely unpleasant.

This one-armed workout was inspired by the chapter New Associations, New Muscle in Dan John’s book Never Let Go.  It’s a great book for anyone interested in goal setting and weight training.  Dan also writes from a very relatable perspective as a teacher, father, husband, and coach.  In New Associations, New Muscle he talks about the common problem of being in a training rut (something I wrote about in my previous post Fitness: For what?).  He broke out of his rut by experimenting with one-sided movements.  What’s so great about training each side of the body independently?  The best aspect of one-sided movements is that you are challenging your body with instability.  Adding instability forces the development of balance and makes muscle fibers fire in patterns that they’re not familiar with.  It also stresses the core to take up the tension that the other side of the body is missing.  An exercise that might have become boring or easy is refreshed into something new and interesting because you’ll be trying to stop yourself from wobbling all over the place.  The weight that you’re able to use also goes way down until you get some practice under your belt.

Here’s the log of my sets from a recent workout and some short video demonstrating the use of the table.

One-armed dumbbell bench press
10 reps @ 50 lbs
10 reps @ 60 lbs
10 reps @ 70 lbs
10 reps @ 80 lbs (felt a little wobbly – stabilizer effect starting to kick in)
8 reps @ 90 lbs
8 reps @ 90 lbs


Posted: May 14, 2012 in Home Gym Solutions, Workouts
Tags: , , , , , ,

Workout log 5/3/12

Posted: May 3, 2012 in Workouts

Sometimes a time crunch can actually be helpful. Here’s what I mean.  After packing my daughter’s lunch, getting her off to the bus, getting the dishes and baby bottles all washed, and finally my son off to school, I knew that I might have another 2 hours or so until the baby woke up (at least judging from his previous behavior) and I would be needed at home again to relieve my very tired wife.  Well, once I got to the gym I realized that this time assessment was WRONG!  My phone was blowing up with texts telling me to get home.  So I instituted the time crunch circuit.  I actually got more done in less time with the pressure than I probably would have lolly gagging without it.

  • Ultra-quick warm up with voodoo floss, because my elbows were smoked from pull ups 2 days before. (I made mine from a bicycle tire inner tube.)
  • Circuit: 4 rounds of body weight pull ups, followed by hand stand push ups, followed by incline bench press
    • Round 1:
      • 10 pull ups, 9 HSPUs, 10 reps @ 135 incline bench
    • Round 2:
      • 10 pull ups, 7 HSPUs, 8 reps @ 185 incline bench
    • Round 3:
      • 10 pull ups, 7 HSPUs, 6 + 3 reps @ 185 incline bench
    • Round 4:
      • 8 + 2 pull ups, 5 + 1 HSPUs, 4 +2 reps @ 185 incline bench
    • 9 reps @ 135 on the incline bench (because I felt like it)

All in all, time on task was about 30 minutes.  Yes, I kept my wife waiting another 30 minutes. Here’s my explanation: Bear Grylls once said that being away from his family on his famous adventures made him a much better husband and father once he returned. This probably strikes many people as surprising.    But wait, shouldn’t a good husband/father or wife/mother always be there and  always altruistically giving of every resource at their disposal?  This kind of thinking will lead to resentment. Whatever it is that recharges your batteries, do it, and then get back to your duties and responsiblities. It’s better to be 100% present and attentive 85% of the time, than tired, stressed, and possibly 85% pissed off 100% of the time.  Get it done and get back to work, whatever that may be.

In light of the amount of juggling I’ve been doing lately, I should probably change the title of my blog to “fitness for very busy guys”.  My wife just recently gave birth to our third little one, Lukas Matthew.  He’s been keeping us both on our toes and forcing us to rely on good ol’ caffeine to make up for some of the lost sleep.  Speaking of caffeine energy again, the following work out was brought to you by: Starbuck’s Tribute blend, my paternity leave, and a rereading of Dan John’s book on lifting and life Never Let Go. I highly recommend picking up a copy.  I got the “one-armed” workout variation idea from this book.  Its very challenging from a balance and stability standpoint so the weight you can lift on each exercise drops pretty substantially.
  • 45 minute warm up including light stretching, trigger point massage, band stretching, and hand stand practice
  • One-legged deadlifts with barbell
    • 5 @ 95 lbs.
    • 5 @ 95 lbs.
    • 5 @ 135 lbs.
  • Two-legged deadlifts (I couldn’t resist the urge to see if I could still uncap a couple heavy reps after a very long break from this exercise.)
    • 8 @ 225
    • 7 @ 315
    • 3 @ 405
    • 1 @ 405

My blood pressure was a little out of control on the set for 3 @ 405.  I nearly had to lie down to allow the blood back to my head.  All in all, I was impressed with the fact that I could uncork just over twice body weight for a couple of reps on this lift after about a three month break from it.

  • One-armed dumbbel bench press (Each side done independently.)
    • 10 @ 60 lbs.
    • 10 @ 70 lbs.
    • 9 @ 80 lbs.
  • Pull-ups
    • 3 sets of “Around the World” Pulls ups (6 reps @ body weight)

Big brother Nate and little brother Lukas

First meeting in the hospital

Image  —  Posted: May 1, 2012 in Uncategorized

I took my son to the gym yesterday evening.  I was feeling tired from the work week and I knew that I was drawing on fake energy with the coffee cup in my hand at 7:00 pm while Nate ate his Happy Meal.  Something I’ve learned in adult life is that nothing is ever perfect.  Yes, my son was eating McDonald’s so that he could be happy and satiated enough to behave himself and not throw a “hangry” fit in the gym kids’ room.  He doesn’t eat McDonald’s everyday, no do I drink coffee routinely in the pm, but when you’re busy you’ve got to make some trade-offs.


Workout log:

(1) Jogging warm-up: quarter mile around the track being careful to land on the midstep of the foot

(2) Down dog-Up dog stretch routine

(3) 70 lb. kettlebell presses (3 sets of 5 on each arm)

*I still feel a little shaky on my left side.  I’ve still got soft tissue damage there that I need to have addressed.

(4) Handstands from yoga frog pose – set of 4 (each held for 20 seconds)

(5) Kettlebell clean and press (4 sets of 10)

*These were terrible. I felt like I was lifting my kettlebell for the first damn time.

(6) Kettlebell snatch (4 sets of 10)

*Snatches, on the other hand, felt great. I had the weight sailing up to the top hold position.  I think the difference between #’s 5 and 6 is more due to the fact that I rarely practice clean and presses.  Another skill to work on.

A major personal struggle of mine is my tendency to always stubbornly push through pain during a workout when I shouldn’t.  I do this until, of course, I have nerve impingement that’s unbearable and I’m forced to change my behavior.  For most people, the response to pain when one  can no longer ignore it is to seek a doctor’s treatment.  Whether you seek treatment from a medical doctor, chiropractor, physical therapist, or any combination thereof, depending on the source of advice the approach to the problem will be vastly different. Doctors will likely prescribe a round of muscle relaxers or pain killers, rest, and sometimes physical therapy.  Physical therapists have useful “modalities” for treatment including ultrasound therapy for breaking up scar tissue in muscle fibers and a barrage of useful stetching and strengthening exercises for the problem area.  Chiropractors will approach any issue first and foremost from the standpoint of manually manipulating the spinal column back into alignment and then rooting out the problem further down the kinetic chain if it still persists.  (“Kinetic chain” is a fancy way of saying the way that a group of muscles work together to produce a body action such as raising your arm above your head.)

Sport/over use injuries are never isolated.  The spot where pain is experienced may in fact be linked to another spot in the body that is the real source of the problem. (Pain can be experienced further down the kinetic chain than where the scar has formed or the tear has occurred.)  A great source of information on pretty much any injury is the video blog of Kelly Starrett – Doctor of Physical Therapy.   I was introduced to him through the facebook page of Mr. Mark Reifkind (a certified Russian Kettlebell instructor).  You can find his video blog at http://www.mobilitywod.com.  Starrett’s big idea is that everybody needs to take more responsibility for their own aches and pains, to learn about them, and to commit to self-treatment before seeking professional care.  The funny thing is that you can really solve a lot of your own problems with a few simple tools and a commitment to grit through some purposeful pain (an important distinction from bad pain).  With a $3 lacrosse ball and knowledge of some simple stretches you can pretty much massage and stretch your way out of most sport injury and over use injuries.

Starrett is adamant that the only way to really solve a problem is to correct both the poor mechanics of the problem area as well as the resulting damaged tissue.  You can’t solve either without solving them both.  Take for example, my problem.  I have shoulder impingement syndrome (a “garbage bag” term for a garden variety of shoulder pains).  The shoulder, being the most mobile and complex joint in the body, can run into problems from many different things.  Shoulder pain, huh?  Well, that’s your rotator cuff.  Yeah, no shit.  But what does that really mean?  The rotator cuff is a group of four muscles that include the subscapularis, the infraspinatus, the teres minor, and the supraspinatus.  Note that we can’t really SEE any of these muscles unless you really know what to look for.  The large shoulder muscle, the deltoid, is what we think of popularly when the word “shoulder” is used because it’s what we can see in that area, but it is not part of the rotator cuff.  Any of the four muscles in the rotator cuff can create a major problem for lifting the arm, moving the arm away from the body (abduction), rotating the arm, or doing anything with your arm.    If one of these muscles gets partially torn, tightens up, develops tendonosis (a hardening and scarring of the muscle from overuse), or is less than sufficiently conditioned you’re probably going to be diagnosed with shoulder impingement syndrome.  Here are two useful visualizations of the muscles and bones of the shoulder region and how they work together to produce motion.

Visualization #1: Bones of the shoulder and abduction

Visualization #2: Muscles, tendons and ligaments of the shoulder region with impingement syndrome illustrated (just before the injection-I’m guessing of a corticosteroid of some sort-is shown)

In my case, I’m pretty sure it’s the teres minor that I’ve screwed up the most.  (I say “the most” because I’m sure there is something else going on in there.)  At least, that’s where the massive scar lump (aka trigger point, or spot that when you press will hurt and make you want to throw up) on my body is located on the anatomy chart.  Somehow, the tightness from this injured muscle tissue is affecting the way my entire right rotator cuff is firing and so I’ve developed a compensation down the kinetic chain.  My right biceps tendon is also tighter than hell and I’m starting to experience some tennis elbow symptoms.  I suspect that all of these problems are due to the high volume I’ve been putting in with vertical pulling exercises.  The pain started at the shoulder and now continues on down the arm to the elbow. It could be that the rotator cuff and biceps tendon problems are unrelated, but I’m treating them both because they both hurt and I want them gone.

If you’ve got shoulder problems (very common for athletes who weight train), or knee, hip, lower back, etcetera problems you owe it to yourself to take a little responsibility for your pain and to learn about how to approach it.  I personally don’t believe that pain is forever.  It is inevitable and is a fact of life, but in most cases it can be treated.  Your body is trying to tell you something, but much like a crying baby it can’t tell you in words what it wants. It’s up to you find that out.

Sources that I recommend for learning more:

* Muscle Medicine, by Rob Destefano D.C., and Bryan Kelly MD

These guys are the doctor/chiropractor team that helped the New York Giants to their 2008 SuperBowl victory.  Linebacker Michael Strahan wrote a very powerful forward to the book about their approach to muscle medicine.

* Athletic Body in Balance, by Grey Gook MSPT

When I mentioned the necessary two pronged approach to a sport injury (mechanical problem AND tissue problem must be addressed), I was referencing Kelly Starrett. Gray Cook is another well-known physical therapist that has done work focusing on how movement patterns can point us in the direction of where something is mechanically wrong with the body (ie the muscles are too tight, imbalanced, or not firing in the proper sequence).  This is a good, dense book.

* http://www.mobilitywod.com

If you don’t like reading (which ironically wouldn’t be the case for someone who’s made it this point in my blog post) there’s always the extremely well done video blog of Kelly Starrett.

In Starrett’s words, pony up!  Get to the root of your problem and get going again.

Of course, of course we’d all like the nice kick ass Eleiko weight sets and the Concept II rowing machines that we see on the Crossfit website. But c’mon, get real.  The Eleiko sets retail for well over $3000 and Concept II machines go for at least $1250.  For a family man of limited resources that he can devote to his hobby this is simply absurd.  While the best is not necessary for the recreational athlete (and Eleiko and Concept II are THE BEST), getting some of the other brands of equipment would still be still be very, very costly even if they happened to be used.  So what to do?  You’ve got to figure things out and be resourceful.  You don’t have a garage to make into the combat room/weightlifting area that you’d like?  Maybe your wife really wants to park her car in there leaving you with no room to work with whatsoever. That means that you’re going to have to use what space you have available to you.  This could mean a variety of things: outdoor space, basement space, a spare room/office area/man cave in the house.  Whatever your particular situation, where there’s a will to get things done there’s a way.  Here is an example of how I’ve put the idea of being resourceful into practice.  Once I ordered my gymnastics rings, I had no where to mount a bar at home from which to hang them.  When I wanted to work out at home and “grease the groove” (see previous post about working out despite a lack of time), I needed a place to hang these things.  So, I put some thought into it and I asked my upstairs neighbor (I live on the lower level of a 4 unit condominium building) if I could use their deck to hang my rings.  Thanks, Don.

Being Resourceful Example #1

I originally mentioned not just limited space as a factor that would prevent you from reaching your fitness goals, but limited money as well.   A while back I saw instructions for building your very own plyometric boxes on one of the links on the Crossfit website.  In order to make them,though, you needed a circular saw, rubber matting, and lumber.  All said and done, I would imagine the cost of making them to be fairly substantial (though likely still cheaper than buying them retail).  Although I still do plan to one day make my own, I need to get stronger in the meantime.  That’s why I use whatever I can get my hands on.  I am resourceful when I want to be.

Being Resourceful Example #2

Yes, as you can see I am jumping over a salvaged plastic patio chair, a rusty folding chair, and a collection of cinder blocks that I collected from various places (one was the back yard of a house in foreclosure that I was inspecting as part of a real estate deal).  The benefits of being resourceful in your approach to putting exercise in your life are numerous.  Not only will you maintain your manly sanity by securing an outlet for stress-release and aggression despite a lack of space in your domicile, you will have used your noggin with a creative approach to solving a problem while also exercising the virtue of frugality!  Wait!  There’s more.  Another benefit to working out at home and creating a space for exercise where previously none existed is getting your family involved.  It’s great to encourage your children to develop healthy habits from early on and seeing daddy and mommy exercise provides a very positive model after which they will likely fashion their own behavior in the future. At least we can hope, right?

Getting the Fam Involved

Get creative and be resourceful.  In the words of the great President Theodore Roosevelt, “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”