Thursday, December 23, 2004

Holy Straddle Planche Batman!!!

Three cheers for digital cameras!! No sooner did I post about my difficulties with the straddle planche, then I decided to give it another go and use the digital camera to see my exact body position.

Lo and behold, on one of the first shots, I see this!

What a site to see! Although. . . where's my head???

I took several more pictures with different camera positions. Most were a better shot of my ceiling or my bed, than anything I was doing. With a bit more trial and error and some dumb luck, I was finally able to get some decent shots.

a little high for my taste, not quite as level as the first.

Better, legs still look a bit high.

Eh, a bit too low now.

Alright, now I'm just too tired.

After this fiasco, and the crooked one legged planche shots previously taken (the camera rested on a pile of pillows), I'll just ask for my girlfriend's help in picture taking.

But I digress.

This time around, I just leaned forward and pressed into the straddle planche instead of lowering down. I think it was easier because I was not wasting energy balancing in a handstand from the start. Each was held for a solid 2-3 seconds on average.

Most importantly, I pinpointed the root problem I have with my straddle planche - I don't know where my legs and hips are!!! Of course I'm trying to level my body out, but since I'm exerting maximum effort (and things get worse when I get tired), I just don't have adequate awareness of where I am in space.

Interestingly enough, I always thought my efforts looked like the last picture in the line. I was flexing my lower back so much, that I was sure my hips were far too low. But apparently, this was not the case.

It was all pretty exciting, and I know now that I can use the straddle planche in training. I'll still focus on the advanced tuck and one legged planche, as I can hold those longer. In addition, I'll start focusing on the advanced tuck pushups with more gusto now. When I improve my time on those skills, I'll improve my hold on the straddle planche and be able to control my hip level.

And once the straddle is mastered, it's just a hop, skip, and jump to a full planche, right? hello? hmmm.

EDIT: I'm hoping to catch a video of this in the very near future. I may not be holding it for any considerable time, but even a short video removes the doubt of photo trickery.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

A New Path Towards the Planche

In my planche training, I've seen pictures and read about the straddle planche. I've even lowered down into one on some parallettes. But in all my training, it's never felt comfortable trying to hold one, or even get into the position.

For the visual learners, here is a great picture of a straddle planche:

Note - this is not me. Although, I'd say the resemblance is uncanny!

So my problems with a straddle planche - It's my hips, I think. I'm just too inflexible in my hips!! Flexibility has never been my strong suit, so until I start a dedicated program for working towards my splits, I'll have to find another way to get to the planche.

Enter. . .

The One Legged Planche

This planche position felt great. It was a little bit harder than the advanced tuck position, but still felt very strong. My hips are a bit higher than I'd like, but I think this is on account of my tucked leg. Straightening of the bent leg should help me flatten my back out more. In the very least, my extended foot is in line with my shoulders and head. Holding the position for the camera was not that difficult, it was trying to fit my entire body in the shot!

Speaking of the spatial limitations of my room, I also like this one legged planche because I'm not kicking things, as with the straddle planche.

It's obvious that the progression for this one legged planche is to slowly extend the tucked leg until the two are together and I'm in a fullout planche.

Interestingly enough, I've been working a similar position for the front lever. Instead of trying a straddle front lever to work up to the front lever, I simply extended one leg and varied the extension of the second leg. If it worked for the front lever, why not the planche?

After the shot above, I met up with a friend of mine and his brand new kettlebells. For those unfamiliar, kettlebells look like this:

Cannonballs with handles.

I'd heard the praises of these weights for quite some time. But still, I wasn't sure if swinging or clean & jerking a kettlebell would be far superior to doing the same with a dumbbell. I mean, it's just a change in handle position, right?


I guess I should've known, as I was first surprised at the simplicity and effectiveness of the block weight (see my home gym post)
Anyway, the kettlebell is absolutely incredible for swings. If I used one for nothing else, it would make the cost worth it. They're much easier to grab with two hands for swings, and much more resilient to the inevitable dropping that will occur. They'll generally smash into the ground bottom down, so there's little chance the handle is going to break off. Swinging and catching from hand to hand was great fun, as was turning the kettlebell over in the air and recatching. Even using a 16 kg (35.2 lb) kettlebell for swings, as light as it was, felt great and really got the blood flowing.

My buddy had a 16 kg, 24 kg (52.8 lbs), and 32 kg (70.4 lbs) kettlebell that we used to crater the grass outside my gym. Clean & jerks, snatches, and shoulder presses felt great with these kbs. And I learned of the "bottom-up" press. You simply grab the kettlebell like you're going to shoulder press it, but you keep the ball above your hand. You have to grip hard and feel the balance in order to press the kettlebell and not have it come back down on your forearm.

After the quickest hour and 1/2 workout of my life, I headed back home and snapped this picture:

Fantastic to see that I'm consistently hitting the same position. I'm looking forward to see the progress I can make with this new position.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Active Recovery

Finished up a week of KTA training this past Saturday. I'm mashing the #2 again. The high volume gripper work leaves your hands with a soreness not regularly felt. The best solution for this? Contrast baths!

It goes as follows:

Get yourself two buckets, fill one with water as hot as you can stand, and the other with cold water and a couple trays of ice cubes.

Stick your hands in the hot water. Open and close, stretch and crack them for about 2 minutes. Take them out of the hot water and put them into the cold water for 2 minutes. Switch back and forth several times.

At the end of it all, your hands might look something like this:

Nice and red from all the blood flowing through them. This will take the ache away and allow your hands to get stronger.

This whole concept is referred to as active recovery. The theory of active recovery is to help your body along in its natural process of healing itself. You may often hear someone say that the body doesn't get stronger when you work out, but when you rest. This is very true. Only with rest can the body adequately recuperate and recover. Anything you can do to help the recovery process will only help to make you stronger.

For other body parts, try a bit of light stretching or light work with bands. Both will get blood rushing to the area without breaking down and taxing the system. The idea is to help circulation, not to get in another workout.

If you're not thinking about recovery, then you're wasting a lot of time that you could use to get stronger. So grab some buckets, grab some bands, and get to it!

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Home Gymnastics and The Front Lever

My front lever isn't that good at this moment in time, so I was happy to grab the doorframe the other day and hit this:

And from the other angle it looks like this:

I've got to chalk this up to my slightly bent arms though, because my front lever on a pullup bar with straigher arms isn't quite this strong yet. Regardless of that all, it was a fun skill to grip the doorframe and hover horizontally in my kitchen for a bit.

And while we're on the subject of front levers, how about some pics for inspiration?

In this first one, we've got Brad Johnson working a one arm front lever. He has a kettlebell in his one hand, what weight I can't recall. When I get around to pulling some pictures off of videos, I'll post up a front lever of his that he performs on some ceiling rafters. Absolutely amazing hand and body strength!!

And this second picture is the from another person who inspires me, John Gill.
Here is his classic one arm lever picture:

The front lever is actually rated the same difficulty as the iron cross in gymnastics, but it doesn't get nearly as much pomp and circumstance as its brother. Despite that, it's still a fun skill to work at and as you can see from my pictures above, can be performed around the house.

If you haven't seen it already, Coach Sommer has an excellent progression for the front lever here. (Planche training too!)

Monday, December 06, 2004

The Planche, part 2

Posted my tuck planche pic (seen below) up on the Dragondoor forum. A much better response than I anticipated!! I got "excellent progress" "nice!" and "I'm envious".

This type of strength training tends to keep me to myself, so I think I lose a bit of perspective as to my progress. I have come a long way!! But I know I've still got a ways to go. The challenge is the appeal for me. Setting an impossible goal and reaching it. If it were easy, everyone would be doing it...

On the hand strength front, I've started up another cycle of KTA training, or Kinney Training Applied. It's a workout plan developed after Joe Kinney's training methods. Joe was the first man on earth to close the Ironmind #4 gripper. It takes an estimated 365 pounds of force to close that #4 gripper. I have one. . . . it feels like a brick. I can currently close the #2 gripper, or about 195lbs of force.

These grippers are heavy duty. The approx. strength of each is as follows:
Trainer - 100lbs
#1 - 140lbs
#2 - 195lbs
#3 - 280lbs
#4 - 365lbs

They can all be purchased at There's even a "guide" and "sport" gripper which take about 60 and 80 lbs to close, respectively.

With the KTA I'm planning on closing the #3 sometime next year. Quite reasonable, I think.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

My Home Gym

While I was taking a picture of my planche progress, I figured I'd snap a shot of my exercise equipment.

Hmm, seems a little hard to see, but I'll try and describe what's there.

The dumbbells in front with white handles are my thick handled adjustable dumbbells. The white is merely a section of PVC pipe I picked up from a hardware store and slipped over the existing handles. The thicker handle works the grip everytime you pick it up. I like to use these dbs for everything from one arm snatches to hammer curls.

To the left of the dumbbells is some blue ankle weights. Great for hanging leg raises. Since they have removable 1/2 pounds weights inside, I can even use the ankle weights for microloading various exercises.

The other piece of white behind the ankle weights is a piece of my very large parallettes (made from pvc pipe). They're hidden under the black sheet from my bed, but they're as long as my bed and about a foot high. Good for handstand pushups and such.

The center square of black is some compressed foam workout flooring I picked up. It's pretty cheap for a couple squares. Three squares sit there in the middle, while I've got a fourth one that I move around my floor depending on need.

Sitting on the black foam is different weight plates. I picked these up for a song at some yard sale awhile back. Never ever bother paying full price for weight plates. Someone is always selling their weight set somewhere. Honestly. It's a universal constant.

The white circle in the middle is my ab wheel. A piece of equipment that comes very cheap. Don't spend more than $10 for one, and I've even seen them as low as $5. It's a fantastic piece of equipment. After reading some work on the ab wheel by Brad Johnson, I've split the two wheels apart to make a mini-axle. Now I can grab the axle in the middle and do one are ab wheel work as well.

The grey chunk to the right of the ab wheel is one of my 40lb "block weights". You simply take a dumbbells (80lber in that case) and you hacksaw off the heads. You're left with a chunk of metal that you can hopefully pick up from the top with your hand. It's an amazing hand strengthener. I've got two 40 lbers (an 80 cut up) and two 25 lbers (a 50 cut up).

Small mirror behind the whole pile of things. Picked that up for free. It helps for planche training because I can look into it and see the height of my hips.

Above the mirror are my CoC grippers. They are some heavy-duty grippers that increase to some insane poundages. I've got the the trainer, #1 - #4 CoC grippers, as well as a Beef Builder Super Master, which is about a "2.5" on the CoC scale of grippers. I mashed the #2 a couple months ago, but put down the grippers for a bit to focus on the one arm chin. I hope to mash the #3 in the coming year.

Above the grippers on the wall is a shelf with various grip-related items. A powerball, some chinese therapy balls, some rubber bands to put around my fingers and open my hand (works the back of the hand), some pony spring clamps to work the thumb, some pumice stone to grind down callouses, and some decks of cards for tearing.

On the right in front, is a sledgehammer which is fantastic for levering. Check out Eric Godfrey's page regarding sledge hammer levering.

Behind that is an old whey protein container. I keep bent nails in it. A blue-lided tupperware container with chalk sits on top.

And behind that on the cinder block is a box of the nails I'm currently bending - 60d timber ties. I haven't gone on a serious bending streak for quite some time, but I can still "U" a timber tie.

On top of the timber ties is my set of rings from ring training. These things are great. Real easy to set up and I can even use them on my pullup bar at home.

Above that, where the floating softball resides, is a hanger with chains, stretch bands, jump rope, weight belt, and some towels. The softball (and a baseball out of view) have an eye hook drilled into them. I string some length of chain through some weight plates and hook the softball/baseball on the chain as a handle. Pick up the weights with the softball/baseball, voila, easy grip strengthener.

Out of view are a swiss exercise ball (the girlfriend picked it up, I like it though!), and a bucket of rice. Stick your hand in elbow-deep into the rice and stir it around with just the fist (break at the wrist) it'll burn your forearms up. There's also a wrist roller, and a piece of wood with a chain for working my pinch grip. And finally, I've got a small peg board like you use to have in elementary school. It's just waiting to be mounted.... maybe the next place I live!

Now here's a piece of invaluable equipment... my pull up bar.

I've got a couple towels drapped over it for towel chins, as well as a 12' piece of rope. By tying one end of the rope to some weight plates and grabbing the other side of the rope near the bar, I can work my assisted chins. If I pull too hard on the rope (for too much assistance) then the weights go up, my assisting hand goes down and I go nowhere.

When I say I'm "10lbs away" from a one arm chin, this is what I mean. One arm grabs the bar, the other grabs the rope with 10lbs on the other end. Simple, yet effective.

Oh boy, what a long post. But it gives you a look at what I've got in my tiny 10x10 room. My equipment hardly takes up 3 square feet of floor space. You can shape your home gym to what you need, but don't think it requires a separate wing onto your house. You can get a pretty darn good workout from just an adjustable dumbbell.


Someone posted a planche challenge up on the Dragon Door Training Forum. He was working towards a planche, hadn't seen too many planche pictures, and thought posting some progress pics would be just the thing to kick him along.

I was game for this, as I've been working towards the planche and could use a bit of competition in the matter. So here is my current state of planche training.

It's called the "advanced tuck planche" and the defining characteristic is my flattened back. Once I can hold this for a fair amount of time (30 some secs) I can start to extend my legs into a straddle planche.

I've also lowered down into a straddle planche on some parallettes before, but this felt like maximal effort (as my eyes were about to explode) and not useful at this state for training. I'll be working the advanced tuck for the time being.

We'll all be in this to motivate each other and eventually hit a planche. Even in such a seemingly individual pursuit, teamwork still has its place.

OAP update
Cranked some dead hangs one arm chins with just my other pinky finger over the bar for assistance. Also did the same thing with my ring finger, which the girlfriend informs me is even weaker. This was on friday. Saturday I went to my favorite hole in the wall to work out and ran into my buddy Jeff. We jumped up on the bar and hit some one arm chins with a small hop.

I'm telling you, it's only a matter of time now. Those little hop one arm chins were cake. I would catch the bar with only the slightest of bends in my arm. I think it's merely the fact that I'm moving and have that initial momentum that makes the skill easier than the one arm dead hang chin.

Anyways, I was rewarded with my back to back OAP training with a tendon flare-up in my elbows. Damn I need to stop working them two consecutive days!! Today is a rest day, and monday will be some running, so my arms will have plenty of time to recuperate.