Monday, February 21, 2005

L-seat progression and tricks

For those completely unfamiliar, this is an L-seat on the rings.

As you can clearly see, the legs are bent at a 90 degree angle to the torso, so that the entire body forms an "L" shape. Hence the name.

I realize that for some reading this page, this is far too basic. Patience! I'm starting from the beginning and will be discussing skills and progressions that should leave everyone busy for quite some time.

But first... training for the L-seat.

The L-seat has no motion to it, and requires very minimal balance. It is a simple skill that is easily acquired by building the necessary strength. What's one of the best exercises for building that strength?


Of course, straight legs is more advanced and if you can do a hanging leg raise with straight legs, then you're probably already able to do an L-seat. For those who do not have the strength quite yet, just hang and raise your legs into a tuck. Or you can head to the gym and use one of these machines-

If you are building up your strength with the machine above, make sure you are working your repetitions strictly. Bouncing and swinging your legs up is cheating and is a waste of time. No momentum!

What if you have no pullup bar or regular access to the leg raise machine? No problem. I didn't have all that "fancy" equipment either when first learning an L-seat. You know what I used? The ground! Imagine that.

First, get your hands by your sides and lift yourself off the ground in a tucked position. If this is a struggle, just continue to work on the position until you can easily hold it for an extended length of time.

When holding the tuck becomes simple to do, I want you to work on holding yourself in that same position but up on your fingers instead of a flat palm against the ground.

So while you started off with your hands like this...

You'll now want to work on supporting yourself up on your fingers, like this...

This will build strength up in your fingers and become very helpful in future tutorials (hint hint). Careful not to pop a tendon in your finger though. If your hands are feeling fatigued, do not try supporting yourself on your fingers. And if you feel that there's absolutely no way your could support yourself up on your fingers, then work on finger tip pushups to build up that strength.

When you do have the necessary hand strength, go back and try the tuck position up on your fingers.

The remainder of the progression will be shown up on fingertips.

So now that you've gotten the tuck position, we'll extend a leg out to put more stress on the muscles.

Make sure to switch off legs to build strength evenly.

And of course, the next step after that is the L-seat itself.

Your legs should be straight, and this should be a pretty easy position to hold. If your legs are bent and/or you are shaking to hold the position, then take a step back and work some more on the previous positions. If your body is leaning real far back to hold the position, you also need to take a step back. The torso should be perpendicular with the floor.

Quite simple, right?

Below are a couple fun tricks you can do with the L-seat, and below that we have some skills that will take you beyond the L-seat.

For these L-seat tricks, you'll want to get back down on your flat palms.

This is for the safety of the fingers, which would most likely be injured due to the stress and motion that would be placed upon them. To repeat and restate - You should not try these tricks up on your fingertips!

L-seat walking
Now that you're an expert on the L-seat, get up into the position and try walking forward. You'll find it easiest to keep your arms straight and simply lean back and forth while moving your hands forward. Like a waddle of sorts. I also find it helpful to keep my wrists glued up at my side - right along the point where your glutes meet your hamstrings. This is a killer on your midsection if you try to go for any appreciable distance.

The two most important lessons to learn from this trick:
1. Keep your wrists glued to your sides
2. Move by leaning your body weight from one side to another - a shift from side to side.

This will all become very helpful to you as you try...

The L-seat turn
The L-seat turn is a skill where you change the direction you are facing while in an L-seat. This is one of my favorites because you can get some considerable speed on the ground. It's just a matter of learning to shift and control your body.

While you can just turn yourself 90 degrees or 180 if you want, I find it much more fun to spin around in continuous circles. With a path looking something like this. (view from above)

Now, you could move yourself around in this path by taking short choppy steps, similar to the L-seat walking, but if you want to really nail this skill and fly around the circle, you'll need to take more sweeping steps.

What this will require though, is that you really lean over as you step around. So if you look back at the diagram, things will go something like this.

1. push off your left hand and lean over your right. swing your legs in a clockwise direction at the same time.
2. as your left hand comes back down to the ground, push off with your right, lean to your left, and continue swinging your legs around.
3. as your right hand comes back down, push off with your left and repeat the process.

Piece of cake. It'll just take you a bit of time to get use to the amount of body lean you need. Too much and you'll put yourself on your side. Too little and you won't move enough with each hand switch.

How far along the circle should you be moving each time? Well, you could easily move 1/4 of the circle each time. I know this because this skill can also be performed on the parallel bars.

A 180 degree L-seat turn on the P-bars would look like this:

Just like the previous L-seat turn described, this is going in a clockwise direction as well. Your hands will start on the two black dots at the bottom. You'll push off with your left hand and swing your body to the right. As your left hand lands and you are on a single rail of the P-bars, you'll then push off with your right hand and land it on the other rail - effectively turning yourself 180 degrees.

That tip I gave you earlier - keeping your wrists glued to your side - comes in very handy here. By keeping your body tight to your wrists, you will be using the hand and wrist as a solid base and pivot point. As confusing as this sounds now, it'll clear itself up for you as soon as you give it a try.

For further clarification, I was able to track down and copy a video of myself doing an L-seat turn on the P-bars. This is from the end of the year performance.

(size 2.05 mb)

If you look at the still shot above, you can see the body lean that I previously discussed. I've just pushed off with my left hand and I'm leaning over my right hand and wrist. I'm also going a full 360, but you shouldn't have any trouble applying my diagram to a 360 turn.

Beyond the L-seat
The skills that extend from the L-seat are fairly obvious. . . and increasingly difficult. They are...

The V-seat


The Manna

I have not begun dedicated training towards either one, but you can clearly see the importance of flexibility for both skills. Hamstring flexibility is vital for both, and shoulder flexibility looks to be a major component of the Manna.

Have fun with the L-seat ... and goodluck if you work towards those skills beyond it!

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Tendon Strength

Unfortunately, I've been spending the past several weeks in recovery from elbow tendonitis.

An increase in my one arm chin-up training left my joints screaming and even a simple two arm chin-up was a pain. I'll give the one arm chin training at least another week's rest, but I'm back to most other exercises.

I figure now is a good time to speak of the basics of tendon injury and strength. This will probably be a very basic review for some, but I hope to educate others who are not as familiar.

What is a tendon?

A tendon, simply put, is what attaches your muscles to your bones. In the picture above, you can clearly see the relationship between the three. As the muscle contracts, it pulls on the tendon, which moves the bone.

Importance of tendon strength

If we understand the relationship between muscle, bone, and tendon - we can see the importance of strengthening the tendons. To make an analogy, imagine your muscles are your car engine, and your tendons are the tires. Now you may have a lot of horses under the hood, but if your tires aren't good enough, then you're not transferring as much power as possible. The whole system needs to be strong.

So let's look about a bit more at the muscles and tendons.

First, here is detail of the muscle

The muscle is composed of groups of muscle fibers. When one trains to increase the size of ones muscles (hypertrophy), the muscle fibers increase in size. While a larger muscle definitely helps generate force, it is not always indicative of true strength.

For example, a bodybuilder's main goal is to increase this muscle hypertrophy all over his body. Are bodybuilders the strongest athletes out there? Certainly not. My love and respect to Schwarzenegger, he's very strong, but his training was for muscle growth, not necessary raw strength - such as a powerlifter or olympic lifter trains for. It's just a different training goal, that's all. And don't even get me started on these bloated bodybuilding freaks of today...

There are plenty of Olympic weightlifters who look nothing like bodybuilders, but who toss monstrous amounts of weight up over their heads.

Looking good for a bodybuilding competition may suit some, but if you want muscle that will work as well as it looks, then you've got to strengthen the tendons to be able to transfer the power. Again, don't take me wrong, bodybuilders are still very strong, but pound for pound, you can't beat the weightlifters.

Difference in Training

Generally speaking, weighttraining workouts that advocate higher numbers of reps and sets for far less than maximal weights will promote hypertrophy and work the tendons to a lesser degree.

To stress the tendons, heavier, near maximal weights for less repetitions should be used.

Some places, like the hand, absolutely require strong tendons for staggering feats of strength. This is because hypertrophy in the hand will occur, but only to a limited degree. It's the tendons that must be stressed and strengthened to create incredible power.

My hand strength training has never consisted of high repetitions with lower weights. This is why Ironmind created the Captains of Crush high spring tension grippers. It's high tension that will build hand strength, not endless repetitions with a weak store gripper.

Tendon injury and recovery

When training with higher poundage, we must remember the stress put on the tendons and allow for adequate recovery. This is especially true of the hands, which can be injured easily and which take a long time to come back from injury. Lower weight, extremely repetitive actions can also cause tendon damage. (think tennis elbow or carpal tunnel)

My training mistake for the OAP involved using a high poundage (only 15lbs assistance) and a bit too many sets (2-3 repetitions for 6 sets). Especially when training something like the OAP, where so much force is focused on the elbow joint, I should have used less sets and allowed for my body to adapt over more time, rather than rush things. Live and learn though...

Tendon injury will be felt at the joints, as opposed to along the limb, as in muscle soreness. Tendon injury also takes much longer to heal than muscle damage (soreness) due to the lower blood flow. It therefore requires more rest and rehabilitation to be back at 100%.

At the time of injury, it is the smartest course of action to inact the R.I.C.E. treatment - Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation. In other words, you'll want to stop the activity, wrap an ice pack around it, and take some anti-inflammatory medicine (ibuprofen). There's research looking into whether RICE really is the best method for recovery for tendon injuries, but until otherwise noted, slap on the ice and pop an ibuprofen.

During the follow days and weeks of recovery, you'll want to avoid the activity that caused the tendonitis. You can use heat pads and massage to get the blood flowing through the tendons and speed healing. Some very light range of movement exercises for the joint with bands will also help to move some blood through the area. But the number one thing that you can do to make sure things heal up properly is REST. If you try and jump into your activities again full bore, you just reinjure yourself and have to start back from square one. And under no circumstance should you be trying to "work through the pain". This only serves to keep your tendon injury around much longer, and most likely elevate its severity until you'll need more than heat and rest to come back.

In other news...

Onto better news, my one arm handstand is coming along nicely. I'm training it in my room now, with little fear of tossing over to one side and putting my foot through a window.

Right now my training is focusing on the planche and these one arm skills - one arm lever, one arm handstand, and one arm chin (soon). I have been working my overhead pressing strength and will begin training for a one arm handstand pushup. This will be against the wall, of course, but if I can train it alongside my freestanding one arm handstand, then maybe I'll be able to combine the two for a freestanding, one arm handstand pushup!! (one can dream)

The elbow injury did get me back on a better stretching routine, which is absolutely essential if I ever hope to start training flairs or a V-seat.

Speaking of lower body, I've continued to make great progress in my squats. When I can bump my working set up 10 more pounds, I'm going to put down the iron and start up a plyometric training program. I ran track in high school so my legs have always been quick and I've had a good vertical, but I feel a concentrated jumping program should have me grabbing some basketball rim!! Yes, me, a 5'8" guy could some day be dunking! Once again, one can dream...

I'll finish up the L-seat tutorial and try to post it sometime this week. That will precede the handstand press tutorial, and then I'll smash the two together for an L-seat to handstand press demonstration, per your request.

Good luck to everyone with their training, stay safe and injury-free!