I enjoy a good bargain and I also enjoy do it yourself projects. That has also applied to my fitness equipment. Most of my equipment has been purchased used and some of it I have made myself. I am going to discuss one of those home made items today and plan on featuring others items on this blog in the future.
The first item I am going to discuss (as you can tell by the title) is the T-Handle. This item provides you with an adjustable “kettle-bell” for swings. It is fairly inexpensive to put together and extremely easy. I was fortunate to get the weights for free so that also helps with the cost. As I was driving down the road one day I noticed someone putting out a large amount of items with a free sign at the end of their driveway. Some of those items were old plastic cement filled weights with three barbells and two dumbbell handles. I stopped and grabbed them all.
The T-Handle is made from 3/4 inch black pipe and should cost you around $20 or so to make. Below is a list of the parts needed:
- 1 3/4 floor flange
- 1 3/4 T
- 1 3/4 12″ long pipe nipple
- 2 3/4 3 or 3 1/2 pipe nipples
- These are for the handles. If you have bigger hands you may want to consider 4″.
- Tape for the handles
- Clamp to keep the weights from moving. I don’t have one in the picture below but I have used clamps in the past until mine broke. With the weights I am using they fit fairly tight and don’t move much.
It is important to make sure that each fitting is tight each time you use this. I also would caution that the T-Handle is not a replacement for all kettle-bell exercises; only the two handed swing. It is a great finisher at the end of a strength training workout and an excellent conditioning exercise.
For as long as I can remember I have been a huge proponent of having an exercise journal or workout log. In fact, I still have most of them and from time to time I like to pull some of the old ones out and read through them. I thought I would outline some of the benefits of keeping a workout log.
- Goals – This is a great way to create and track your goals. By examining what you have done in the past you can learn what you need to improve, set new goals and stay on track towards achieving them.
- Progress – Keeping a journal is a great way to track your progress.
- Identify weaknesses
- Identify patterns
- Motivation – I love to look back at where I’ve been on exercises. Sometimes if I haven’t done an exercise in a long time I am motivated to get back to where I was in the past and sometimes it is just exciting to see how far you’ve come.
Traditionally I have always just used notebooks to record my workouts. Recently, my wife bought me an actual workout log to use. No matter what you use I like to make sure I record the following each day.
- Date – I record the day, month and year.
- Time – The time I start the workout and the time I end.
- Exercises done
- Sets and reps
- Notes – It is extremely helpful to record notes on each workout. I will record if a particular exercise is harder or easier than expect, if I feel I should stay at that weight next time or if I should increase the weight, any injuries, pace of the workout, conditions in the garage gym that day, etc.
This is definitely not a complete list but just the things that have proven to be important to me in the past. I believe keeping a workout log is an extremely under-rated and under utilized tool in any trainee’s toolbox.
When I started this blog one of the goals I set was to complete the Crossfit workout Murph as prescribed. At that time I had never done the workout but felt it was a good measuring stick for conditioning. I hoped at that time to be able to complete it in under 45 minutes.
This workout is named after Navy Seal Lieutenant Michael Murphy who died in Afghanistan on June 28, 2005. He was killed while heroically moving into an exposed area so that he could transmit a call into headquarters to get support for his team. The workout was one of his favorites and he used to call it Body Armor.
The workout is as follows:
- 1 mile run
- 100 pull-ups
- 200 push-ups
- 300 squats
- 1 mile run
- The pull-ups, push-ups and squats can be partitioned any way you want.
- The entire workout is done while wearing a 20 lb weighted vest or body armor.
I have not run further than a tenth of a mile in longer than I can remember due to my knee issues. I use a Schwinn Airdyne in place of running in most of my workouts now. But I woke up yesterday morning determined to do the workout as prescribed and that included the running. I knew I had to take a slightly slower pace on the run and be very careful with each stride.
Here is a breakdown of how the workout went:
- My strategy was to do each mile run in around 10 minutes and complete the calisthenics in around 20 minutes. This would leave me 5 minutes of cushion if I needed it in order to finish in under 45 minutes.
- 1 mile run – completed in 10 minutes. My knee started bothering me at around half of a mile in and bothered me throughout the workout.
- I broke down the calisthenics to 20 rounds of 5 pull-ups, 10 push-ups and 15 squats.
- It took me 21 minutes to complete the 20 rounds.
- The pull-ups were very inconsistent. I knew they would be as I have never been much better than OK at these. I have improved lately but the 20 lb vest definitely adds a good bit of difficulty to these and even though I have been training with the vest I wasn’t prepared for the volume. I did some of the reps strict, some of them kipping and a lot of them with reduced range of motion.
- The push-ups were my best movement. Once again, I knew this would be the case. I have always been pretty good at these and like the pull-ups have been training with the vest.
- Due to my knee bothering me I struggled with the squats. This was unexpected as I am pretty strong at body-weight or air squats. I was able to complete them but wasn’t happy with the depth I was getting.
- 1 mile run- completed in 11 minutes. I wasn’t upset with this time as once again, I knew I would be slow in the runs and also anticipated the second run being slower than the first.
- 42 minutes total.
Overall I was pleased with my performance. I did not anticipate my knee bothering me like it did. I had been experimenting with my stride for a while to be able to run without aggravating the knee. Unfortunately I don’t think I was consistent with my stride and this was probably the culprit. It needed to be perfect and wasn’t. For me this workout was about testing my conditioning more than anything else and in that respect I was very pleased.
- I need to work harder on my pull-ups.
- I need to have a more consistent stride while running.
- I will have to wear a knee brace while doing this next time to give my knee some support.
- I am pleased with the time and will attempt to have better quality reps when I perform this again over Memorial Day weekend.
Unscheduled rest days happen. I typically try to follow a Monday through Friday plan for my workouts with Saturday and Sunday as scheduled off days. This allows me to use Saturday as a makeup day if I should happen to miss a workout during the week.
When you have children, missed workouts can happen for many different reasons. Lack of sleep due to a child who doesn’t feel well from being sick, having a nightmare or because they just can’t or don’t want to sleep that night. Sometimes it is difficult to understand why your kid doesn’t want to sleep. My wife deals with the majority of these nights; especially with our youngest, but I help out as often as I can.
Due to our busy schedule in the evening I am often getting to bed much later than I would like. This makes it difficult to wake up at 5:00 a.m. to workout. I have gotten into the bad habit lately of pushing that snooze button and rationalizing with myself that I can still workout if I only stay in bed for 10 more minutes. Unfortunately I often sleep through the snooze or simply turn off the alarm and roll back over.
Sleep is so important to your recovery in training. Lack of sleep is probably the leading cause of my missing workouts. At 46 I cannot burn the candle at both ends the way I used to. I find that I definitely need more sleep than I used to but I am not getting it.
It is important to recognize when your body needs a day off. And it is equally as important to take the day off when needed. Yesterday I woke up feeling tired, with sore muscles and a sore lower back. I elected to workout anyway. I pushed through a short workout and struggled mightily through it. It was not a good workout at all. I couldn’t match the pace I have been doing lately and the reps were very poor.
When I woke up this morning I felt the same as yesterday; tired, sore muscles and a sore lower back. I originally planned on pushing through like I did yesterday. After some internal deliberation I eventually decided to take a mid-week rest day. I did not want a repeat of yesterday’s workout. I am hopeful that I will feel better tomorrow and can get back on schedule.
Stretch! Stretching is a part of my fitness that I have never done consistently. I just rarely took the time to do it. Oh, I might stretch out after a workout for a minute or two. And that wasn’t per body part. Nope, that was for my entire body. But when you’re young, recover quickly and are moderately flexible stretching just isn’t on your mind much.
As I’ve progressed through my forties I have discovered that I am becoming less and less flexible. My mobility is decreasing and I am having more lower back pain. I imagine that this is due to not only the aging issue but also the fact that I have been spending most of my work life seated at a desk. These symptoms increased drastically this past year as I did more low rep weight training. In fact, my back pain and lack of mobility has at times been somewhat debilitating. I recently decided to attempt to combat these issues by not only increasing the amount of time I spend stretching but also the frequency.
Each morning before I exercise I run through a series of dynamic stretches to prepare my body for the workout. Dynamic stretches are different from traditional static stretches. In static stretching you would hold the stretch for a period of time. An example of this type of stretching would be bending over and touching your toes. Static stretching done as a warm up before exercising can actually lead to strained or even torn muscles. This is due to the muscle loosening and having more difficulty springing back to normal quickly as would be necessary when performing strength training or running. Dynamic stretches are movements which not only warm up your muscles and joints, but allow you to gently stretch your muscles without overstretching. Examples of this are neck, shoulder and torso circles, squats, leg swings, ankle rotations etc.. After my workout is complete I will take a few minutes to stretch out the muscles I just worked using more traditional static stretches.
I will usually try to take a few minutes each morning and again in the afternoon at work to perform a combination of dynamic and static stretching. I find that after sitting for a couple of hours I can feel my muscles tightening up. Stretching throughout the day helps me to stay loose, wake up a bit and regain focus.
Increasing my stretching has helped me tremendously. I have noticed a reduction in my back pain and muscle soreness. It also has helped my overall mobility and seems to be speeding up my recovery time.
From March of 2018 till February of 2019 the main focus of my workouts was on strength training. During that time I did get much stronger and reached three of my four lifting goals. Along the way I also learned some things about myself and training.
The first lesson I wanted to discuss is being willing to adapt and change your training or even how you perform certain exercises. I came to this conclusion with two exercises in particular this past year.
The first was the trap bar dead-lift. I began doing this exercise last year after repeatedly tweaking my back doing traditional bent legged dead-lifts. Through some internet searching I saw this exercise was advertised as being much easier on the lower back. This is primarily because the weight is in line with your body’s center of gravity and not out in front of your body as it is for a traditional bent legged dead-lift. I definitely found this to be true at first. Each month I was adding more weight to the lift and my back felt good. But I began to notice that my knees were aching each time I performed this lift. Eventually I had begun to unconsciously alter my form due to the knee pain which led to lower back pain. I became frustrated and was ready to give up on the exercise. I once again did some research and saw many people doing this lift off of blocks. I examined my form and realized that my knees were bending further than ninety degrees at the bottom which was causing the extra strain and discomfort. I decided to perform the trap bar dead-lift off of blocks to see if the shortened range of motion would help my knees. It did not take long performing the exercise in this shortened the range of motion before my knee pain and subsequently my back pain disappeared. I began to add weight once again and in February hit my goal. Initially I was upset that I reached my goal by lessening the range of motion. But it doesn’t bother me now because if I hadn’t done this I would not be able to do the lift anymore.
The second exercise was the dumbbell press. I have had an issue with my right shoulder since college that has gotten worse over the years. To avoid shoulder pain on most upper body movements I need to perform them with a neutral grip. If you’ve read my earlier blog posts you will know that I have been up and down with the dumbbell press, taking me many months to see progress. Towards the end of my yearlong strength cycle I had hit the wall with this lift. I was cleaning the dumbbells and resting them on my shoulder. From there I would start the lift. I realized that I was weakest at this position and I also realized that part of the reason was the position of my shoulders. With the dumbbells on my shoulder there was a great deal of over exaggerated stretching to the shoulder joints. Due to my previous shoulder injury the pronounced stretch was causing the pain and discomfort to increase. I decided to try shortening the range of motion by having my starting position be around ear level. The shortened range of motion put me in a better position to be successful by taking pressure off of my shoulder joints. This was highly effective right away and in two different ways. The first was that I was able to lift heavier weights. The second was that my shoulder pain was greatly reduced.
I now understand that it doesn’t matter if I am doing what the experts deem to be full range of motion on all lifts. What matters is that I am lifting the fullest range of motion that is safe for me. I’m not competing against anyone but myself. I am still getting stronger. I am still getting fitter. I wish I had known this years ago; my joints may feel much better if I did.
This update is my last on the strength program I’ve been following this past year. After a year of working on low rep/one rep maxes my body and my mind have had enough. I will be moving my focus the next few months to my conditioning. I’ll continue strength training but the emphasis will be more on conditioning. I do not plan on doing any one rep maxes for a while.
- Trap Bar Dead-lift – Success! My goal last March was 300 lbs. My one rep max is up 10 lbs and now stands at 300. I have mixed feelings on this as I felt like I could have done more but my back was bothering me that morning and I decided not to push it. I think it was the right choice, but 300 moved pretty well and made me want to do more.
- Floor Press – Fail! My goal was 200 lbs and I finished at 185. This was very frustrating as I had been improving each month on this when suddenly I hit a wall and just couldn’t move forward anymore. I felt pretty good going in that day, but I just could not get past 185 lbs.
- Bulgarian Split Squat – Success! I surpassed my goal from last March. My goal was two 52.5 lb dumbbells plus a 20 lb weighted vest. I finished with a one rep max at two 52.5 dumbbells plus 20 lb weighted vest plus a five lb wrist weight on each wrist. I matched my personal record from the last couple of months but did not try to move forward.
- Dumbbell Shoulder Press – Success! I surpassed my goal on this one. The goal I set last March was 52.5 lb dumbbells. I ended this challenge with a one rep max now at two 52.5 lb dumbbells plus a three lb wrist weight on each wrist. I pushed hard to get a five lb wrist weight on each wrist, but just couldn’t do it.
Overall, I am very pleased with the progress I made this year. Of the four strength goals I set last March I met one, surpassed two and fell short of the fourth. I learned a lot, including when to make adjustments and changes. In my next blog I will write about some of the changes/corrections/adjustments I had to make to keep this strength program going. I plan to change my strength training over the coming months to include more variety and volume while putting the emphasis of on conditioning.