Changing up my fitness

I have always had a short attention span with my training plans.  A couple of years ago I actually managed to follow a plan for fifteen months.  The first twelve months were focused on strength training and then I placed an emphasis on conditioning for the next three months as I prepped for the Murph Challenge last Memorial Day.  Due to the success I had with the Murph Challenge I continued with the program after Memorial Day throughout the summer.  Last fall I was once again all over the place with my training.  Some of that was due to experimenting with different modalities but some of it was caused by injuries that kept me from being as focused as I wanted to be and caused me to have to work around injuries to my back and shoulders.  As I healed and started to feel better earlier this year I went back to follow the same routine that I had utilized last year to prep for the Murph Challenge.  In spite of seeing results and getting back to a good fitness level I decided a few weeks ago to switch up my training.  There were multiple reasons but one of the biggest was that I had done that program so many times that it was feeling stale to me.  Due to feeling physically as good as I had in a long time the staleness was holding me back and keeping me from getting where I wanted to be and this was proving frustrating.

Being on the new training plan for about three weeks now has been eye opening to me.  I felt that I was in pretty good shape after around three months on a strength and conditioning program that has always put me into my best condition.  Upon switching to this new program I discovered that I was not in as good of shape as I thought.  And this is where I realized that I need to continually challenge myself by switching up my routine and trying new training programs.  Even though for me the proven program was still producing results I don’t feel I was pushing myself as hard as I should have been due to my familiarity with it.  I was only working to my previous capabilities and not pushing myself beyond it.  For me personally my best results come when I have a new program which pushes me and is new and fresh or if I am training for a specific goal with a deadline.

For the first time in my life I am now following a subscription based program.  It has been fun to try new things and to constantly be changing things up.  I have been excited each week to receive the new programming and look forward to seeing the results after I have been with this program for a few months.  Hopefully it will keep me motivated and help me to keep producing results.

 

Dealing with Injuries

While I’ve been training consistently the last few months it seems I have had to deal with one injury after another.  I’ve had issues with my always wonky lower back, hip pain, knee issues and shoulder injuries.  I’m used to dealing with the lower back and knee issues.  This time it was my shoulders, specifically my left shoulder, my good shoulder that caused me to change up how I was working out.

I’m still not sure what I did to it.  I simply started noticing discomfort each time I tried to bench or do pullups.  That discomfort suddenly became agonizing pain.  I was sure I had torn something, probably a rotator cuff.  Fortunately I was able to work around it and keep going.  I rested the shoulder and focused on lower body exercises and conditioning.  Thankfully I am feeling pretty good now and this week have started going all out again.

DIY Dip/Chin Belt

In order to add weight to my chin ups and dips I recently made a dip/chin belt.  This is one of the easiest DIY fitness devices to make.  All that is needed is some chain, a pool noodle (make sure it is the kind with a hole in the middle), a carabiner and duct tape.

Once you have your material it is easy to put it together.  First you will need to measure the pool noodle and cut it to the correct length.  The easiest way to do this will be to wrap it around your waist and cut it to fit you.  I cut mine a bit longer than what I thought I would need and then cut it down later after a trial run.  After you have the pool noodle cut to the correct length run the chain through it.   Put the carabiner on one end of the chain.  Next wrap duct tape around the entire pool noodle.  Make sure to use a lot of duct tape.  If you don’t, the chain will eventually start to pull through the pool noodle.  This will be the longest part of the process.  Now you can slide some weight plates or a kettle-bell on to the chain and you’re ready for weighted pull-ups, dips or even hip belt squats.

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Make sure to start light and work your way up.  I found that a 20 lb vest felt much lighter than 20 lbs on the belt.  So far it is working great.  It is comfortable, strong and versatile.

Training Direction

When I began this blog I had three goals in mind; increase strength, become fitter and gain some muscle.  I started with a program that combined strength and conditioning but had strength as the main focus.  During this first year I got stronger, slightly increased my fitness and gained five pounds of muscle.  In March I switched to a different program that combined strength and conditioning but this one had conditioning as the main focus.  The reason for this was I wanted to put up a good score on Murph in May.  Mission accomplished as I did better than expected.  I intended to then switch to more of a bulking program over the summer to gain some muscle.  But I was on such a high from the score I received on Murph that I continued doing what I was doing.

Recently I decided I was ready to change things up a bit.  But I was undecided on how to go about it.  Due to my physical limitations; knees, shoulder and lower back I was wondering if it was time to play it a little safer.  As I explored that option I found it to be boring and I wasn’t ready for that.  I enjoy varying my workouts by type of exercise and intensity.  I didn’t want that to end.  After looking at different options I decided to program my own workouts.  What a novel concept!

I decided to use the following weekly format that I can best describe as my version of Crossfit or functional fitness or whatever term you want to use:

  • Monday – strength training followed by a short intense circuit.
  • Tuesday – body-weight only circuit done at high intensity.
  • Wednesday – explosive strength training followed by a short intense circuit.
  • Thursday – some type of interval or circuit using the airdyne.
  • Friday – strength training followed by a short intense circuit.

So far I have found myself re-energized by being able to follow a program that is tailored to what I need and what I enjoy.  I am able to have a good structure while providing variety in the circuits I use.  Training is no longer stale and I look forward to training each day.  I once again have a clear training direction.

DIY Landmine Base

Landmine exercises are typically done by placing one end of a barbell on the floor (typically in a corner of the room) or into a landmine base attachment.  I had been interested in trying out some landmine exercises in the garage gym for a while now but kept running into different problems.

  1. Cost – A landmine base that does not attach to a power rack can cost anywhere from $60 to over $200.  Power rack versions can be purchased for around $25 but I do not have a power rack so this wouldn’t work for me.  There are also versions which can be inserted into a stack of weight plates on the floor.  But I do not have enough plates to make this work for me.
  2. Space – You can simply place one end of the barbell on the floor in the corner of your room.  However, since my garage is used for storage as well as my gym, this would not work for me either.

My solution was to make my own landmine base.  I scrounged around and found a piece of particle board and an old 2 x 8.  I even had the screws to put it together so my cost was $0.

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So far it works great.  I put a dumbbell or other weight on the back to keep it from moving and am able to do any landmine exercises I want anywhere in the garage.  So far I have been doing front squats and one arm presses with it, but I plan on adding more landmine exercises to my fitness journey in the future.

DIY Equipment – T-Handle

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″.

Optional:

  • 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.

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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.

Workout Log

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.

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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.