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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.