Saturday, May 23, 2015

WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO THE FARMER’S WALK?!

I have constantly lamented on the point that increased popularity of a topic is an indication of decreased effectiveness.  This observation is hinged upon the principle that the average, by definition, is not elite and the elite are not average.  Thus, anything that is embraced by the average person is most likely NOT an effective means of becoming something greater than average, and as such, anything appealing to the average populace is most likely something that should be avoided if one wishes to become something better.  It is with this understanding that it becomes time to analyze the farmer’s walk, and specifically address how this once beneficial movement has become completely perverted and warped by the masses.

Image result for squatting on a bosu ball
Quick, before it's too late!




Let’s talk background.  The “farmer’s” portion of the farmer’s walk derives from (wait for it) farmers.  Yes, the industrious, salt of the earth people responsible for raising the pigs that you eventually consume as bacon and the vegetables you most likely aren’t eating.  In performing their farmerly duties, farmers were, at times, require to carry heavy objects in each hand for short, intense distances.  Bales of hay, buckets of feed, baskets of watermelons as the infamous picture of Chinese strongman competitors indicates, etc.  The point was, things needed to be moved, and it would’ve taken too much time to load them into the pickup truck just to unload them a few feet down the road, so it got picked up and moved.


Heavy weight and short distances: it bears repeating.  The farmer’s walk does NOT reference that time that the farmer was carrying a sandwich in one hand and a beer in the other and carried it for 3 miles out to the field.  As such, if you’re pacing around the gym for 4 minutes carrying 40lb dumbbells, you are NOT doing the farmer’s walk, you’re just a lunatic.  Also, you’re hogging those dumbbells when someone could use them for ANYTHING else that would be infinitely more productive.

Image result for squatting on a bosu ball
Even this guy gets the right of way

Somewhere along the line, the idea that the farmer’s walk was a “grip exercise” came about, and ultimately it has resulted in the perversion we witness today.  It’s the telephone game come to life in lifting.  Someone observed that the farmer’s walk had really improved their grip, and someone took this to mean that, if you want a stronger grip, you should do farmer’s walks, which in turn meant that the farmer’s walk was called a “grip exercise”.  This is akin to calling the deadlift a grip exercise: asinine, and professed only by the weak.


The farmer’s walk isn’t a grip exercise, it’s an EVERYTHING exercise.  It’s like if the deadlift and the yoke walk made a baby, only to realize that they were actually brother and sister and that their spawn was horribly deformed.  As soon as you pick up the implements, you should immediately regret the decision to do so and the rest of your time moving forward should be motivated purely by rage, self-loathing and the hope that, when you cross the finish line and put down the implements, maybe one day in the distant future you’ll be able to live painfree again.  Every second of the walk should feel like agony, and every step should feel like you’re falling.  This just plain AIN’T happening with a pair of dumbbells at a commercial gym.


This is why implements are used for the farmer’s walk in the first place: the amount of weight needed is going to exceed what can be fitted onto a conventional dumbbell handle.  Yes, there are some Kroc row handles out there that can be fitted with 300lbs, but most the kids doing “farmer’s walks” with dumbbells are capping out at the 150lb range, tops.  You’re going to be sprinting with that kind of weight, putting very little stress on your body and getting about zero of the benefits of the movement.  If all you wanted was a grip exercise, why even walk at all?  Why not simply hold the dumbbells for time?  It would be more productive toward your goal of grip, and you’d look like less of a spaz.

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Although wearing this shirt won't help

Additionally, the implements move the weight further out from the lifter, meaning more control is required to keep them stable so that faster movement can be achieved.  This speaks even more to the full body aspect of the movement, and why dumbbells fail.  Trying to steer an errant 300lbs with your wrist is going to develop some massive hand/wrist/grip strength, while having a dumbbell plopped limply at your side while you go for a stroll is just going to bruise your hip.


My intention here is to not be an elitist, it’s simply to point out that anyone hoping to obtain the benefits of the farmer’s walk by performing these bizarre substitutions is going to be sadly disappointed.  The purported benefits to upper back and trap growth, along with the fat melting cardiovascular improvement and general “man making” quality is simply non-existent when taking a light weight for a long, leisurely stroll.  This is a strongman movement, as such, it needs to be intense and heavy, and most likely not last longer than a minute.

Image result for woman laying in bed disappointed next to man
This may be a more familiar idea to some than to others


Don’t get me wrong, long distances can be viable, but it’s going to make things suck even harder.  I know of a trainee who talks about carrying bodyweight in each hand for a mile as a challenge.  I can’t even fathom the amount of crazy is takes to accomplish this, but one can at least observe the subtle difference between this challenge and carrying some dumbbells around the gym.  The intensity is through the roof for that entire mile.


I even engage in blasphemy and perform farmer’s walks with straps, because I find that the rest of the benefits of the farmer’s walk greatly exceeds any grip strength building benefit it can give me, and would prefer to just train my grip with static holds while I use farmer’s walks to build up my entire body.  Additionally, since I am no longer limited to moving as far/as long as my grip will permit, I can push the farmer’s walk to such a degree that, after 2 trips, I am pretty much done for the rest of my life.  This movement should totally kick your ass, it’s not something that you should be able to squeeze in in between trips to the drinking fountain.

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Ever since I started doing farmer's with straps, I also started practicing this drill...just in case


There are so many viable DIY options to have access to some sort of farmer’s walk implement that there is no excuse to perform this movement with dumbbells.  You could build your own implement entirely with just hand tools for $50 using some railroad ties and plumbing pipe if you want top loaders, or only plumbing pipe and about $80 if you want side loaders.  You could built handles that attach to barbells that you can bring in your gym bag.  You can always just buy some professionally made ones for slightly over $100.   The possibilities are endless, and the result so much more beneficial.        


As a people, let us make a conscious decision to no longer refer to walking around holding dumbbells as the “farmer’s walk”.  Let’s call it something like “stealing dumbbells” or “carrying groceries” or something that more accurately describes the action.  Additionally, if one simply wants to improve their grip, let’s tell that person to hold onto something heavy until they can’t.  However, if someone wants to become a stronger person overall, let us tell them to do the farmer’s walk.  And then, let us laugh when they puke after their set, before we set up to do the same.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

“BACK TO BASICS” STRONGMAN COMP WRITE UP

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mjpgBL6kqgw

Just finished my 6th strongman competition, Alan Thrall’s “Back to the Basics” at Untamed Strength.  Took 4th out of 14 in the 231 class, having weighed in at 203 in full sweats and eating a donut.  Most fun I have had at a contest.  Wanted to get some thoughts down.  Going to go into a lot of history, if you just want to read about the contest, scroll down to “competition”.

BACKGROUND

Prior to this competition, I had already met my goal of placing in a comp (Took 2nd out of 7 in January and 1st out of 3 in February) along with qualifying for nationals (reference the first place finish).  Additionally, I walk around at about 198, and there was no 200lb class for this contest, so I was competing as a 231.  I had no interest in attempting to gain 30lbs for the contest, so this was going to be “just for fun”, which meant that a lot of pressure was off.  Ultimately, I signed up for this contest because it had a car deadlift, which has been on my strongman bucketlist ever since I started competing.

Because of the lack of concern of weigh in, I had been a lot more free with my diet leading up to this contest, and honestly I am pretty sick of eating junk.  I plan to dial things in a bit more after this, but at least I got the junk food binge out of my system.  Additionally, I picked up a slight cold prior to the contest, which was more of an annoyance than anything else.  In general though, this was a different experience for me to care so little about my diet prior to a contest.  I never “cut weight” to make the 200s, but I do spend about a day or 2 eating a little lighter than normal just to make sure I can walk onto the scale comfortably at 200lbs.  This time, I was able to really ease off the breaks and eat big before the contest.

TRAINING

Events for the show were
-200lb log press for reps (clean each rep)
-550lb yoke walk, 100’ (turn at 50’)
-225lb farmer’s walk/heavy frame carry (80’ each way)
-Car deadlift
-240lb stone over bar

The log I had at home was a 9” dual handle CFF log, and the contest was going to be a 12” log, so I modified the center of my log to be a larger diameter.  I may have gone too big with it, but it at least got me to train the mechanics with a larger log.  Huge difference trying to press it.

This was a first for me to be able to train the yoke before a show.  Normally, I just have to wing it, but I finally broke down and bought a pitbull economy yoke and got to do a few runs with it beforehand.  Yoke weight was billed at 550, I worked up to 600 and still moved pretty quickly.  Additionally, the economy design of the pitbull yoke gives it a slight wobble to deal with, so my hope was that using a sturdier piece of equipment would make things pan out better for me.

I had farmer’s handles to train with, but no frame, and even then not enough weight plates to perform a good “farmer to frame” medley, so I just stuck with farmer’s walks with a turn.  Comp weight was 225 per hand, I trained with 245 per hand.  Used straps as well, because grip is never my issue, more footspeed.  Honestly didn’t feel like I was moving too fast in training, but the yoke kept improving, so there is that.

I trained car deadlift with 2 barbells jammed in the corner of my power rack.  Highest weight I could work up to was 5 plates per side before I ran out of space, so I threw some chains on as well.  Hope was that the accommodating resistance would match the weird design of the car deadlift frame.

Did no training for stones whatsoever.  Don’t have any stones at home, and though it would’ve been a good idea to at least do some sandbag or keg loading over the yoke, it just wasn’t a big priority for me.

COMPETITION

Weighed in at 203 wearing full sweats and eating a donut (as in, I was eating a donut on the scale).  Breakfast was 3 bowls of fruity pebbles w/milk and a zero carb Rockstar w/240 mg of caffeine.  Was feeling good.  Stomach was a little twitchy, but nothing distracting.

Warmed up by cleaning and pressing the empty log twice.  It felt so much smoother and better than my ghetto log at home.  Also picked up the frame one time, so I could confirm that it sucked.  That was it for warm-ups.

Log Clean and Press (clean each rep) 200lbs

Training had gone well for this event, and I had a goal of hitting 6 reps before needing a breather, as that’s what I managed at home.  However, once I found out that we could bounce the log off the tires, I changed my gameplan on the spot.  Usually a dumb choice, but it paid off.  The first clean and press went amazingly smooth.  The log I was training with at home was covered in tape, so it stuck to my chest something fierce when trying to clean it.  Not having to deal with that made the log fly up.  Also, fairly certain I was training with a much larger diameter than 12”, so the press was nothing on this.

Bounced as many reps as I could off the tires.  Doing this was awesome, as it made the clean incredibly fast and easy.  This in turn meant that I well surpassed my goal of 6, and was able to clean 9 reps without needing a break.  I unfortunately ran out of time to press the 9th, but 8 was good enough for second place.

Kalle was judging for my lane, and he was very quick with the down command, which was awesome, and something I learned to look for.  My 8th rep looked touchy, but he gave it to me, so that was awesome.

Things that went well: Very short transition time between clean and press.  Something I’ve been working on.

Thinks I could improve: Looked like some random stalls for no reason I could really determine. Lost my balance once or twice, which cost me some time.

All in all, this was the event I was the most surprised by.  I figured I would go middle of the pack, tied for 2nd out of 14 was awesome.


Car Deadlift

This was the event I was looking forward to the most.  I also had zero frame of reference for how I would do.  Everyone says it’s nothing like a deadlift at all, and though I did the deadlift simulator, I had never touched a car before.

The number to beat when I was up was 28 reps, and it was set by the guy who took first in the log, so I figured that was a high number.  I chalked up, set my straps, put on my super heavy duty knee sleeves got ready, and just embraced the suck.

No technique whatsoever here, just standing up as many times as I could and gutting it out.  Once I hit 25 and heard I had 30 seconds left, it dawned on me that I might be pretty decent at this.  Unfortunately, I also had the thought that, since I was so far ahead, I probably didn’t need to kill myself, and that I should just go for 35 for pride.

I got 35, and crushed the previous number, but one other competitor managed 37 to bump me into second.  However, no one else came close to my number, so I take solace in that.  Lesson learned: I will never not give 100% on an event.

What WAS awesome though was that, due to my second place on the first 2 events, I was now first overall in my weight class.  I did NOT expect that to happen after having given up so much weight.  Pretty awesome.


550lb yoke, 100’ (50’ each way)

Finally broke down and bought a yoke to train with, and it paid off.  It was taking me 40ish seconds to make my runs back home, but it was with a more shaky yoke and a slightly further distance.

Not a whole lot to write about here.  Sturdier yoke felt smoother.  Once I started thinking “fast feet”, things moved better.  Big takeaway is that I can’t try to autopilot movement events like I do static ones.  I need to be thinking the whole time “quick feet”.  You can actually see when I start thinking it in the video, as my foot speed changes pretty radically.

Only other thing I’d change is my transition at the turn.  Took too long setting back up, and it’s time I could’ve spent moving.  Took 7th overall in this event with a time of about 20 seconds, but I was a second away from the next placing, and first was only 14 seconds.  This is huge for me, as prior to this I was taking around 40-50 seconds in competition at this distance.  Marked improvement.  After this event, I had dropped to third overall.  Still placing way outside my weight class, very happy with that.


225lb farmers/heavy frame carry, 80’ each way

Another event I wasn’t too psyched about, but willing to give me all.  Did zero training with a frame, only used farmers with a turn, and that’s with straps, because I want to watch the world burn.

Everyone was getting psyched out over the frame.  Don’t get me wrong, it sucked; the pick up was like a snatch grip pick, and it had zero knurling, but you can’t let the equipment beat you.  I just figured I’d deal with it when I got there.

Same as the yoke, I need to think “fast feet” from the start.  I did better this time at least, and you can see it in the video.  Also, I tucked a small block of chalk in my elbow sleeve in case I would need it for the frame, but when I got there and grabbed it, I felt fine, so I just moved as quick as I could.  A lot of folks were dropping it, which was good for me, as even though I had a slolwish run, I had zero errors.

Finished with a time of around 29 seconds, which was good for 6th place, keeping me in third place overall.  4th place was 1.5 points behind me, so it was going to come down to stones if I wanted to place.


240lb stone over 52’ bar

I never train stones, so my gameplan here was just to give it my all.

4th place got 11 reps, so that was what I wanted.  At 5’9, the bar was high, but nothing you can do.  I tried to one motion it as much as I could, and was actually on pace to make 11, but a missed pick up on the third rep and a lot of hang time on the 8th killed me.  Got 9 over the bar, and wiffed on the 10th.  Happy with it all things considered, but a little bittersweet knowing I might’ve been able to place.


Moving forward

This was the most fun I ever had in a contest.  Alan Thrall put on a great show, the volunteers were awesome, and judging was fair.  At this point, I tired of eating so much garbage, and want to clean up my diet a bit.  If this means dropping weight, I’m fine with that, but bodycomp is less the concern.  It’s more about less fast food, more veggies, etc.

Trainingwise, speed is still my weakness, but it’s getting to be less so.  Going to keep the yoke in rotation, as it will be in my next contest, and do some farmers for speed on occasion.



Also, shout out to Luis, a reader of the blog, who I met at the competition.  You had some balls for stepping up into the open class on your first contest dude.  Look forward to seeing you in the future.

Monday, May 11, 2015

THERE IS NO DEADLIFT

The deadlift is constantly touted as one of the most essential exercises for any trainee to perform.  It has been crowned many pithy titles such as “the king of exercises”, “the single greatest exercise of all time”, “the only exercise you ever need to do”, etc etc.  Any trainee that does not include the deadlift in their program is mocked for being a wimp, whereas those who DO the deadlift talk about how it’s their favorite exercise, bragging about how primal they felt while pulling heavy weight off the floor in their commercial gym while letting out a roar.  As we have learned with most things, increased popularity tends to be an indication of decreased effectiveness, and it is with this observation that it becomes time to dissect the shortfalls of the deadlift.  Specifically, we need to address the reality that the term “the deadlift” is meaningless, for though we may think that we are all meaning the same thing when we use the term, the reality is that most trainees have completely different and unique experiences with this movement due to a variety of specific variations for equipment type and set up.


The primary issue in any claims regarding the “essential” quality of the barbell deadlift lies in the completely arbitrary nature of the movement itself.  Specifically, I am speaking to the starting height of the bar, which is determined by plate diameter of a 45lb/20kg plate.  Said plate diameter derives from Olympic weightlifting, wherein a certain diameter was determined to be of adequate height such that, should a lifter fall backwards with a weight, the bar would not crush the skull of the lifter.  A noble endeavor most definitely, but in NO way was this design meant to indicate an ideal starting position for a pull of any variety.  The height of the bar could have been any other height in the world, thus, to consider the deadlift proper superior to any other modification in terms of starting pull position (ie: deficit deadlifts or block/mat/rack pulls) is merely an appeal to tradition.  The sheer odds that the starting position of a barbell deadlift is the most optimal starting position for the majority of the training population is statistically insignificant.

Image result for silver dollar deadlift
I would actually watch weightlifting if they used this...and if it was Kaz

On the above, the waters get even muddier when we consider the reality that very few trainees actually even get to train with competition size/spec plates in the first place, which just confounds the issue of discussing “the deadlift”.  There are dozens of weight plate manufacturers, and while some are interested in building plates to the exact specs of those used in weightlifting, others are interested in building ones that are easier to hold onto with handles cut into them, while others simply want to build the cheapest 45lb plate (to the point where plate weight can vary by 5lbs give or take), and even some others are interested in building plates that DISCOURAGE deadlifting with a hexagonal design.  This information needs to be considered when even discussing “the deadlift”, as two trainees could be using the same name and yet discussing completely different movements.  One trainee might be saying “you need to deadlift”, and in his mind he is envisioning Olympic spec bumper plates, but the trainee he is speaking too is training with hexagonal plates that are shorter in diameter, meaning that he is effectively performing a deficit deadlift compared to the first trainee.  We witness in this case that, in most instances, we cannot even really begin to discuss “the deadlift” among most trainees, because equipment type variation can in turn result in movement variation.

Image result for bumper plateImage result for hexagonal weight plateImage result for golds gym weight plate
Your mileage WILL vary


Oh geez, wait a minute, I haven’t even brought up weight plate material have I?  Surely you want to use bumper plates, right?  I mean, they’re made of rubber, so you can drop the deadlift from the top without harming the equipment, plus the plates are wider so it looks super cool when you have the sleeves totally loaded even when it’s only 495lbs.  HOWEVER, you actually create a slightly different pull compared to thinner metal plates due to this very effect.  Since the plates are further away from the center of the bar, when the barbell flexes in the middle at the start of the pull, it means that some of the plates will actually still be in contact with the floor while others will be picked up at the initial pull.  Technically, you’re lifting less weight at the start of the pull with bumpers than you are with metal plates.  You can see an extreme example of this when analyzing the hummer tire deadlift.  And hell, even if you decide to go all metal plates to avoid this issue, some manufacturers make use different types of metals/metal blends which result in varying types of thickness of plates.  Hopefully you took that into consideration.


STRAPS?!  Doesn't count


In regards to equipment variation, let us discuss the barbell aspect of the barbell deadlift.  Just as there are dozens of weight plate manufacturers, such is the case for the barbell.  If we are using an Olympic weightlifting style plate (the bumper plate), then surely we would use an Olympic barbell, no?  However, many “purist” argue that the whippy nature of said bar is “cheating”, because it means that, though one initiates the pull from the same height as normal due to a standardized plate diameter, the bar flexes and the weight breaks off the floor later in the pull compared to if one were to perform the deadlift with a stiffer bar.  Combine this with a bunch of bumper plates, and you’re practically not even lifting any weight, right?  But in this case, we’re talking about a barbell that was built by design to flex.  In other cases, barbells flex simply because they are cheaply manufactured for a mass market, and it’s more a flaw than a feature.  The odds that two people training at separate commercial gyms are using the same bar are slim, and as such the odds that they are even speaking about the same movement when they say “deadlift” is in turn, small.  Once again, we witness the meaningless of the term “deadlift”.

I’ve only begun to scratch the surface of variations that can affect what it means when we say “deadlift”.  Is your barbell 28mm, 31mm, or is it an axle?  Is the knurling diamond sharp, or barely there?  Is there center knurling?  How far apart is the knurling?  What kind of shoes are you wearing?  Is there an incline on the floor?  Are you pulling from rubber mats that compress under the weight, or is it concrete that has no give?  With all this to consider, we realize how absurd it is to claim any value to “the deadlift”, as your “the deadlift” can be completely different from another person’s “the deadlift”.  In turn, we must also understand that it is foolish to critique modifications made to A deadlift in order to make it a more viable training movement.  Some may need to raise or lower the starting pull position, some may need to use bumpers while others need steel plates, some may need a flexing bar while others need a stiffer one, etc etc.  It’s insane to believe that modifications to the deadlift are deviations from the intended “perfect state” of the deadlift, because there is no perfect state.  We like to deceive ourselves into believing that the deadlift is a simple exercise, where you just “pick up the bar”, but the reality is that it is anything but.

Image result for Incredible hulk
Keep in mind, in order to become The Hulk, Bruce Banner had to be a genius first

Don’t misunderstand me: picking heavy stuff up off the ground is a great way to get bigger and stronger.  However, being an elitist about it is just stupid.  Some folks might pick things up off an elevated ground, while others might elevate themselves.  Some might pick up stones, sandbags, or kegs.  And hell, some folks just might skip this part of the training.  Just understand that, as much as you might criticize them for not performing “the deadlift”, you are most likely just as guilty.