Bent Arm Strength, Straight Arm Strength & Scapular Control

As promised, here’s some of the more important stuff that I learnt during the Ido Portal certification course that not many people know, but which everybody should.

Upper body strength is often the favoured focus of most male fitness enthusiasts. Let’s be honest, training the legs is downright boring as compared to the stuff that you can do with your upper body.

This is because our hips, the major joint through which most lower body movements are expressed, are capable of much lesser complexity as compared to our shoulders, the primary joint through which virtually all upper body movements originate.

Those of you (and this should mean all of you) who have read Convict Conditioning should know that there are 3 main upper body movements (overhead pressing, forward pressing and pulling), as compared to only 1 for the lower body and legs (the squat).

Humans crave complexity, as articulated most expertly by Ido Portal. We get bored doing the same thing the same way. We are seized by a constant need to find new and more challenging ways to do the same thing once the old method has been mastered. This is human nature.

The focus on this post will be on a few of the central tenets that underpin the whole concept of upper body strength:

Bent arm strength, straight arm strength and scapular control.

There are only 2 major types of upper body movements as expressed through the arms – pulling and pushing/pressing.

There are also only 2 main types of upper body strength – bent arm strength and straight arm strength.

Bent arm strength refers to the type of strength that is required in any upper body movement in which the arms are bent at the elbows at any point in time during the execution of the movement. Some classic examples include your conventional push ups, pull ups and dips.

Straight arm strength refers to the type of strength that is required in any upper body movement in which the arms are kept straight at the elbows throughout the entire duration in which the movement is executed. Some examples are front levers, back levers, side levers (human flag), planches, handstands, iron crosses etc.

Bent arm strength generates movement in the upper body by bending the elbows and thus engaging the surrounding muscles of the arm (mainly the biceps and the triceps). Straight arm strength generates movement in the upper body by pivoting the entire body on the shoulders alone, and the elbows are kept straight and locked by muscular effort.

That straight arm strength is more challenging as compared to bent arm strength is a simple observation to make.

Many people can do “planche” push ups, but out of every 10 of these guys, I’d go so far as to say that probably only 1 or 2 can hold a proper planche with straight arms. This is because bent arm strength is something that comes to us quite naturally, and it is by far easier to develop as compared to its straight arm cousin.

You’ll notice that most of the straight arm strength movements are extremely disadvantaged in terms of mechanical leverage. Great strength is required to hold the arms locked out and supporting the rest of the body in the required position.

The difficulty also increases because there is greater demand on scapular stabilisation and control in straight arm positions as compared to bent arm movements.

The scapulae, or shoulder blades, are the bones that connect the humerus (upper arm bone) with the clavicle (collar bone) as defined by wiki. The scapulae are very mobile structures, and their movement is linked to the engagement of the many muscles that are attached to them, such as the trapezius, the rhomboids, and the serratus anterior to name but a few.

Ido Portal brought across the concept that scapular stabilisation and control is the true source of upper body strength, especially at very high levels of strength and power output and connected to the development of straight arm strength in particular.

If you can stabilise your scapulae, they will form a powerful platform upon which great strength can be generated. But if you fail to stabilise your scapulae and if they shift away from a power position when your perform certain upper body strength movements (esp. for straight arm positions), your strength and power output will be greatly reduced and hugely limited, to the extent that some of these movements become nigh on impossible for you to perform.

In general for upper body movements there are 2 planes of scapular movement that you need to concern yourself with – the vertical and the horizontal planes.

The scapulae can be moved up and down. When you shrug your shoulders, the resultant upward movement is known as elevation. When you bring your shoulders down below their normal, neutral positions, the resultant downward movement is known as depression.

The scapulae can also be moved towards the front and back. When you push them forward of their normal, neutral positions the resultant movement is known as protraction. When you bring them back as if you’re trying to squeeze something between your shoulder blades the resultant movement is known as retraction.

General scapular cues for straight arm hanging/pulling movements and positions such as the pull up and the front lever are for the shoulders to be depressed and retracted. General scapular cues for straight arm pressing movements and positions such as the push up and the planche are for the shoulders to be depressed and protracted. And of course the shoulders should be kept neutral in both the vertical and horizontal planes of movement for the conventional handstand.

Of course when you become extremely proficient at these moves you can perform them with virtually any shoulder positioning; however at the start it is best to stick to the most optimal shoulder positions for maximum strength and power output.

Ultimately scapular control is a form of muscle control, for the movement of the bone is dependent on the movement of the adjacent muscles. Don’t worry at first if you are having trouble with some of these shoulder positions; some of them may be relatively new to you and it will take time and effort to cultivate the control that you desire with practice.

Hopefully what I’ve shared in this post will be useful for you; they were a great insight for me that cleared up some of my long-time confusion concerning upper body strength training. Become a master of scapular control and straight arm strength, and you will scale new heights in your upper body strength training that you may never have dreamed of previously. 🙂

~ This post is written by Lionel Ng, part-time Personal Trainer & full-time Fitness Enthusiast. ~

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Squats-The King of all Exercises

The Myth of Squats

 Perhaps you have heard this from your PE teacher back in school: Squats will damage your knees! Or this, from a doctor: Stop squatting, or you will be a cripple by 45. PE teachers are trained in, well, sports, so they should know best right? They are the teachers! Doctors have studied for years, and they should know the human anatomy and how a body function like the back of their hands! So they are the ‘experts’ right? Or not?

Just something to keep you thinking: How do humans excrete waste from our body, before the invention of the seating toilet-bowl? Before the gas-stove, or induction cooker, how do we light a fire to cook our food? Squatting! History had shown that we are built to squat! But why are the ‘experts’ telling us not to squat? By the way, the same ‘experts’ are telling us to squat in order to pick up heavy items! If you are unable to even do a proper body weight squats, what business do you have pick up something heavy?

No doubt, the so called ‘experts’ are well-meaning, given the number of students(for PE-teachers) or patients (for doctors) they have encountered who have some form of knee problems, all that they claimed originate from squatting, and so squats start to get a bad reputation. But lets look at the facts: The top athletes in the world, do squats as part of their conditioning! The top boxers in the world do squats as part of their training! Not convinced? Know the Shaolin monk? We are all familiar with the scene that they hold the half-squat position, commonly known as the horse-stance for hours on end, as part of their foundation training. Tyson Gay, a world renowned sprinter, improved his 100m sprint timing to below 9.8sec, after squats are implemented into his training. Mike Tyson, the former heavy weight boxing champion, and the youngest one in history to have achieve the feat, have squats in his training regime. Check out his training regime in this youtube link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XPkn8VCpNmc&feature=player_embedded at 1m 23s. So why have squats been given such a bad reputation? Let me ask you, how do you learn math? From 1 + 1 right? Not 12 x 12 I assume. With the correct foundation, we can all achieve a high level of achievement of what can be done! We don’t start by building a house, we start by digging the foundation. A exercise regime without any form of build up, is like a 100 storey building built without a deep foundation in an earthquake zone: A disaster waiting to happen. A lot of time, those injured athletes progress too soon to weighted squats, so heavy their body are unable to handle it. Do remember, our muscle develop much faster than our joints and tendon. Many of these athletes progress too fast for their joints and tendons to take the stress, and so the injuries set in. What about the everyday guy who feel the strain in their knee and back when they even squat? Simple, their body had simply degenerate to an extend where their muscles, joints and tendons are too weak from the lack of use. Having debunk the myth of the squats, lets go into the benefits of squats!

The Benefits of Squats

 

1)Squats create an anabolic environment. Not many other exercise does more to promote overall muscle growth. Means to say, other than parts of the body you are working out, namely the quadriceps, hamstring and calves, squats will indirectly promote muscle growth throughout the whole body-chest, back, shoulder, etc.

 

You get greater overall muscle and strength gains from the squat than from any other exercise….Squats create an overall anabolic environment in the body that maximizes gains from other exercises [in your workout]. says Jeff Volek, Ph.D., R.D., C.S.C.S., an exercise researcher at the University of Connecticut.

 

2) Maintain mobility and range of motion. These are exceptionally critical, especially as we aged. Leg strength is very important to keep us functioning properly as a normal human being as we age. Squats are one of the best exercise around, and it can be done anywhere(not to mention any time)!

 

3) Functional Strength is increased. As mentioned earlier, men had been squatting to clear their bowels, to light fire etc. And few other exercises are as natural as the squat as men had simply been built to squat, so it make sense that squats builds pure functional strength. Squats not only build huge amount of muscle, it also force your body’s nerve networks to work your body more efficiently.

 

4) A full body workout (almost). There is arguably no other exercise that work more muscles than the squat. It is also a quick way to start your heart pumping and warmed up.

 

5) Increase upper body strength. You must be wondering, how does a low body exercise increase upper body strength? With a strong pair of legs, the adaptable human body will soon adjust. Sub consciously, without knowing, you will find yourself being able to left heavier things, as the body now knows that it have a strong foundation. See point 6 for a further explanation.

 

6) Improve balance. As we age, nerve endings and connective tissue degenerate naturally. Squats have been proven to improve the communication between your brain and your body’s major muscle group (hence you will curiously find yourself being able to carry more weight). This carries into your later years and this strong balance that you have been accustomed to, will prevent falls and broken hips.

7) Prevent injuries. Nearly 90% of injuries involve a weak stabilizer muscles, ligaments, tendons and connective tissue. By using a free standing compound exercise (the squat), you will do a lot to reduce the risk of injuries.

 

8) Multi-purpose. Be it you are a beanstalk who want to bulk up, or if you look like a bean itself who want to slim down, the squat is absolutely necessary if you are serious about your goal.

 

9) Gain flexibility. If you want prove resistance training doesn’t reduce flexibility and make you muscle bound like the hulk, the squat it is. Give squats a go for a couple of months, and you will feel the difference!

 

With all the benefits, why are you still sitting here and reading? Start squatting NOW!!

 

For a guide to doing a proper bodyweight squat, check out this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=06jK5Ve8dHs

Post written by Jay Ding, Fitness and Lifestyle Coach, Basic Training Academy

Instantly Enlightened

‘Increase your biceps by 2 inch in 1 weeks!’, ‘Six packs in 2 weeks!’, ‘Burns fat while you sleep!’, ‘Lose 7 kg in 11 days!’, ‘Gain enormous strength in just 1 week!’- All these are frequent and common claims we see around us every single day. Due to people who are always fast and naïve enough to slurp such claims up, these advertisements never fail to receive recurring success.

All of us are living in an ‘instant’ society now, where our whims and fancy are catered to instantly, well almost. The age old advice of “patience is a virtue”, and “leave some in the bank” are practically non-existence now. For example, when we want a car, we simply take a loan for it. When we see a piece of furniture that we desire, we pay by credit. In fact, we do anything we can to get our hands on what we crave for, without bothering about consequences, e.g. loans and credit card bills. Sadly, the same have gone to the world of fitness, where instant improvement is seen as the social norm. Fast is better.

There is a very good reason on why we should proceed slowly and methodically through any training program – gaining training momentum. Basically, it means that you will actually reach your goal at a faster rate if you were to build a solid foundation by moving slowly instead of proceeding with haste. Sounds like a paradox, but it’s true.

Athletes in the past understood this principle only too well. They used to talk in terms of ‘milking’ a program, and ‘leave some in the bank’. What do the two phrases mean?

Milking a program

Before even proceeding to a higher level of a certain training regime, make sure you are able to complete the current regime with ease, as and when you want. It means milking every drop of goodness from the current level, before going to the next.

Leave some in the bank

True to how the olden days people think, having some cash in the bank is always useful, for rainy days and emergencies that might arise. For training, it means not to exhaust all energy to prevent pushing yourself over the limit. Our body is meant to be functional. If you exhaust all the energy in it, what use is it as a functional unit? There is a common knowledge known by all farmers in Asia – If you pluck off all the good fruits from the tree during harvesting season, chances are that there will be less fruits at the next season.

Unfortunately, modern athletes don’t understand this concept at all. They throw themselves into the deep end of immediately start training. Like I have mentioned in the first 2 paragraph, we live in an ‘instant’ society. Kids and adults alike don’t see patience as a virtue. (That’s why so many people are laden with debts! Do they look good? Yes, they have a beautiful car, clothes and even more dazzling bills every month – we want things now, and we don’t want to wait till we have really earned it). Steroids and supplements of outrageous claims are the creation from such ‘instant’ desires. They bring fast – albeit temporary and unhealthy – results. The respected art of ‘gradual building momentum’ has largely been lost or forgotten. So, before I go even further, I would like to salute you for reading to this point, because it might have struck a chord with you which encourage you to read further more.

The harder you train, the better the results. That is what many coaches out there are doing now. Because of this, a lot of trainees assume the fastest way to get big, strong and faster is to work as hard as possible, and it is weak unless everything is put on the line. BUT, this form of training has its drawback. It drains the system, eats up training motivation, and it can be very brutal on the joints. When you train at your extreme, you may achieve a huge dose of improvement, for a few weeks or even months, but these improvements will grind to a stop as soon as the body starts to give way. With limited energy in our bodies, such training can deplete it in no time and reduce the future availability of energy – just like the lower harvest of fruits to come, if all are plucked off now.

When we train moderately, short-term results may not be on par with that of training to limit but it is possible to coax our bodies to churn out a more results in the long run. As time passes, these moderate gains build up more total muscle and strength than the huge initial gain made by one who has burned himself out. Does the scene of a couch potato who was determined to lose weight through 3 days of 1hr run and then find it an impossible task and hence go back to their original lifestyle, familiar with you? I’m sure all of us want to be fit and strong for life; so in comparison, what does a few months of gradual build up look like beside a lifetime? The bottom line is: sustainability.

Let’s look at the 2 graph below, comparing a train to failure routine, and a progressive routine. This is a general guide of how much more you can progress if you allow your body to properly recover.

Just to share on my own experience, the good and the bad. I was a former Nak Muay (Thai Boxer), who has represented Singapore in a few occasions. I have fought in Thailand, and even in the most prestigious Lumpini Stadium. Looks glamorous? Yes, Even I personally think so, but let me share with you, how the first 2 months of Muay Thai Training for me was like. In the first 2 months, I touched the kick pads less than 10 times. First 2 weeks for me was only running (and darn, the training ground is by a slope!) , skipping, push-ups and sit-ups for me, nothing more. My coach-Master Johnnie, knows the idea of ‘milking the program’. He made sure I can comfortable run up and down the 250m slope plus a 5 storey flight of stairs 5 times before teaching me the basic punch and kicks. So, from the 2nd week onwards, I finally had the opportunity to practice punches and kicks in the air accurately in techniques for 2 months before being able to practice the movement on the kickpads. Looking back, this training has served me well, as my stamina built up steadily, including the conditioning of tendons and joints to be able to take the impact of the real deal as I advance.

So what comes after the 2 months? I was only allowed to practice ‘jab, straight, right kick’ for the next few months to come. This drill was so firmly planted in my memory, that in my later years, the techniques could be still naturally executed with near perfection during competitions where I was pushed to my limits. Master Johnnie made sure that all fighters have the correct basics before an advance to higher techniques. I am proud to say that during ‘Hilltop Muay Thai’ (the Muay Thai Gym I used to train) glorious days, other fighters in Singapore were afraid of our kicks, which is built on the slope we ran on, and the kick we practiced to perfection. All of us are always looking forward to training, because it is tough, but always at a level we can perform well in.

As I moved from the amateur stage to professional, I pushed myself a lot harder. I will only go home when my energy is completed depleted. I thought I was doing myself good. However, my right wrist started to hurt. My shoulder, back and arm muscles delivered too much power for my wrist to bear. It is now an etching reminder of my past folly – Days where I had to drag myself to training, along with poor performance when competitions drew nearer. Looking back, I had jumped too fast from the amateur level to the professional level, which led to some injuries that took a long time to heal. Please, do not go through the same process. I once brushed off the advice my father gave (who also used to be a martial art practitioner) – resting and rehabilitating, and so leading to today’s suffering. I love Muay Thai, and would love to practice it for the rest of my life, alongside with other forms of  martial arts. I am lucky that my injuries are healable, and with some of trainings BTA had, I have recovered a part of my wrist mobility with significant reduction in pain, ever since I retired from the fighting scene 2 years ago. In fact I will say my wrists are even more robust then before!

All that said about not pushing yourself till you break and not looking for ‘instant’ way to become better, if you are an athlete, during competition, do go all out and dig into your inner strength to overcome adversity. That, will dig deep into your most basic foundation, which is crafted from the amount of time you had took to build up to your current level.

If there is only 1 thing you can absorb in this whole article, let it be this: Being fit is a lifetime affair. Why rush through this affair since it is going to last a lifetime? “A moment of gain, a lifetime of pain” or “A moment of patience, a lifetime of pleasure”? Your choice.

Post written by Jay Ding, Fitness and Lifestyle Coach, Basic Training Academy

The Things That You Didn’t Know About Pull Ups

When I was a platoon commander on the sunny island of Pulau Tekong during my days in full-time National Service, one of my main jobs as an instructor was to ensure the physical fitness of the recruits who were placed under my charge.

My constant self-training in the gym and at the pull up bars had resulted in my being labelled as “the fit guy”, and I enjoyed a certain amount of fame for some of the acrobatic feats that I could perform on the chinning bar. Hence I was naturally, and regularly, subjected to many questions and requests for pull up tips and advice.

You may or may not know of the things that I’m going to cover in this post, but I hope that among the stuff that I’m going to share with you here you’ll be able to find something useful for your own pull up training, or for training your friends or clients in this bodyweight strength movement.

Alright, let’s start off with the basics.

How do you know whether you, or your trainee, is ready to attempt the full pull up?

The answer is simple and straightforward. If you cannot perform an active hang for a good 30 seconds or more, you have no business attempting a full pull up.

What do I mean by active hang? By active hanging I don’t mean for you to hang off from the bar by just hooking your fingers over it and with your shoulders loose in their sockets.

By active hanging I mean for you to grip the bar, squeezing it firmly as you would if you wanted to wring the water out of a wet sponge, and with your shoulders well pulled in.

How to train up your grip and shoulder strength for the active hang? Perform scapular pull-ins, or what we call straight-arm pulls in the army. This will strengthen your grip and teach you how to engage your scapulae optimally for the pull up, which is a movement that requires the depression and retraction of the scapulae.

Once you can perform a good solid active hang for half a minute or more, we can start talking about achieving the full pull up.  

Of course, it is best that you first build up a foundation of pulling strength from exercises that require you to move less than your full bodyweight. One example of such an exercise is the inclined row, or what is more commonly known here as the inclined pull up. Once you can perform 3 sets of 30 inclined rows with good form, pulling your chest to the bar on every repetition, you should have developed a level of pulling strength that will stand you in good stead to attempt the full pull up.

How to grip the bar for the full pull up?

There are 3 ways of doing it.

1. Finger Grip – This is done by gripping the bar at your second knuckle, which is located at the midfinger.

2. Palm-Finger Grip – This is done by gripping the bar at the base of your fingers, where they meet your palm.

3. Palm Grip – This is done by gripping the bar at the top of your palm, which should place the first row of your knuckles directly over the bar.

So which way is best?

There is no absolute answer to this. Find out which grip feels stronger and more comfortable for you. However, with that being said, I’m a big advocate of all-round training, so I always recommend my clients and pupils to train all 3 types of grip. Don’t limit yourself unnecessarily, because bars of different diameters and textures will favour different grips. So work on all 3 to ensure that you’ll always be on top of your game.

What are some of the pros and cons for each type of grip?

1. Finger Grip – This may be the most comfortable grip that induces the least amount of calluses on the hands, which can be a painful process. However, the finger grip can be weaker than the other 2 types of grip because it is harder to flex the forearm with the bar positioned at your fingers, which will reduce your pulling strength and leverage. I’ll adopt this grip for very thin bars.

2. Palm-Finger Grip – This being an in-between strikes a balance between the finger grip and the palm grip. The palm-finger grip is relatively easy to set up, and it offers more leverage than the finger grip although it is less comfortable. This grip is less painful than the palm grip, but it does not provide as much leverage as the latter. I’ll adopt this grip for bars of moderate thickness.

3. Palm Grip – This may be the most painful grip, and will induce a great amount of calluses on the hands. However, the upside is that the palm grip is arguably the strongest of the 3 different grips, offering a great deal of mechanical leverage and facilitating powerful forearm flexion that will increase the pulling strength. I’ll adopt this grip for thick bars.

Another common question on the grip: thumb above or below the bar?

Placing your thumb above the bar should give you more pulling power by facilitating forearm flexion, but with that being said it is difficult to set up a palm grip (and sometimes even a palm-finger grip) with your thumb on top of the bar. I personally prefer the greater security and stability that results from placing my thumb below the bar when gripping it. In my opinion the thumb is made to be an opposing digit for a reason, so let’s make use of it, especially when the bar is wet or slippery.

For those of you who want to know why placing your thumb above the bar will facilitate greater forearm flexion as compared to placing your thumb below the bar, try this:

Make a clenched fist with your thumb curled up under the rest of your fingers. Then flex your fist downwards powerfully, as far down as it will go. This is known as a “gooseneck” pose, which is used by bodybuilders and models to display forearm development.

When you feel that your fist is “jammed” and can’t be flexed downwards any further, take your thumb out and position it alongside and in line with the rest of your fingers. You will notice that you can now flex your fist downwards just that little further, and greater forearm flexion is achieved.

Or you can do the reverse: Make a clenched fist with your thumb alongside and in line with the rest of your fingers. Then flex your fist downwards powerfully, as far down as it will go. Now in this position try taking out your thumb and curling it up underneath the rest of your fingers. You should find it impossible to do so, unless you haven’t been flexing your fist downwards fully, or you were born with an anomalous biological structure in your hands, wrists and forearms which enables you to perform full forearm flexion even with your thumb placed below the rest of your fingers. I congratulate you if you find yourself in the latter category.

So thumb above or thumb below? I’ll leave that up to your own discretion.

Next question: What’s the difference between a supinated (“reverse”/underhand), pronated (“normal”/overhand) and a neutral grip?

Let’s go through these 3 different ways of gripping the bar:

1. Supinated Grip – I find that this allows you greater use of your biceps in the pulling motion. The supinated grip also facilitates the creation and maintenance of abdominal tension, which helps to stabilise the body better as it travels through the air during the pull up. So for those of you with melon-sized guns and relatively weaker abs, you could choose to start off your pull up training with the supinated grip. 

2. Pronated Grip – I find that most beginners find this the most difficult grip to perform for the pull up initially. My guess is that it requires greater coordination and control of scapular movement, which tends to present great difficulty for the novice. However, I am of the opinion that everyone should work towards performing pronated grip pull ups, due to the greater engagement and activation of the muscles across the back and the lats, which will translate into greater pulling strength and higher consecutive reps down the road.

3. Neutral Grip – This gripping method is best performed with the hands placed on 2 separate and parallel bars of the same height, such as that found on the horizontal ladder (monkey bars). Both palms will be facing inwards. It is not very convenient to use this grip on a single bar, as the hands will then be at different distances to the body. If the supinated grip is analogous to a dumbbell curl, and the pronated grip to a reverse curl, the neutral grip will be your hammer curl. I find that the neutral grip engages and activates the biceps more than the pronated grip, but comparatively less of the lats and back. The lats and back engagement and activation in a neutral grip is superior to that in a supinated grip, with relatively less achieved for the biceps.

There is actually another grip variation, what we call the “mixed grip” in the army. This involves having one hand in a pronated grip and one hand in a supinated grip. However, I personally feel that this gripping method should be adopted only as a supplement or for variety in your pull up training; you should not endeavour to make this the core staple of your programme in any way.

And now moving on to the question of grip width: how far apart should the hands be spaced on the bar for optimal pulling performance?

I will not attempt to break down for you every single type of grip width in the continuum, for there is far too many for me to elucidate within the extent of this post. However, I will go through a few of the more common variations: 

1. Close Grip – This is where the hands are touching, or almost touching.

2. Shoulder Width – This should be self-explanatory. The wrists and elbows are roughly in line with the shoulders.

3. Wide Grip – This is where the hands are spaced more than shoulder width apart. I shall focus on the “double shoulder-width” standard where the angle at the elbows when the latter is bent to the point that the chin exceeds the bar is about 90 degrees.

The first and most obvious difference between the 3 different grip widths that I’ve outlined for you above (less than shoulder width, shoulder width, more than shoulder width) is the distance that you have to pull to get your chin above the bar. The wider your hands are spaced apart on the bar, the less you have to pull for your chin to get over it. This is physics so simple, you probably won’t even recognise it as science.

However, although it seems then that it is most prudent to space your hands out as far apart as possible in order to reduce the range of motion that is required, ultra-wide grip chins can be extremely difficult to perform due to the greatly reduced mechanical leverage. The exact biomechanics that underpin this phenomenon eludes my limited abilities of articulation, but it should be clear to you that this isn’t an approach that should be taken to the extreme.

My guess is that super-wide grip chins require so much in the way of shoulder stabilisation that you will expend alot of muscular effort and energy to maintain safe and proper shoulder positioning, and hence greatly reduce the amount of strength left for you to exert upon the actual pulling portion of the exercise.

So which grip width is best?

Again this is up to your own judgement. People of different body types and proportions will prefer different grip widths. Experiment to find out what is most suitable for you, in terms of ease and comfort of performance. However, it is my advice for you to include all types of grip width in your training, to develop weak areas. Your own preferred grip width should form the mainstay of your training routine, but do the others once in awhile to fix up any weak links, so as to improve your overall pulling performance.

I will share with you a few last tips and tricks for the pull up:

1. Lift your head and look up towards the sky as you are pulling, and nearing the bar. This will allow greater engagement of your lats and back muscles and facilitate the necessary depression and retraction of the scapulae, which will confer greater pulling strength.

2. Keep your abs slightly tensed throughout a set. This will stabilise your trunk and reduce unnecessary swinging of the torso, which will hinder the pulling motion. It will be tiring to do so at first, but as your body gets used to creating and maintaining the necessary level of core tension you will be able to perform your reps more efficiently, without the need for additional effort to counter uncontrolled and excessive swinging of the body.

3. Grip the bar by squeezing it as you would when drying a wet sponge. Think about how you would pick up a heavy object from the floor. Would it grip it tightly or loosely? The answer should be obvious, and instinctive. Your hands are the only points of contact with the bar, and keeping a firm grip will facilitate your exertion, and enable you to “channel” your strength effectively. The grip is the limiting factor and often the weakest link in the body for the pull up due to the smaller size of the muscles involved as compared to the lats and back and bicep muscles. So grip tight, and you’ll be able to pull hard

4. This one is for safety’s sake: Maintain full control over the entire range of motion. Do not explode upwards or let your body drop down too quickly if you’re a beginner. Chances are you’ll jerk or wrench your shoulder and elbow joints, because they haven’t been conditioned for the increased demands of the new exercise. Pull up smoothly, and lower under control. Unless you’re a pro in competition, greater speed = less control = greater chance of injury. So stay safe, and stay under control!

5. Last tip – power breathing. When you become more proficient at the pull up you’ll be able to maintain a steady breathing rythm. In the beginning when you are struggling with a few reps, “pack” your breath into your body before every pull with a deliberate inhalation under strong mental focus. As you pull up release the air in your lungs as required; the exhalation should occur naturally as you exert. You may not get this now, but try it out, and you’ll experience the increased pulling strength as a result of this power breathing technique.

The full pull up is an excellent upper body strength builder, and it should feature as the staple of any upper body pulling work. Get good at this exercise for massive strength gains in the muscles of your arms and back.

  

That’s all for now folks, I’ll update you guys again if and when I do come across any new material for the pull up! 🙂

~ This post is written by Lionel Ng, part-time Personal Trainer & full-time Fitness Enthusiast. ~

Nature or Nurture?

This is an age-old argument in both the intellectual and physical fields of development, and here’s my take on it:

Nature determines how far you can go, while nurture determines how far you actually go.

I’ll define nature as what you’ve been born with: your natural constitution, your physical proportions, etc.

I’ll define nurture as the training/grooming that you receive, and the work that you put in on your own to that effect.

My dad used to tell me that the nature of humanity can be represented by a rhombus-shaped diagram: very few people are born at the top and very few people are born at the bottom, and the rest of us are all lumped together in the middle.

 

Simply put, it means that there are very few people who are born gifted as we call it, and there are also very few of us who are born handicapped. Most of us are born with relatively normal attributes, with only slight variations that will not limit us in any pursuit too severely.

Let us take a look at gymnastics.

Have you ever wondered why champion gymnasts always fall into that certain height range? This is due to the nature of their physical proportions. 

Ask a friend who’s shorter or taller than you by about 8 – 10 centimetres to sit down on a bench beside you. You’ll probably notice that his head is more or less level with yours, and the extra height, or lack thereof, comes mainly from the length of his legs

That is why gymnasts who compete at the international level tend to have shorter limbs in relation to their torsos. This is a classic case of nature + nurture = world class ability.

Nature is potential, and nurture is its realisation.

There can be someone who appears to be “built” for a particular sport, but if he never trains in it, you can be better than him in the same discipline if you put in intelligent effort in spite of your natural shortcomings. On the other hand you can have all the potential in the world and still amount to nothing if you don’t realise what you have in you by training.

Ultimately, you got to have realistic expectations towards such things. There are guys who will be as good as, if not better than you with the same or even less amount of training. This is because they are “made” to excel at the sport. 

However, I firmly believe that anyone of normal health will be able to reach a very high level in any sporting pursuit, regardless of what they were born with. This is because we get better by practice. With enough practice you can even create or expand upon your existing potential to a certain extent. Our bodies are adaptable organisms, and everything can be taken a certain length of the way with the proper training methods.

You can increase the size and strength of your muscles and bones to a certain extent by training, which gives you more potential to pursue a certain sport at a higher level. Of course, different builds will excel in different disciplines, so it’s a good idea to find out what you are “born” to do, cos we all enjoy doing stuff that we are naturally good at.

So why not make yourself happy by pursuing something which you can become very good at, rather than struggling at something and having people surpassing you all the time with a fraction of your effort and dedication? Let’s face it, life’s unfair.

But if you insist on pursuing something which you don’t have the ideal natural attributes for, you are not doomed to failure; you are just destined to tread a longer and tougher road than most. You can still become extremely good, far beyond the average level of performance in your chosen field as compared to the amateur and the untrained, but there will always be those who are “gifted” and as hardworking as you are, who will be better than you.

So far this post seems pretty discouraging, eh? Trust me, that’s not my intention.  

On the contrary, I am laying down bald, scientific facts for you. This is the unapologetic truth, which is about as real as it can get. Accept it and you will move on to great things. Fight it and you will still find yourself bound by its inhibitions, no matter how hard you try. And then you’ll end up broken and frustrated. And then you’ll give up, and curse God and the Devil and everybody.

People nowadays like to sugar things over with pretty words and clever presentation. I’m not here to waste your time tellin’ you the stuff that you want to, and you like to hear. I’m here to be the bad guy and tell you the real shit that other people who think they’re helping you by layering the truth with the honey of falsehoods cannot bear to do, for the fear of breaking your spirit. Haha, what a joke.

Those people who are into all the “feel-good” stuff? You won’t get anywhere with their BS, no matter how good their intentions are. They’re telling you a sugared version of the cold hard truth and getting your hopes up, only for your expectations to be shattered when you get down on the ground and really see and feel things for yourself.

Then your spirit will be broken.

I believe that the truth is liberating, and always will be. It gives you good solid expectations and prepares you for what lies ahead. If I told you that that Amazon rainforest is all birds and flowers and cutesy rabbits and I chuck you in there for a week, you will probably perish. But if I told you the truth upfront before dumping you in there, there’s a greater chance that you may survive, cos you’re already mentally and psychologically prepared for a shitstorm.

And for those people who break down upon hearing the truth? I don’t mean to be harsh, but this world is harsh. It will move on with, or without you, and it won’t give the slightest shit about you, even if it just so happens to roll over you and break all of your bones to pieces.

We live in such a sheltered world that we are all weak. Pathetically so. Our forefathers didn’t just survive. They thrived in the greatest adversity, against the harsh elements and the uncaring wild and huge fanged beasts that preyed on them for breakfast.

Why, is that nasty Sabretooth too big and mean for you to handle? You want to know what your ancestors did? Your great-great-great-great…-great grandfathers ganged up on the pussycat and beat it to death with clubs and spears, and roasted it on a spit for dinner.

We live in a different world now, but adversity remains, in different forms. Education, careers, taxes, the costs of living, the social ladder… all of these things are our wild beasts and Sabretooths. So do you want to whimper and fall to your knees in fear? Or do you want to man the f**k up and beat the living shit out of these obstacles in your way?

I don’t know about you, but me? I’m going to do the latter, or I’m going to die doing it.

We are all born to die. The very day you were born? Ha! You were already one day closer to dying, my friend. Don’t hide away from that simple, universal and unchanging fact. But if you accept that the end is coming, chances are you’ll be doing a great deal more, to achieve something worthwhile ‘fore the Reaper comes knocking on your house door.

You think that you’re in control of your own fate? I can show you right here and right now that you do not.

When you are crossing the road can you help it if a drunken chap decides to just come along and send you six feet under at the wheel of a heavy truck? When you are walking around in your own neighbourhood can you help it if a flowerpot  decides to just fall on your head and send your brains splattering across the concrete deck like spoilt strawberry jam?

Hey, this shit happens. And you know it.

Most things in life we have absolutely no power over. The only thing that is truly within your control is you. Yourself. Or more accurately, your actions and reactions to all the stuff that is going on all around you. How you interact with people and things and events.

I’m not of an ideal build for learning acrobatics (as my Fujian mentor has told me matter-of-factly on more than a few occasions), but I can do the things that I do, because from the very outset I have accepted the fact that I have to work much harder than most people at it, and I get down to actually doing it.

So I’m not trying to douse your enthusiasm for anything. I believe that drive and motivation is more important than anything else when it comes to work or study or training. If a guy is born with a photographic memory but he can’t be bothered to use it, you’ll be a better scholar and academic than him with your normal brain by being bothered to do the things and to put in the effort that he can’t be bothered to do.

All I’m trying to do here for you is to make sure that you understand the relationship between nature and nurture, and to show you the psychological process of accepting, and runnin’ a winning race with the truth.

 

I’m certain that everyone is born to be good at something. So find out what it is, and I’m pretty confident that you’ll enjoy doing it, and that you’ll excel in it. And that’s how you add meaning to your life, which was destined to end the very day it started.

Make something out of yourself before the end comes, so that you can go to wherever it is that awaits us after death with a contented smile on your lips, knowing that you haven’t just lived; but you’ve thrived and you’ve succeeded in this life, and you won’t needing any more time here to wrap up anything else, cos you’ve done everything that you possibly could, and you’ve done them well.

So go forth, and seize the day. Nurture yourself, and you will no doubt blossom with scintilliating brilliance in whatever endeavour that you may choose to undertake. 🙂

~ This post is written by Lionel Ng, part-time Personal Trainer & full-time Fitness Enthusiast. ~

The Invisible Cast

At the recent Ido Portal certification course that I attended, he spoke about joint mobility and range of motion. Sometimes it is truly a wonder the way we overlook certain things that should be readily obvious to us.

Think about this scenario: Imagine that you’ve broken your arm at the elbow and it’s in a sling/cast for 3 months. After taking off the cast and the sling, would you expect yourself to have the same mobility and range of motion in the arm that you did before?

Probably not. This is because our body tends to lose what we don’t use for extended periods of time. There are many biological processes that will restrict or even shut down the flexibility and mobility which we don’t exercise, which will ultimately result in unnatural or severely limited movement patterns.

One good example is the modern habit of sitting. We sit on the bus and train, we sit again at work/school, we sit to read, we sit to eat, and we sit to shit. Sitting in and as of itself is not a bad thing, I’m betting even cavemen back then enjoyed sitting on logs or rocks when they’re taking a break or just chillin’.

The problem occurs when this habit is coupled with sedentary lifestyles with minimal movement, which will wind up with loads of people being unable to squat fully, unable to straighten their legs completely, and some even unable to bend down and touch their toes with their legs straight and together at the knees.

All these are symptoms of tight and shortened muscles, tendons and ligaments, which will give rise to a whole host of other issues. That’s why we hear many people, our very own friends and families, complaining of aches and pains when they age. The lack of maintenance of our muscles and joints in their proper, natural conditions can only result in pain and loss of mechanical function in the later stages of life.

All of these common, everyday problems can be easily resolved. Simple things like standing up and moving around when you can during your school or office breaks, taking the stairs sometimes instead of the lift, and walking to nearby places instead of taking (and sitting down on) the public transport all the time or cycling to work or school if they’re near enough for you are all great options to help you keep your body moving.

Of course, the best things is if you can spare just 20 to 30 minutes a day to really move. Notice how I don’t use the word “workout”. You don’t really need to workout to stay in shape. By that I mean you don’t have to lift weights in the gym or run on the treadmill, which are the things that many people imagine when they think about exercise. These things grow stale after awhile, because you are doing essentially the same thing, over and over again. Which is boring.

As humans beings we crave for complexity. This is an idea articulated by Ido Portal, international movement artist and teacher who moves, and teaches people how to really move, for a living. We don’t want to just repeat the same process in the same way many many times. We can do the same thing, but we would want to do it in different ways that engage our minds and imagination.

Exercise some creativity to move in fun ways. I place alot of emphasis on making things interesting for my clients, because chances are you’ll want to do something if you find it fun and engaging. As a child I used to love running over rough and uneven terrain, like on forest trails or those small ridges that you can find in your very own neighbourhood park. This beats running on flat concrete, becuase it engages your mind and mental focus, to keep yourself safe and stable while moving at high speeds.

My favourite kind of running would be to sprint across a steep gradient, which really gives me a thrill. I’m not talking about your usual upslope or downslope running; I’m talking about cutting right across the middle of the slope. One side of your body will be lower than the other, and your entire centre of mass will be tilted. When you run fast enough like this you’ll feel like you’re defying gravity, which really gives me a blast, haha.

Running on rough and uneven terrain is frowned upon because alot of people think it’s dangerous. Let me tell you something. Walking can be a dangerous affair if you don’t learn how to walk properly. I don’t get it when stuff at the fitness corners get dismantled cos someone hurt himself by doing something which he is unprepared for, or because of a few freak accidents. If we’re going to shut things down cos people are getting hurt, we should be banning cars on the roads (too many traffic accidents), and dismantling the floor itself cos people are slipping and falling on the ground everyday for various reasons.  

Why not take away National Service? People die serving the army, for crying out loud. I hate it when some folks decide to look at the same shit in different ways. National Service is here to stay because it is essential. But I’m telling you, nothing in the world can get much more essential than your very own health and fitness.

Health is wealth and movement is medicine.

So don’t stop your kids from playing just cos they can get hurt. You can get hurt walking too by slipping on a piece of banana peel and cracking your skull wide open. But you don’t stop walking, do you? You can get hurt by crossing the road and getting knocked down by some drunken fella at the wheel of a 3-tonne truck, but that doesn’t stop you from crossing the road, does it?

I know I’m ranting a bit now cos this is something that I feel very strongly about. I hope I’m not coming across as an extremist, cos I’m far from extreme. I only advocate you doing stuff that you are prepared to do, for which the chances of you getting hurt is about as high as that when you’re crossing the road. That’s an acceptable level of risk. isn’t it? Of course, take every precaution possible when you exercise. Exercise is supposed to build you up, and not to break you down.

So stuff like running on uneven terrain is dangerous. It can give you twisted ankles and swollen kneecaps and ruptured hips. But do it right and do it progressively by starting out at a walk, and your ankles and knees and hips are going to be a whole lot stronger and healthier. In the past 20 years of my life I have suffered from less ankle sprains than I have fingers on one hand, and trust me, I’m not some 20-fingered freak.

Running on rough ground teaches you proper feet and body positioning like no other thing can do, and you will become better coordinated and a whole lot more athletic, traits that will stand you in good stead in any sporting pursuit.

Swinging across the monkey bars is an excellent upper body mover and conditioner, which will give you superior grip strength and shoulder health if you practise it wisely. Don’t try and be a hero and skip multiple bars when you’re not ready. That type of behaviour is exactly the kind of thing that will get you hurt, and get the bars dismantled if enough people are doing the same. So please don’t make me hate you. 😉

I’ll be giving you many more ideas of how to move and stay in shape with these fun and engaging drills, which are mostly stuff that we used to do when we were young. Maybe that’s why kids who move and play always seem so strong, healthy and energetic. Because moving and playing games is what Nature intended for us to develop our bodies. Unless you’re a serious athlete you don’t have to ever touch a single weight in your entire life to keep yourself in tip-top shape.

Just remember, anything that you’re unprepared for can hurt you, and anything in excess is a poison. So move and play and exercise sensibly, doing things within your ability and in healthy quantities, and you will become stronger and fitter quickly, safely, and naturally.

So join me and like-minded people like me all over the world, and stop putting your body in an invisible cast. Tear away all of the excuses and the self-inhibitions, and go out there to move and play and be active. Start to live like a child in all of your physical movements, and your body will stay forever young. 🙂

~ This post is written by Lionel Ng, part-time Personal Trainer & full-time Fitness Enthusiast. ~

Impakt Singapore MMA Academy

Went down to visit Impakt MMA (mixed-martial arts) academy yesterday, and was thrilled to find a great place with a great atmosphere, great people and great equipment to build some real strength and fitness.

We were there to discuss the possibility for strength and conditioning classes in the morning, to be offered for people who want to improve their general health and fitness, and fighters who want to acquire specific physical attributes for their demanding sport.

For those of you who don’t know for sure what we do at Basic Training Academy, we specialise in strength and conditioning for both serious athletes and fitness enthusiasts, and that should basically cover just about everyone out there. Our body is like a machine or a car that we need to maintain. Fail to service it regularly, and trouble will no doubt follow.

Here’s an idea of some of the stuff that is included in our comprehensive training system:

1. Joint Preparation: Extremely important for both the serious athlete and the layperson. Stronger joints will be less vulnerable to mechanical injury arising from contact sports or even simple falls. Wouldn’t you love to have a pair of strong wrists that can help you break the impact of a fall safely? Or strong knees that will take you through that family mountain hiking trip or your weekend soccer games with less worry?

2. Muscular Strengthening: Important if you are someone interested in leading an active lifestyle. More strength means more possibilities, and if you are a mum or dad wouldn’t you love to be strong enough to play with your kids when they are young? And for the guys who have yet to serve in the army, trust me on this one. Superior strength makes it more of a breeze and less of a hassle (and torture) when you are doing your National Service.

3. Movement Training: Become more coordinated and athletic throughout your whole body with our movement drills for both the upper and the lower body. These drills are mostly games that we’ve done when we were young and more in tune with Nature. Tough and monotonous training? Hardly so. Tough but fun training? You’ve come to the right place! Learn to run and jump and roll and fly across the monkey bars, and more, with us!

4. Body Constitution: Health must come before strength for you to sustain and enjoy the latter throughout your lifetime. Working out with strength-based movement patterns is a great way to detox your body and restore your natural constitution. Enjoy better complexion and smoother gastrointestinal processes (i.e. better digestion and no constipation) by sweating out the accumulated stress and toxins in your body.   

5. Psychological Outcomes: When you become stronger, fitter and more athletic, your quality of life will improve. I can guarantee it. Want to be like those fit blokes who always seem so full of life and energy? We’ll show you how! Confidence and charm are natural by-products of a sound body and a sound mind. Take your success to the workplace, and tackle every aspect of your life with greater assurance and ability!

So if you are interested in achieving the stuff that I’ve outlined above (you should be!), drop us a question here at our blog, or email us at basictrainingacademy@gmail.com, or simply search for us on Facebook to find out more! We offer a free trial session for those interested in signing up to show you our training system in greater detail. And I am pretty confident that you won’t be wanting your money back on this one. 🙂

P.S. If you are intimidated by the stuff that we showcase, I’d like to assure you that these moves can be performed by anyone of normal health. So unless you’re very sick, crippled or dying, you will be able to master those moves with the right training, like the kind that we provide (shameless marketing haha). And you’ll be having your own fun doing them and getting stronger, fitter and healthier, just about anytime, and anywhere. 🙂

~ This post is written by Lionel Ng, part-time Personal Trainer & full-time Fitness Enthusiast. ~