Rings Training

Rings training has been around for a long time, since the 1800s.

Today, it has evolved into a formal apparatus and discipline in the sport of artistic gymnastics practised predominantly by male athletes, due to the staggering strength requirements of a typical competitive rings routine.

We have all seen it before on TV when the Olympics are being aired – heavily-muscled men with cannonballs for deltoids, bulging biceps and huge lats that resemble meaty wings, performing breathtaking routines that include spectacular swings and brutal strength elements.

Most of what we get to see of the rings discipline is pitched at such an advanced level that the average fitness enthusiast will tend to shy away from it, thinking that rings training is something reserved solely for the elite and the professional sportsperson.

However, while it is true that rings training is tough – the need for the practitioner to stabilise the freely-moving apparatus places a much greater demand on both muscle and joint strength as compared to the use of a static bar, anyone who’s in reasonably good shape can incorporate rings training into his or her fitness and exercise programme.

Sure, it will probably take you 6 – 7 years of training for 6 – 8 hours a day, 6 – 7 days a week to achieve the level of skill and proficiency that is exhibited by an Olympic rings gymnast, but you can still achieve plenty with 1/2 hour sessions on the rings, 2 – 3 times a week.

I have just gotten my own set of wooden rings along with a few like-minded friends about 2 weeks back, and I have been blown away by the sheer versatility of this ancient apparatus.

I know I’ll be raising hairs on some people by saying this, but if you’re serious about building some real strength and muscle, forget about all the new-age fancy stuff like your TRXes and your suspension trainers. The rings are a piece of time-honoured equipment that has been in use by athletes for more than 100 years, and it has helped build some of the strongest and most impressive human physiques that our planet has ever seen.

The unique challenge that is presented by the circular shape of the apparatus develops enormous grip and forearm strength when handled correctly. While it is entirely possible to use a normal finger grip on the rings, if your aim is to eventually perform more than just simple hangs and pull ups with the apparatus, you will have to learn how to do the false grip.

A false grip simply involves you gripping the rings with the meat of your palm, with your wrists flexed powerfully downwards, so that your hands and forearms resemble a pair of muscular hooks. This grip allows you to bring your torso above the level of the rings, so that you can transit into a huge variety of moves (when you become strong enough).

Another important aspect of rings training is the massive strain that it places on all of your upper body joints – the wrists, elbows and shoulders must be kept tight for you to even have a hope of stabilising yourself in basic positions. Rings gymnasts owe their prodigious physical development to the sheer amount of straight-arm strength that they employ – think iron crosses, maltese crosses, planches and inverted crosses.

Ease into rings training by practising simple supports to get your upper body joints, especially the elbows, used to the type of straight-arm strength that will be needed for you to progress to the more advanced moves on the apparatus. Over time proper training with rings will give you joints and tendons of steel.

Although rings has been the traditional realm of male athletes, there are women who have accomplished amazing feats on the apparatus. Lillian Leitzel, a circus performer in the early 1900s, could reportedly perform 27 one-arm pull ups on a suspended ring, along with a series of one arm holds and levers.

CrossFit has brought rings training back to the fitness community at large in a big way, and the Internet abounds with videos of lady CrossFitters banging out dozens of consecutive muscle ups on the apparatus. During the Ido Portal upper body strength coaching certification course I had the distinct pleasure of witnessing such a specimen of the fairer sex in action for myself – a female CrossFit Asian Games champion, making ring muscle ups look like a piece of cake.

If you were to get your own rings, I’d suggest wooden ones for better feel and grip as compared to their plastic or metal counterparts. This eliminates the need for wraps or chalk on most movements, and hence cuts alot of hassle. My own set of rings come from Rogue Fitness, which offers a huge array of sporting equipment and is the official equipment supplier for the CrossFit Games.

Easy to set up, easy to use, and easily portable. The rings ship in a cardboard box, and the whole set consists of a pair of rings (duh!), a pair of heavy duty nylon straps with sturdy metal buckles for securing and adjusting the length of the set-up.

For now I’m limited to performing a very basic rings routine which I’m sure a 10 year-old gymnast could pull off with ease and aplomb. But hey, I’m not a professional, and I’m just getting started. 🙂

My routine consists of a muscle up to a L-support, and then a drop to inverted hang, and lower to straddle front lever, before pulling out of the front lever back into a muscle up. I’m also training to lower myself from a support position to the coveted iron cross, and I’m making some progress and getting stronger in that respect.

If you are new to rings training, start out with whatever you can do, and build yourself up progressively as with all other forms of training. I’d say it’s wise to master the straight-arm support and the muscle up first, before you move on to stuff like planches, levers and crosses.

I know rings training may seem like a pretty intimidating prospect for those of you who’re thinking about incorporating it into your routines, but do not worry or fret. No one’s born a gymnast – gymnasts can do what they do simply because they train. So can I. And so can you.

So for those of you out there who’re serious about your strength training, and are looking to add a new dimension to your trunk and upper body work, look no further. Rings training will build you a great deal of strength, and because you’re working with your bodyweight the ladies will not need to worry about looking like He-Man or the Hulk from working the rings.

If you’re not chemically-aided or drug-assisted in any way, your body will retain its ideal proportions from bodyweight strength work. That’s the reason why gymnasts have such aesthetically-pleasing physiques – slender and supple for the gals and lithe and muscular for the guys.

Would you like to have the strength and physique of a gymnast, and master a host of cool skills to boot? Rings training is the perfect, age-old answer for the well-informed modern-day fitness enthusiast. 

What would you call a hundred bucks, give or take a little, for something this awesome?

Me? I’d call that a good investment. 🙂

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

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Scapular Control & Trunk Tension

I believe that scapular control and trunk tension are subjects that I have written about previously, but never together.

Today we shall examine why a combination of these 2 principles form the basis for the effective and efficient execution of most strength-based movement patterns that are expressed through the upper body.

Let us take a look at some classic bodyweight strength-building exercises for the upper body. The first 2 movements that spring to mind are the pull up and the push up.

Who are the guys (or gals) that you see struggling with these 2 exercises? They are mainly people whose shoulders are shrugging up in the pull up, and those individuals whose shoulder blades are excessively retracted during the push up.

I have covered the general cues for the scapular (shoulder blades) in an earlier post, so I shall not go into them again in any great detail here.

Just a quick summary for those of you who haven’t caught my previous article on the relationship between upper body strength and scapular positioning:

1. The scapulae should be depressed and retracted for most hanging/pulling movements such as the front lever and the pull up.

2. The scapulae should be depressed and protracted for most pushing/pressing movements such as the planche and the push up.

3. When you become proficient at a particular movement you may be able to perform it with any shoulder positioning, although the general cues that I’ve outlined above in the previous 2 points optimises your strength and power output.

So let’s go back to the 2 examples that I’ve highlighted earlier on: elevated shoulders during the pull up and retracted shoulder during the push up.

For people who are new to these 2 exercises and who have not strengthened and conditioned their scapular complexes sufficiently, inadequate scapular stabilisation and control can be a real problem.

When your shoulders shrug up during the pull up instead of being neutral or depressed, your lats (the large wing-like muscles that line the sides of your back from armpit to waist) tend to become disengaged, and that makes it extremely difficult for you to generate much pulling force on the bar, seeing as how the lats are the powerhouses for most of our bodyweight pulling movements.

When your shoulders blades are protruding from your back during push ups, the excessive retraction usually relates to a sagging bodyline, and makes it harder for you to engage the muscles of your chest optimally in the pressing phase of the movement. When the scapulae are out of whack with the rest of your body, your upper body musculature becomes inefficient, as alot of these muscles are actually attached to the shoulder blades.

The other important facet concerning strength-based upper body movements is the creation and maintenance of trunk tension.

You will invariably find that keeping your abs and glutes slightly tensed during exercises like the pull up and the push up makes them easier to perform. If you are new to this technique you may find it unfamiliar and hence uncomfortable at first, because your body is a creature of habit and you will often feel some mild discomfort doing something that you are not used to doing initially.

But once your body gets used to expending that certain amount of energy to tighten your trunk, you will find that many bodyweight movements become easier to perform, because it is far easier to move something rigid, as compared to shifting a sagging mass of loose muscle and tissue.

You may be able to get away with minimal trunk tension and sloppy scapular positioning on some of the “easier” bodyweight movements, but as you progress to the more advanced stuff that are mechanically disadvantaged in terms of leverage, a combination of sound scapular control and voluntary trunk tension becomes a must. Most of the time for alot of these moves your entire body down to your legs has to be tensed about as rigidly as a board for you to even have a hope of holding the positions.

If you can hold a front lever or a planche with loose shoulders, sagging abs and legs that flop around in the wind, I take my hat off to you, for truly you can claim to have achieved absolute mastery of these movements, with monstrous strength to boot. 

For the rest of us mere mortals, we have to rely on scapular control and trunk tension to attain these gravity -defying moves, to keep our all-too-human flesh aloft with the refined application of muscular effort and mental focus.

So whenever you are performing bodyweight strength moves that involve the upper body, always remember to keep your body taut and your shoulders accordingly tight for the movement that you are executing, and you will be able to optimise your strength and power output, to make these moves as easy as they can ever be. 🙂

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

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. ~

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. ~

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. ~

Bodyweight Training for Strength Development

I have posted articles that advocate a combination of bodyweight and weightlifting methods for the development of strength. And while history shows us that most of the great old-timers and many of the new-age strongmen can attribute their strength development to a mix of the two methods, it is my belief that the average person should stick chiefly with bodyweight training, especially for the development of upper body strength.

Weights can be easily integrated with traditional bodyweight exercises (e.g. weighted chins, weighted pistols, etc.) to make them more challenging by progressive loading, and weightlifting techniques (powerlifting and Olympic lifting) can be used as a valuable counterpart to bodyweight strength training. However, it is also possible to exploit bodyweight resistance for almost endless gains in strength.

Many modern-day physical fitness enthusiasts labour under the misconception that bodyweight strength training is a cul-de-sac. They argue that if a trainee’s bodyweight doesn’t change, it is impossible for him to become stronger on purely bodyweight training.

While it is true that the underlying principle of strength training is progressive loading, it is possible to vary the load, even though the weight that is being worked with remains the same. Christopher Sommer, Men’s Head Coach at The Desert Devil Gymnastics National Team Training Center in Mesa, Arizona, has this to say:

“First of all, exercise is exercise. Period. The name of the game is resistance. A muscle contracts against resistance and, with perseverance, over time, becomes stronger. For strength to increase, the amount of resistance or load worked against must also increase over time.

Hence the problem with bodyweight conditioning – as the resistance (weight of the body) is fixed, how to continue to increase strength? Surprisingly the answer is simple – by decreasing the amount of leverage it is possible to exert on an exercise, the resistance of an exercise becomes increasingly greater.

For example, a hanging straight leg lift is much harder than a tucked leg lift. In both exercises the weight of your legs remains constant, however by reducing your leverage (i.e. in this case straightening your legs) we are able to greatly increase the resistance. By straightening the legs we have effectively doubled the difficulty of the exercise even though the weight of the body has remained constant.”

Thus we can see that by manipulating the mechanical leverage that a trainee can exert on an exercise, a bodyweight exercise can be readily modified to become easier or more difficult in terms of resistance. Bodyweight drills are flexible training tools that can be tailored and programmed for trainees of any ability.

In the book “Convict Conditioning”, Paul “Coach” Wade has outlined bodyweight strength drills with progressive stages for the beginner to the advanced athlete. There are 3 types of people who are put off by the notion of purely bodyweight strength training:

1. The Beginners: These trainees have the mistaken belief that it is only possible to work with full bodyweight levels of resistance with bodyweight strength drills. They think about exercise variations like the full pull ups and full dips, which they may not have the strength to perform in the beginning.

2. The Intermediates: These trainees have the misconception that it is not possible to work beyond bodyweight levels of resistance with bodyweight strength drills. They want to get stronger, but they don’t really know how to make exercises like the pull ups and dips even harder for greater strength gains.

3. The Advanced: These trainees can integrate and perform several different full-bodyweight elements together in single compound exercises like the muscle up. However, they lack knowledge of even more advanced drills that can take their strength development to truly elite levels.

So for these 3 types of trainees to start moving towards elite levels of strength and conditioning:

1. The Beginners: Perform variations of bodyweight drills that work with less than bodyweight levels of resistance (e.g. inclined rows and bench dips). Get stronger on these exercises before moving on to progressively harder variations.

2. The Intermediates: Perform integration of bodyweight drills like combining the pull up and the dip into the muscle up. The added transitionary phase and the vastly increased and integrated ranges of motion will make the exercise much more strength-demanding. Making these exercises unilateral (e.g. one-arm chins) will also make them tough-as-balls for the hardcore enthusiast.

3. The Advanced: Perform progressions of exercises that you don’t see much outside of the gymnastics circles nowadays: bodyweight strength drills like the planche and the front lever. These exercises can be made even tougher by adding some dynamic movement i.e. planche push ups and front lever pull ups. If you are that much of a stud, make these strength positions unilateral i.e. one-arm planche and one-arm front lever. If that still ain’t enough for ya, add dynamic unilateral strength movements – one-arm planche push ups and one-arm  front lever pull ups.

So as you can see, there is almost no end to the road of progressive loading for bodyweight strength training. There are a hundred and one ways to vary a basic exercise to either make it easier and harder, depending on your training needs.

To sum it all up, using weights is well and good, and weights are valuable training tools. But it is also possible to exploit only your own bodyweight to build elite levels of strength and conditioning. Coach Sommer says it best:

“With experience and creativity it is possible to learn or design exercises that, done correctly and with the proper progressions, are so lacking in leverage that even at bodyweight levels of resistance it is possible to build staggering amounts of strength. In addition to strength, the athlete will also develop excellent balance, coordination, agility and exceptional core strength.”

So whoever you are and no matter how strong you think you are, there are always variations of bodyweight strength drills that can do you a whole world of good in terms of strength and conditioning.

So get to know more about bodyweight strength training, and start adding valuable dimensions to your training that you may not even know existed. 🙂

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

Physical Training for Different Body Types

For the purpose of this discussion we shall employ the current prevailing classification of human body types – that of the ectomorph, the mesomorph, and the endomorph.

This discussion will be more attuned towards guys, for we can safely assume that if you’re a dude and you’re reading this, chances are that you’re either a mesomorph, or dying to become one.

Firstly, a brief introduction to the characteristics of the 3 body types:

The Ectomorph: Your typical “skinny” dude who is often flat-chested, with narrow shoulders and a slight frame. He has a tougher time putting on muscles than fats.

The Mesomorph: Your typical “macho” chap who is muscular and athletic, with broad shoulders and a solid build. He is naturally strong and gains muscle easily, but also gains fats more readily than the ectomorph.

The Endomorph: Your typical “plump” fella whose body is predisposed to storing fats, with a stout build. He is strong, and gains both muscles and fats easily.

It should be noted that the classification of body types is a spectral concept, and you could be lying anywhere along this range. You could be an ectomorph who is closer to being a mesomorph as compared to another ectomorph. So there are many instances where people may actually find themselves straddling different body types.

Now on to the training.

Let’s start off with the mesomorph: These guys can get strong and muscular by lifting rocks. Congratulations if you happen to be one. If you’re a meso, do a mix of strength and cardio training, and you’ll turn out more than fine.

Now for the endomorph: You’ll find it hard to do exercises which involve moving your full bodyweight as a form of resistance. However, your stout frame allows you to handle weights (e.g. dumbbells and barbells) with relative ease, so build up a foundation of strength from lifting weights, before moving on to bodyweight exercises to “complete” your body transformation.

And for the ectomorph: You’ll find it hard to handle big weights in the gym, but your slight build allows you to perform bodyweight exercises with relative ease (e.g. pull ups and dips). So get strong first on these bodyweight movements, and then embark on some weightlifting to “transform” your body completely.

Granted, there is only so much that your training can do for your skeleton, so you will always bear the “marks of your origins” – meaning to say that you can never hope to transform your body so utterly as to become another body type completely. But what you can do is move towards a much closer resemblance of the coveted mesomorph ideal by intelligent training, and enjoy the strength gains and muscular development that come along as a result.

As you can see, the training approach that I have advocated attacks your workouts from your area of strength – I’ve suffered my own fair share of frustrations in the gym, trying to get big on lifting weights when the handle of the barbell appeared thicker than my skinny pipes.

I struggled mightily, but progress was disappointing. I took to bodyweight training, and now my return to the gym sees me curling 20kg dumbbells and shoulder pressing almost my own bodyweight, and all without touching the iron on any regular or frequent basis for years.

So the bottom line is this – do what you’re naturally good at, and get so good at it that the strength gains spill over onto your area of weakness. Only then should you launch a full frontal assault on the stuff that you used to suck at, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised (if not downright shocked) to witness the results of your hard labour.

I’ll be giving out more specific workouts and routines for you to follow soon, for each of the body types. So stay tuned, and don’t give up just yet – thousands of strongmen in the past have built their strength and muscle from hard, intelligent training, and it may surprise you that many of these fellas started out small and weak.

“Thou shalt not despair, for with determination, peseverance and the application of good solid training knowledge a new man shalt be wrought from thy flesh, brought forth from the ideals held within thy imagination.”

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