Jasper Roberts - Blog

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

2013-07-31 It Caught Up to Me

This pretty much gets across what happened to me today. I went into the gym, filled out my worksheet, laid down a yoga mat, lie down and twenty minutes later decided I wasn't there to workout.

The whole "into bed at 10:00pm, wake at 11:30, 1:30, and 4:30, then alarm goes off at 5:15" crap is finally catching up to me. Even with my specially honed skill of low-energy mode I can't bring myself to train today, sorry. If I can give it my full energy then I'm not interested in training. Maybe if it keeps up I'll have to change my mind.

Let's see how tonight goes.

Oh, and those people online and on tv who are always telling you about how important it is to get a solid eight hours of sleep for various health reason? Jackasses. I know they're probably just trying to help, but clearly their biggest challenge in life was succesfully ordering their entire living room set in a single IKEA shipment.

Monday, July 29, 2013

2013-07-29 Make Fun of Elastic Bands at Your Own Peril

Yeah, yeah, I know. You're deadlifting 500 pounds and Olympic lifting 350, and doing your WODs. Good for you. Just don't bother calling me when you are admitted to the E.R. with a broken ankle because you stepped off the curb at a funny angle while "tweeting". Or when you reach in the back seat to grab a grocery bag and wince in pain...shoulder pain.
The limbs of the human body are built to move efficiently and safely in certain directions and at certain angles. These prime directions, as I'll call them, can be trained to handle impressive loads and torques. However, this will not insure that your mobility outside these ranges is expanded or even improved. This takes additional effort. And elastic bands or weights or similar tools can be a great help for developing this "out of prime direction" mobility. This in some ways is "flexibility", but flexibility under load is what you really want, and this is definitely not something you can train intensely for a couple weeks and expect great results. In fact, if you treat it like that you'll end up injured at best, crippled at worst. You will obviously get some benefit in off-axis training simply by developing strength in the prime directions, but for maximum protection you should work outside the prime directions...carefully and slowly over time. Yeah, patience.
Even after dropping a 450 pound motorcycle on my twisted ankle a year ago (you can probably tell which foot), I'm able to easily do this:

It's a closeup so you can't see my body- I'm not holding onto anything. Take it slow and apply the concept to the wrists, elbows, shoulders, neck, hips, knees and ankles. Shoulders and ankles especially.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

2013-07-25 Home Workout

Working from home today, but I took my lunch hour to do CC. Don't skip your workout.

Simple day. Progress. My pike pushup warmups felt SOLID. No pain or even discomfort whatsoever in the shoulders. This is a good thing, and it's not an accident. Lot's of elastic band shoulder work a la Ido P. you ever reach into the back seat of your car and feel somethign in your shoulders not feel good? Right, well I have dedicated myself to not letting that ever happen again. This is the crux of inefficient and off-axis health that some people talk about, but which nobody wants to listen to. I don't care if you can do 100 kettlebell snatches because if you reach back and lift a grocery bag and it hurts...where is your strength then? On axis normal limit ROM strength is crucial, but it's not the entire game.

20lb pistol squats pushing up to PR in reps. Modified Cossack squats with 30lbs. I call them Chinese Cossack squats which I know doesn't make sense but it implies the lead leg is FLAT and ankle is doing work, not sitting idly by. The second most important move for the ankle after recovering from an injury like a sprain IMO.

Handstand work doing well, jumping into position these days and holding with a Sanchin 'tuck', or hollowback as some people call it. Not to e confused with a REAL hollowback hold- totally different. I know- confusing.

Planche and grip work coming along as well. I see the planche as the summit of physcial pressing strength. Let's face it, if you can do strict planche pushups then you are pretty much at the limit of your genetic strength potential. Mere mortals like me have a ways to go, although my tuck planche is bumping up around 12 seconds and improving. HS- I work HS position EVERY session, same with planche work. Got it? A difficult calisthenic skill needs to be addressed as much as you can possibly address it without overwork (that's the key). My half-HSPU feel like childs play these days.

"Et deinceps sursum"

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

2013-07-23 The Treadmill Spoiler, Plus Chinning Half My Bodyweight

At the risk of sounding ridiculously obvious, every day is different. Sometimes I think we forget that, because many days seem to blend into the following ones (get up, go to work, come home, eat, go to sleep, repeat). But relish the minor differences my friend, because they are limited in number.
I'm circling back to chin ups after some time away due to the baby, and bad timing with work, etc. I like to look at my CC work log and see what I have accomplished in the past. Even if I can't repeat it today, at least I have a rough idea of where I am and a compass of where to go.
One of my goals is the one-arm chin up. My approach involves weighted chin ups so I am progressively increasing the weight these days. This weight however must be increased slowly over time, and there are other things going on as well. Today for kicks I was curious if I could do half my bodyweight...well watch the video because I recorded a failure- and that's OK ! Be willing to fail or be willing to never succeed. Your choice.

There are several exercises required IMO to achieve the one arm chin up:

1. Progression from un-weighted to weighted chin ups.
2. Progression to multiple sets of one rep of 70%-90% BW.
3. Mastery of the one arm hold at the bottom, middle and top level of the bar.
4. Development of the "one-arm-chinup-skill" after sufficient strength level has been achieved.
5. Pre-hab and re-hab of elbow tendons.

So I'm working all of these little by little. I'm also dedicated to handstand work. Doing splits in the HS position helps work balance.

Oh yeah, I felt compelled to run barefoot on a treadmill for some reason after my workout. I was....pleasantly disturbed. Even with lack of sleep and having completed my CC session I jogged for awhile at angle and...barely started to breath beyond resting level.
That was very strange for me. So I cranked the ramp up to max and the speed up to half max and sprinted for one minute solid (15% grade). That got me breathing.

It's fun experimenting on your body (and mind) with exercises.

Monday, July 22, 2013

2013-07-22 Constant Commitment, Constant Progress

No images today, just a quick post to say that progression continues. I have massive flexibility in my knees, ankles, and hips these days and I plan on sharing these methods with my friends. The plaguing knee stiffness and ankle stiffness that had a grip on me for years need not be.
Pushup progressions feel strong and I'm understanding the one arm pushup much more these days. I understand why it's done the way it is in the CC DVD. So much information going through my brain lately, it's a deluge.
Took a solid week off to heal and I'm feeling the benefits solidly, even with lack of good sleep. Take some dam time off, don't be an idiot. Dance and sing with your kids. Go out to dinner with your wife.
Ignore this and you might get pumped up quick and you might breathe hard and sweat, but trust me that your joints can only handle so much so fast. Elite gymnasts are not built overnight. You WILL injure yourself or walk around in pain if you don't take your time with the upper level work. If you want to "feel like" you're working out, spend more time doing extra sets of the lower level stuff. Your ego will be happy too because you'll probably get all pumped up and feel good looking at yourself in the mirror. Good for you.

Now show me how you hold a one arm pushup position with perfect form for five minutes.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

2013-07-17 The "CC Sheets"....An Advanced Level of Documentation

I'm busted up today- could barely move my neck this morning, and my left shoulder is unusable. Wrist is sore and ankle also hurts. I have no idea how any of this happened either, which is totally ridiculous. Just appeared out of nowhere, and I'm attributing it all to the change in weather we're having. Why not? Taking some time off to rest. This is a good time to release this post.

People have asked me in the past for a CC spreadsheet. The beginner will studiously write down the CC standards verbatim just like I did. Over time, however you will find that nothing is perfect. We are all a little different and there are often tools and trick and methods required to continue progressing in calisthenics strength.
The method of documentation I use (what the spreadsheet looks like) has changed so many time that I have a policy of never printing more than three copies because I know something will change, if only slightly.
As an example, the sheets you see below may seem quite different form something you are expecting copied straight out of CC. The reason is that I have developed a hybrid system that has been working for me pretty well. In a nutshell it goes like this:

1. Do some limbering up by moving the body parts around, using stretch bands, or simply moving. I call this "wake-ups" and it can be whatever you want but should be relatively easy and short in duration.

2. The next stage is a legitimate "warm-up". The warm-up should be an easy level of the type of exercise you're working, but it should start getting that area of the body warmed up.

3. I like to spend time early on in the training session working on skills, and I don;t want to be wiped out if I'm working skills like handstands and planche and other exercises I have deemed valuable.

4. This is where I launch in to my challenging work. It's the meat of what I'm working on for that particular exercise. It should be difficult but you should be making slow progress.

5. This last stage is called "medium", and it's a slightly easier version of the main work. You should be able to do more reps than the hard work and you may or may not do more sets depending on taste or time.

6. Finally, I do some light "cardio". Here is where I spend anywhere from one minute to fifteen minutes jumping rope, doing burpees, plyo box jumping, jujitsu sit-throughs, whatever. It's low-skill and form is not important at all- it's simply done to get the heart rate going more and exercise the heart in a slightly different way.

There's a lot here, and as I said it is personally tailored to me. Perhaps you will find some ideas, concepts, or exercises of interest to you. I have borrowed many things form many sources, and most of the info isn't even pictured on the sheets, it's buried in my head. Let me know if you have specific questions.

Sheet A

Sheet B

Sheet C

Monday, July 15, 2013

2013-07-15 Sub-Optimal Training, (You are not an Olympic Gold-Medalist)

It's an interesting experiment into my own human body, training with insufficient REM sleep. On the one hand it would be easy to simply say that I'm not well rested so therefore I shouldn't even workout because I'm going to be handicapped from the start.
On the other hand, so what? This is life. This is what you have to work with. Big deal. Some things cannot be changed, and are temporary (which is why we put up with them).
So today I'm feeling quite strong in some of my HSPU work, but weaker in the full ROM work. Strange. In squats I feel average in warmups, but quite strong in weighted pistols. Go figure.
Every day is something new. Whether you want it or not.

Friday, July 12, 2013

2013-07-12 Using Jiujitsu on a Baby

If you've trained in Brazilian Jiujitsu, or are at all familiar with grappling arts or MMA you've likely heard of the "Rear Naked Choke". It's a technique used to secure a hold around an opponent's neck, and when applied correctly by squeezing tightly it slows the blood to the opponent's brain thus reducing the oxygen level to the brain, causing the opponent to lose consciousness. Now, there is a huge difference between cutting off a supply of oxygen via the blood and cutting off oxygen via the throat. And no, this is not how I'm suggesting you use it with a baby. We'll get there just be patient.
You can likely find plenty of information about this technique online and it's not exactly the point of my post today so I won't go into the details of this here. The setup here is simply to point out that the "RNC" is a staple of Jiujitsu, as evidence by the picture of JJ great Marcelo Garcia below.

A huge part of jiujitsu is the concept of leverage. It's a a big reason the art is studied, because applying the concepts can allow a smaller person to out-maneuver a larger person. By using leverage and physics and knowledge of position it is possible to get the best of or control a much larger and stronger person. Technique is very important in Jiujitsu.

Now let's examine the shoulder for a moment (see picture below).

In particular we see the infamous "rotator cuff" which people are injuring all the time. The rotator cuff is actually a conglomerate of various tendons and fascia and other body parts and there are several ways to injure it. One way is through trauma, and another way is through repetitive motion or through poorly structured loading.

Now to the baby part. Look at the picture of me holding my son below.

This is all too common, and there's a problem with it. (Don't worry, even though it doesn't look like it I am supporting his head and he's already super strong and holding his head up too). The problem is my own in this picture, because my left shoulder is leaning forward and almost the entire weight of my baby is resting on my outstretched hand. This forms a lever and puts unnecessary load on my shoulder at a bad angle. It's difficult to hold any load for a long period of time like this and it puts your shoulder at risk for injury over time.

Now here comes the magic....

Witness the use of the Rear Naked Choke position. Here, there is obviously nobody getting choked. Rather I'm using the RNC structure and form to support the weight of my son as I hold him. My shoulders are both "packed", pulled back in- and my left arm is now supported at the other end by my right arm (at the elbow). This is a very strong structural position and it protects your shoulders. You can walk around for quite a long time safely like this.

Just for kicks, scroll back up and look at Marcelo holding his arms, then back down here. Jiujitsu applied to daily life. Non-violently even. Imagine that.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

2013-07-09 The Blog Post We've all Been Waiting for...The Author of Convict Conditioning Himself - Paul "Coach" Wade

When I first started this blog a couple years ago I had huge plans, but then got analysis-paralysis. I couldn't figure out how to make it perfect so I did nothing at first. Then I ran the idea past my super-smart wife and she said "Just do SOMETHING." And the blog was born. I never thought in a million years that I'd end up writing guest posts myself on other blogs, and have the author of the book that started it all for me end up writing a post for MY blog...
In the past few years I started serious calisthenics training, got married, bought a house, and now I am a father. That is a lot of adaptation right there, friend. I see a post about that which should probably be written. I am very thankful to everyone in my life for teaching me and/or leading me to find things out for myself. Nobody stands alone in this world, and as much as you might think you do - you do not.
In this new and exciting world of evolving martial arts and physical culture I am grateful to be a small part and to contribute something. Ultimately we all want to be happy, healthy and wise for the duration of our lives and then pass on with dignity. Thank you everyone for being on this journey with me and I look forward to keeping on keeping on with you all one step at a time into the future.
And now, I present our guest writer ...

The Joe Hartigen Tweets
(by Paul “Coach” Wade)

 First up, big thanks go to my good buddy Neil for allowing me to post something on his badass blog. Neil and me have been shooting the shit for a while on bodyweight, and he knows I think a lot of his thoughts and ideas, and what he continues to do to promote strength calisthenics.

It’s an honor to have the young generation ask me to write stuff for the internet, but it’s also kinda bizarre. If you’d asked me a couple years back, I never thought I would be writing anything published on the internet. Nothing. I am a real technophobe, and thick-fingered with it. Anyone who knows me will tell you this. Even writing on a computer is kinda weird to me.

When I was thinking about what to write, I started to dwell on all this “communication technology”. I thought about how radically things have changed during my lifetime. When I was a kid, there were no mobile phones—hell, not everyone had a TV. There was no internet. No Youtube. No Facebook. No Twitter. Nothing. It made me think back to how I learnt the calisthenic arts—through a personal mentor, the last of a line of old school teachers: Joe Hartigen. Joe had forgotten more about productive training than I know or will ever know. He was in his seventies when I met him, and I can’t help but wonder what he would make of all these internet articles. Blogs. Forums. Or Twitter—Jesus, what would he think of that? Neil’s request for me to write something for his site made me mull over all this in my head.

Then I got to thinking.

If Joe were alive today—and could communicate to the fitness world via Twitter—what would my old mentor write about? What messages would he broadcast to the world—in 140 characters or less?

Nobody knows. But I am pretty sure I knew Joe’s training philosophy better than anyone else on this earth. So you know what? I’m gonna give it a shot.

What follows is my respectful take on some of Joe’s training ideas...if he could put the best of his hard-won wisdom into a handful of short tweets for the next generation. I hope you get a kick out of ‘em!

These days, most gym trainers don’t even stand to train, let alone hang. They flop down on padded seats and benches to do their exercises. This would have seemed insane to Joe Hartigen. Joe probably spent half his training days hanging. (I’m not kidding.) For Joe, hanging work was the cornerstone of bodyweight strength—more important than pressing, handstands, or leg work. Joe did various pull-ups, grip holds, finger hangs, one-arm work, swings (front/back and sideways), leg raises, rollovers, flex hangs and levers. That’s quite an honor roll of exercises, huh? Joe would hang from bars, doors, walls, bits of metal furniture—anything he could. Over the years this training made his fingers as strong as pneumatic vices, and he had forearms like a blacksmith.

If you want to unlock your full physical potential, barbell, dumbbell and machine exercises aren’t enough. You need to hang from something, and move your bodyweight that way. Hanging strengthens the grip and forearms, builds powerful biceps, a thick back and a steely midsection (from keeping the feet off the floor.) If you aren’t hanging at some stage during your workouts, you will not become as strong as you should be, kid.

When you look at modern training programs—especially bodybuilding-based routines—abdominal work is pretty much seen as a “finishing touch”. You spend the bulk of your time building mass, then you put in a little light, high-rep work to delicately carve out some abs. This trend started in the sixties, when bodybuilders began relying heavily on steroids, and got all scared that hard, traditional ab work would thicken their stomach walls and enlarge their guts.

Think Joe agreed with this theory? Nope!

Like the old-timers before him, Joe understood that the waist and midsection was key to strength and function. As the link between the upper and lower bodies, the midsection needs to be in great shape for all total-body athletic movements; running, jumping, climbing. Our power limit depends on our stomach muscles—they are often a weak link, which is why out-of-shape folks suffer hernias when they exert themselves. And if you are gonna fight someone, a weak, flabby breadbasket could be the finish of you. That’s why Joe trained his abs hard, at least twice a week. For him, it was no different from training legs, chest or back. It was one of the basic, essential parts of training, not an afterthought.

And he didn’t use light exercises like crunches, either. There was sweat, pain and grimacing involved. Guess how he trained ‘em—that’s right, hanging! When you run, jump, climb or kick, you gotta raise your legs. That’s how the abs usually work. So why not train them that way? Joe did!

Nowadays, athletes tend to hit their lower bodies with lots of different movements. Go to the gym and you’ll see folks doing squats, lunges, hack machine work, deadlifts, leg presses, different types of calf raises, extensions, leg curls, adduction work, and so on. Joe was having none of this. He seriously worked his wheels with just one exercise—the deep one-leg squat. Joe practically idolized this exercise.

Joe always taught me that you were only as young as the “spring” you’ve got left in your legs. He believed that this “spring” was based on tendon strength and health, and he felt that the deep one-leg squat was the only exercise needed to give perfect supple strength to the tendons of the hips, knees and ankles. For this reason, Joe saw one-legs—“pistols” as they are called now—as the fountain of youth. (I never heard the term “pistol” in relation to squats until after I left jail.)

Are lots of leg movements really as necessary as athletes today believe? Think about it. One-leg squats strengthen the glutes and hips, and keep the lower back strong. They work the quadriceps, but they also work the inner thighs as stabilizers and force the hamstrings to fire hard at both ends (this is what kinesiologists call “Lombard’s Paradox”). The deep bend means the ankles and calves must be strong and athletic, and the shins work like hell to keep you upright. The knees and ankles get a great stretch under tension in the deep position, which keeps their tendons powerful and healthy, and even the balance gets tested—plus, you can get all these benefits with zero equipment, in a tiny room or cell.

Maybe old Joe was onto something?

As men age, their prize possession—their arms—become weaker. But this didn’t happen to Joe. In his seventies, he had a ridge of tendon running up his triceps that was as thick and tough as a farmer’s thumb. He had strong, powerful arms up until the day he died.

A lot of that strength came from flat push-ups. Joe didn’t do inclines, dips, or vary the angle much. But he did focus on flat push-ups and his arms showed it. He had built up to the point where he could push up with just one arm—feet together and a minimal twist. This is the hardest push-up there is. He always taught me that an athlete is only as strong as his weakest link, so his push-ups weren’t about sculpting “big pecs”, but slowly strengthening the wrists, elbows and shoulder tendons to superhuman levels over time. I occasionally played with the bench press in the yard to test my strength, but Joe warned me off it. “Always push with a flat hand, kid,” he told me. He was certain that gripping while pressing heavy weights inevitably led to forearm and elbow problems like tennis elbow.

Didn’t believe him as a kid. I sure believe him now.

When I was in jail I was nuts about handstand pushups—especially one-arm work, which I used to do out of elbow levers. Joe wasn’t as obsessed about it. He believed—as many of the old-time strongmen believed—that getting inverse (upside-down) was the most important aspect of handstand work, not the pressing.

What’s so great about getting upside-down? Think about it. All day, every day, we are one way up. Our heads are up, our feet down. Your circulatory system only has to push blood in one direction—against gravity. But as soon as you turn upside-down, this reverses. Suddenly gravity is going the other way—and this reversal-effect hugely stimulates the veins and arteries, toning and strengthening them. Inverse work helps the body drain excess fluid from the legs; it rouses sluggish digestion, works the deep muscles of the torso, and trains the vestibular system in the inner ear that teaches us how to balance.

Inverse positions also increase the flow of blood to the brain, including the “master glands”, the pineal and pituitary glands, which control all other glands and their hormone secretion. This effect alone is worth its weight in gold, and it is why yoga masters make headstands and shoulderstands the core of their training. People have been getting wrongside-up for thousands of years to reap the health benefits. As well as handstands, I saw Joe perform perfect headstands, holding them for ten minutes or more. He swore by this exercise.

...but hey. You can’t buy inverse exercises from an online store, and they aren’t considered “cutting edge science”. So I guess most would-be athletes just won’t bother with Joe’s advice. (I hope you will!)

I used to stretch quite a bit back in the day—hell, it was the eighties, everyone was into it—and Joe used to snort at me whenever I raised the subject. He often lectured me that passive, relaxed stretching only taught the muscles of the body to become lax and over-loose—and he thought that was useless. Worse than useless, as it could lead to injury.

As much as I respected Joe, I was convinced he was behind the times on stretching. Decades later, I realize that Joe was completely right—and science is starting to catch up to him. Studies have shown that athletes who make themselves very flexible are more prone to injuries than the average Joe.

Use a full range of motion in your bodyweight exercises and you will cultivate what Joe called “supple strength”...the ability to be strong and lithe at the same time. If you choose to stretch, use active stretches—stretches where you tense at the same time as you stretch. This is how a cat stretches, this was how Joe stretched, and he was lithe as a jungle cat well into old age.

Hey, that was fun—thanks Joe, my man! But it was a bit dishonest, too. In truth, the Joe I knew would never use Twitter. (He used to talk for hours, I doubt he could handle a word limit!) He would have avoided the internet like the plague, too—because it cuts into training time. Take the hint, boys and girls. Turn this piece of junk off, rub your eyes, and go and find a bar to hang from. #GoDoYourPullups!

Monday, July 8, 2013

2013-07-08 Musings...

My good friend Matt Lucas visted us the other day and we chatted about all sorts of stuff as we do. One thing he said stuck in my head- "Fitness is just about being really inefficient."
Now before you yell nonsense, I think it says a lot. Look at this guy below and imagine the energy and effort being expended:

Now look at this gorilla, all 300 lbs hanging from one arm swinging as casually as a walk in the park. Lions likewise don't go workout and get nuts at the gym. They conserve their energy and know the best way to use it. Meanwhile some dude will tell you he did 100 pushups only to find out his form was complete crap. But he sweat a lot and he's breathing hard, so therefore it's a good fitness routine. He's working out.

The more inefficient you are with you movement, the easier it will be to get tired and get your heart racing. And the key point is that you can do it MINDLESSLY. This is not necessarily a judgement, it's an observation and an obvious one at that if you've been paying attention to your own body. Sometimes mindless is good and you do just need to bust out some crappy burpees or go for a run. Other fields or other times however require optimum efficiency, including some combat specialists, circus performers, and gymnasts. They don't want to waste a single ounce of effort. In fact, they can't waste effort because the tasks they have to complete are already at the highest levels of human performance.

Today I felt very strong in my weighted pistols even though I haven't done them truly since my kid was born. Parallet handstand presses however- pathetic. It's ok, because my tuck planche is SOLID and my grip felt strong. So it's up on some exercises and down on others. Keep moving.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

2013-07-03 Fighting Lack of Sufficient Sleep

New life with a newborn presents new challenges. I'm back into my CC routine and being challenged. I am slowly coming back after nearly a month off from regular strength training.
At least my Tuck-Planche skills are still strong. Stay safe over the July 4 holiday.

Monday, July 1, 2013

2013-07-01 The Setback IS PART OF The Journey

You simply can't keep getting better at everything each and every session for each day of your life. You have gains some days and not others. This is ok because it is the nature of life. Overall, if looked at as an entirety, yes you should have a net gain.
But not every single data point.
Today echoed this for me. I really wanted to go back to my old CC strength training and skills development. Sometimes I look back six months in my log book and see higher numbers on certain things and I get depressed. However, I have learned so much since then and I am better in other, more subtle ways. Ways I never even understaood back then. In other exercises I'm still way stronger than before, so it all rounds out.