Blog

The Rice Bucket Workout

I wrote a recent email on rice bucket training and it generated a lot of good responses. Training with bucket of rice has its advantages and its disadvantages but I think it is very much worth doing — although perhaps not the reasons you might think. At any rate, here is a look at a recent rice bucket session. This footage has been slowed down slightly for dramatic effect, I only went for five minutes. There are a variety of movements that can be done in the rice bucket — grabbing … grinding … ripping … turning — but they are hard to quantify. I don’t really worry about how many of each I do, and I frequently repeat them, the goal here is simply to keep moving until the bell rings.

Conditioning Work for Grip Power

The internet age has brought forth a whole generation of “grip guys.” When I say “grip guys” I mean the folks out there who do grip training…and nothing else!

No curls, no squats, no nothing, just all grip all the time.

This situation, of course, is incredibly ironic because an intense focus on only grip training while excluding all other training, will severely limit the amount of progress that is made in the grip department.  People may not like the “other stuff” but if building the strongest possible set of hands and forearms is the goal, then it will be necessary to engage in a well-rounded program.

One of the areas of development that is always downplayed or ignored is conditioning work… if you are scratching your head as to what conditioning work could possibly have to do with grip strength, keep in mind that the body is a unit. Many different systems have to together to build muscle.  The cardiovascular system, heart, lungs  arteries etc, transports oxygen, nutrients, hormones and the like throughout the body.  Keeping these areas in tip top shape will help you get more oxygen to the muscles which, in the long run, means more reps on a per-workout basis.  Over the course of a sustained period of time, this may leads to a potential improvement of perhaps 10-20% over the course of a year.

Yeah, it starts to add up very quickly, especially when you are talking about a very small muscle group like the gripping muscles in question. Faster recovery is also an added bonus,  and I believe that regular, vigorous conditioning work helps in digestion, meaning a more efficient and effective delivery system for the nutrients from the food you eat, again, the end result being better results.

You certainly can be out of shape and still build a very strong grip, but you sure won’t be doing yourself any favors… and whatever the current level of performance happens to be, it would be much higher if the cardiovascular system were in check.

Aside from all the anatomy and physiology stuff I mentioned, I’ve certainly found that regular conditioning work acts as a form of “active rest” for the gripping muscles.  Given the relatively small “cost” in terms of time/effort and the rather large upside, a little extra conditioning work is a smart investment regardless of your training interests.In case you are interested, here’s what last night’s workout looked like:

This is an interval session with the Concept2 Rower – one of my favorite conditioning methods, especially in the winter months. On tap was 7 rounds of 1500 meters, with 1:00 rest between each. You can click on either one of these images to see a larger version.

Here’s what the splits looked like. I bonked a bit at the end, around the 6th interval, but overall I’m pleased with the results. For my people who speak “Concept 2,” if you wanted to try this one out yourself, you can easily program it into your performance monitor. I should also mention that my damper was on 5.5 (which is just how I like it.)

According to my heart rate software, in the 44 minutes and 50 seconds that this workout took, I burned 1043 calories A little math will tell you that this translates to just over 23 calories per minute. — that’s even more than cross-country skiing uphill or running at a six minute mile pace– Amazing!

That’s also without factoring in EPOC, hmm. Somehow I put up some pretty decent numbers on the Concept2 despite all the “non-functional” training that I do.

Either way, I woke up this morning feeling like a tank and ready to put a hurtin’ on tonight’s lifting workout (which will finish out with heavy negative singles with The Secret Weapon.) Many “Grip Guys” may not want to hear this, (which is fine), but a few hopefully will: if your grip training happens to be at a standstill, I believe a little more conditioning would be a smart move (and for a variety of reasons beyond just the grip work.)

Train hard,

John Wood
The internet age has brought forth a whole generation of “grip guys.” When I say “grip guys” I mean the folks out there who do grip training…and nothing else!

No curls, no squats, no nothing, just all grip all the time.

This situation, of course, is incredibly ironic because an intense focus on only grip training while excluding all other training, will severely limit the amount of progress that is made in the grip department.  People may not like the “other stuff” but if building the strongest possible set of hands and forearms is the goal, then it will be necessary to engage in a well-rounded program.

One of the areas of development that is always downplayed or ignored is conditioning work… if you are scratching your head as to what conditioning work could possibly have to do with grip strength, keep in mind that the body is a unit. Many different systems have to together to build muscle.  The cardiovascular system, heart, lungs  arteries etc, transports oxygen, nutrients, hormones and the like throughout the body.  Keeping these areas in tip top shape will help you get more oxygen to the muscles which, in the long run, means more reps on a per-workout basis.  Over the course of a sustained period of time, this may leads to a potential improvement of perhaps 10-20% over the course of a year.

Yeah, it starts to add up very quickly, especially when you are talking about a very small muscle group like the gripping muscles in question. Faster recovery is also an added bonus,  and I believe that regular, vigorous conditioning work helps in digestion, meaning a more efficient and effective delivery system for the nutrients from the food you eat, again, the end result being better results.

You certainly can be out of shape and still build a very strong grip, but you sure won’t be doing yourself any favors… and whatever the current level of performance happens to be, it would be much higher if the cardiovascular system were in check.

Aside from all the anatomy and physiology stuff I mentioned, I’ve certainly found that regular conditioning work acts as a form of “active rest” for the gripping muscles.  Given the relatively small “cost” in terms of time/effort and the rather large upside, a little extra conditioning work is a smart investment regardless of your training interests.In case you are interested, here’s what last night’s workout looked like:

This is an interval session with the Concept2 Rower – one of my favorite conditioning methods, especially in the winter months. On tap was 7 rounds of 1500 meters, with 1:00 rest between each. You can click on either one of these images to see a larger version.

Here’s what the splits looked like. I bonked a bit at the end, around the 6th interval, but overall I’m pleased with the results. For my people who speak “Concept 2,” if you wanted to try this one out yourself, you can easily program it into your performance monitor. I should also mention that my damper was on 5.5 (which is just how I like it.)

According to my heart rate software, in the 44 minutes and 50 seconds that this workout took, I burned 1043 calories A little math will tell you that this translates to just over 23 calories per minute. — that’s even more than cross-country skiing uphill or running at a six minute mile pace– Amazing!

That’s also without factoring in EPOC, hmm. Somehow I put up some pretty decent numbers on the Concept2 despite all the “non-functional” training that I do.

Either way, I woke up this morning feeling like a tank and ready to put a hurtin’ on tonight’s lifting workout (which will finish out with heavy negative singles with The Secret Weapon.) Many “Grip Guys” may not want to hear this, (which is fine), but a few hopefully will: if your grip training happens to be at a standstill, I believe a little more conditioning would be a smart move (and for a variety of reasons beyond just the grip work.)

Train hard,

John Wood

Greg Harden

Mind strength is as important as muscular strength for high level athletes. At The University of Michigan, my head coach was Lloyd Carr and my position coach was Brady Hoke, but there was another coach, a guy behind the scenes, who was and is just as important: Greg Harden. Greg is a big reason behind Tom Brady’s success and, truth-be-told, the success of the vast majority of the University of Michigan athletic teams over the last few decades.

One of his major messages has to do with “self defeating attitudes and behaviors” in other words, many athletes have big dreams, but when it all comes down to it, the things they think and the actions they take often will not get them to where they want to go… I have seen this very same situation for many trainees. At any rate, here is a clip from when Greg was featured on 60 Minutes a few years back.

P.S. Check out more on Greg Harden at his website which can be found HERE.
Mind strength is as important as muscular strength for high level athletes. At The University of Michigan, my head coach was Lloyd Carr and my position coach was Brady Hoke, but there was another coach, a guy behind the scenes, who was and is just as important: Greg Harden. Greg is a big reason behind Tom Brady’s success and, truth-be-told, the success of the vast majority of the University of Michigan athletic teams over the last few decades.

One of his major messages has to do with “self defeating attitudes and behaviors” in other words, many athletes have big dreams, but when it all comes down to it, the things they think and the actions they take often will not get them to where they want to go… I have seen this very same situation for many trainees. At any rate, here is a clip from when Greg was featured on 60 Minutes a few years back

Game of Arms

Every couple years, armwrestling seems to make a comeback on TV. Case in point: There’s a new show on armwrestling set to debut this Tuesday (2-25-2014) on AMC. Check out these videos:





NOTE: Sure, it wasn’t perfect but it was still a lot of fun to watch. Unfortunately “Game of Arms” didn’t make it to the second season but at least we can still enjoy the reruns.

Every couple years, armwrestling seems to make a comeback on TV. Case in point: There’s a new show on armwrestling set to debut this Tuesday (2-25-2014) on AMC

Three Things I Do Every Day

An advertisement for the Milo Barbell company  from about a hundred years ago stated “You can’t  be really strong unless you are really healthy.” At some point I will dig that out and post it on my Oldtime Strongman blog, but I bring it up because this statement has stuck with me since I first came upon it many years ago.

Many people become enamored with strength and development, yet neglect the foundational work that will make that happen in a meaningful way. For example, I know a guy who is as dedicated as they come at hitting the gym, I mean, to him, lifting weights might as well be a religion, but he ALSO eats junk food, drinks like a fish and stays up late either playing video games or hitting the bars and clubs most nights.Whatever benefits that might come from his gym work are offset by his poor choices in other areas — so while he essentially wants to travel around the world, he’s really just jogging in place. KnowWhatI’mSayin?

If you want something, like REALLY want something like building strength and power, then it is simply a matter of doing the things that are necessary to make that happen — which of course goes beyond mere sets and reps.

I’ve got a daily routine of attitudes and behaviors which I believe are all contributing factors to my success in the weight room.
1.) I set aside about ten minutes each night to write down my to-do list for the next day.

The system that I use is to make a list of what needs to get done then cross them off as they are accomplished. Whatever is left over that doesn’t get done is simply carried over to the next day.

This is the planner that I use:

2016 At-A-Glance One Day Per Page Planner If you are a busy person with a lot on your plate, In my opinion, this planner is one of the best investments you can ever make, especially when trying to fit a training session in somewhere during your busy day. There is an immense feeling of satisfaction in crossing off a job well done, no matter how small it might seem. And when the times comes to train, I can put my focus on the lifting rather than worrying about whether I did this or that or called who I was supposed to or the other stuff I have yet to do.

I also pointedly say “written” because I believe that writing something down by hand IS also part of the process — putting something in your own hand writing gives it legitimacy, and therefore makes it more meaningful than what might be bouncing around your collective unconscious at any given point in time.  As I said, there is also a lot of personal satisfaction looking at a “done” list at the end of the day.
Next up:


The Fitbit is small but powerful.


2.) I walk 10,000+ step per day.

I don’t make this goal every single day, but most days I do. During the warmer months, I usually take the dog for two walks a day, which helped with a big chunk of that, but he isn’t a big fan of the the cold and snow so those sessions are curtailed. What has fortunately picked up the slack is that my newborn son falls to sleep a lot easier when someone (me) carries him around for a bit. If I’m a few steps short, yes, I do end up doing laps in the living room until I get what I need.

For 2014, my goal is 10,500 steps per day, so far I think I’ve only missed two days so far. I know that some days are better than others, so building that in, I’d like to average that many steps at the end of the year count.

I keep track of these steps with the help of a FITBIT, which I have been using for almost three years now. The FITBIT is a small device, about the size of two pen caps taped together which measures the number of steps per day that I take, how many calories I burn, the distance walked etc. You can see in the above image how big it is (not very.)

My gen 1 version is still plugging away, the newer ones keep track of stairs climbed and have a stopwatch and alarm which is pretty darn cool.  They have several different types of fitness trackers, I recommend “THE ONE.

If you want to read about the amazing benefits of walking, click here, here and here.

3.) I drink at least 64 ounces of water per day.

Water aids in a variety of bodily processes, most importantly cellular respiration, and it’s easy, especially in the winter months, not to drink enough. When you do, the difference will be noticeable in your training, which to me, is reason enough to do so. Four 16 oz glasses a day is really not that much of a challenge: one for breakfast, one mid-morning, one after lunch and at least one more before bed time– it is advisable to get most of your water drinking out of the way before it gets dark outside so it doesn’t keep/wake you up at night.

I like to use an I-phone app fittingly called “Daily Water” which allows me to check off each glass as it is gulped. It’s free, and you should be able to find it pretty easy in the app store.

Notice that there is a common thread in all the items that I just mentioned: each of them has a measurement component. This way goals are specific, trackable, tangible and therefore, in my humble opinion, more likely to be achieved.

“Yeah, but I just wanna train my grip” is what a few folks in the back will probably say — which is certainly fine, but only by building the foundation can get get the best possible results.

Or, at least, that’s how I like to do it.

Train hard,
An advertisement for the Milo Barbell company  from about a hundred years ago stated “You can’t  be really strong unless you are really healthy.” At some point I will dig that out and post it on my Oldtime Strongman blog, but I bring it up because this statement has stuck with me since I first came upon it many years ago

The New-Dad-No-Sleep-Workout

You may have noticed that updates have been a little sporadic as of late. You can thank this new 8 pound, 12 oz. bundle of joy:


How could anyone get anything done with this guy asleep on their chest? Now, if you were to ask me what the absolute worst thing someone can do for their training I’d tell you that it would be shortchanging sleep. Many people negate most of their potential gains by staying up all night playing video games or partyin’ at the club, in my case though it’s unavoidable, since the lil’ guy likes to eat every two hours or so. You may recall that P.B. (i.e. Pre-Baby) I often recommended early morning workouts… At the moment, that’s out: when I do end up rolling out of bed, I’m a zombie and the lifting of the weights is the last thing I feel like doing.

But I don’t want all that hard work over the years to slip away so I still gotta train…once the initial shock and awe of training under extreme conditions sets in, it’s just a matter of figuring out what you CAN do, within the given parameters and working from there.

In my case, I know that any training that I do MUST be brief and intense (even more so than usual.)As I mentioned previously, the concept here is to begin at an extremely manageable level and build from there. Such a scheme actually offers a great deal of flexibility since it can be adjusted as needed.

Fortunately, I’m much more alert later in in the day, usually a bit after supper time. My current workout is as follows:

1. The Michigan Bench Press Program
*(Day 1 or Day 2, alternated)

2. Hammer Strength High-Row
*(1 all-out set, generally high reps)

3. Secret Weapon Grip Machine: R/L hands
* (Severe Negatives, singles)

4. Neck Training
* (back/front, alternated by workout)

I was even able to get in some squats last Friday but that is a luxury that I don’t expect often. Otherwise, you can see that this workout is about as bare bones as it comes, but MAN does it leave me sore. I think this has to do with the fact that for 20 minute or so, I can ultimately focus on the training that is in front of me, but once that’s done, I have to devote it elsewhere (for obvious reasons.)

Despite the fact that conditions seem less than Ideal, I suspect that I may even come out of this thing with some surprising results.
You may have noticed that updates have been a little sporadic as of late. You can thank this new 8 pound, 12 oz. bundle of joy:


How could anyone get anything done with this guy asleep on their chest? Now, if you were to ask me what the absolute worst thing someone can do for their training I’d tell you that it would be shortchanging sleep. Many people negate most of their potential gains by staying up all night playing video games or partyin’ at the club, in my case though it’s unavoidable, since the lil’ guy likes to eat every two hours or so. You may recall that P.B. (i.e. Pre-Baby) I often recommended early morning workouts… At the moment, that’s out: when I do end up rolling out of bed, I’m a zombie and the lifting of the weights is the last thing I feel like doing.

But I don’t want all that hard work over the years to slip away so I still gotta train…once the initial shock and awe of training under extreme conditions sets in, it’s just a matter of figuring out what you CAN do, within the given parameters and working from there.

In my case, I know that any training that I do MUST be brief and intense (even more so than usual.)As I mentioned previously, the concept here is to begin at an extremely manageable level and build from there. Such a scheme actually offers a great deal of flexibility since it can be adjusted as needed.

Fortunately, I’m much more alert later in in the day, usually a bit after supper time. My current workout is as follows:

1. The Michigan Bench Press Program
*(Day 1 or Day 2, alternated)

2. Hammer Strength High-Row
*(1 all-out set, generally high reps)

3. Secret Weapon Grip Machine: R/L hands
* (Severe Negatives, singles)

4. Neck Training
* (back/front, alternated by workout)

I was even able to get in some squats last Friday but that is a luxury that I don’t expect often. Otherwise, you can see that this workout is about as bare bones as it comes, but MAN does it leave me sore. I think this has to do with the fact that for 20 minute or so, I can ultimately focus on the training that is in front of me, but once that’s done, I have to devote it elsewhere (for obvious reasons.)

Despite the fact that conditions seem less than Ideal, I suspect that I may even come out of this thing with some surprising results.

80’s Inspiration

If there’s one thing that they got right in 80’s movies, it’s the training montage. There WILL be times when the only thing standing between working out and doing nuthin’ is a great song. Here’s a few clips that still make the hair on the back of my neck stand up whenever I watch them:


KUMITE! KUMITE! This video makes me want to roundhouse kick EVERYTHING I see.


Sammy won… SAMMY WON. Only in the 80’s man. And yes… the winner does indeed take it all.


This song has the distinction of not actually being in any of the Rocky movies ~ but it sure should have been. James Rolfe, film maker and part time Angry Video Game Nerd, put this video together in his spare time ~ and the world is much better for it. I would probably never have come across it otherwise. Thanks man, At least a few thousand of the views for this clip are mine.
If there’s one thing that they got right in 80’s movies, it’s the training montage. There WILL be times when the only thing standing between working out and doing nuthin’ is a great song. Here’s a few clips that still make the hair on the back of my neck stand up whenever I watch them

Hand Strength for Golf

Wouldn’t it be awesome if someone went around and interviewed all the legends in a particular area for their tips to success? That’s exactly what Jack Zanger did back in the early 1960’s – ol’ Jack spent six months traveling around the country “talking shop” with the most successful golfers of the day, his interviews became a series of articles and later a book on the physical preparation side of golf.

Interestingly, many of the interviewees seemed to have one key element in common…



Here’s a look:

…The average golfer’s problems center around his hands; they simply are not strong enough to hit a golf ball consistently well.  The Golf grip is the key to good golf — so why not keep your hands in shape? Several years ago an eye infection forced me to remain indoors and off the tour for six weeks. I wanted to keep my hands in condition. To keep them from losing strength, I did a series of hand exercises every other day. Six weeks later I rejoined the Tour and, much to my amazement, resumed the routine of 18 holes and two hours practice a day without any difficulty at all…”

Jay Hebert

Winner:
1954 Long Island Open
1957 Bing Crosby National Pro-Am Golf Championship
1957 Texas Open Invitational
1958 Lafayette Open Invitational
1959 Orange County Open Invitational
1960 PGA Championship
1961 Houston Classic
1961 American Golf Classic

—————————————-

“[For golfing success] I have always been a strong believer in two things: good balance and strong hands.  I can’t tell you anything about developing good balance but I can tell you about hands.  You have to have strong hands for more than driving the ball.  How about when you’re stuck in a thick rough? It’s got the be the hands–strong hands–that guide the club through the weeds and pop that ball out there.”

Jimmy Thompson

Winner:
1936 Richmond Open
1938 Los Angeles Open

—————————————-

“While I think strong legs are most important to a tournament golfer, I believe the average weekend player should concentrate on building up his hands and making them as strong as possible…With strong hands, you can overcome most other deficiencies in your game.  I have proven this with with some of my women pupils.  Some of the ladies as my club have lower handicaps than man because they worked at strengthening their hands–as a result, they can hit the ball better.”

Tom Nieporte

Winner:
1951 NCAA Golf Championship
1959 Rubber City Open Invitational
1960 Azalea Open
1967 Bob Hope Desert Classic

—————————————-

…And what is the very best way to build stronger hands? That would be with hand grippers (which were unsurprisingly recommended highly by these individuals and many other famous golfers besides.)

Of course, the grippers that were to be found back in their day were, for the most part, the sporting goods store variety that you could probably close for three hundred reps without breaking a sweat. I have little doubt that a more serious gripper – and the training to go with it – would have been very welcome to these folks. One other thing that I think should be pointed out is that what we are dealing with here is a development of the “raw materials” so to speak.  You would not do a gripper workout and then go out and expect to shoot your best round. It doesn’t work that way.  The physical training should be done away from the course — then, once recovery and subsequent improvement occurs, you can hit the links with your new and improved hand strength.

Seeing how most people don’t golf but once a week anyway, it works out just about perfectly here, or this time of year with snow on the ground. In golf, as in all other physical activities, it is going to be specific practice which is most important to overall skill development.  Physical training simply allows you to practice that much more efficiently and frequently. And if you play for a paycheck, which the folks quoted above did, some grip training will undoubtedly make one heck of a difference in who comes out on top when knockin’ that little white ball around.

I would recommend getting started immediately, and you can do so, right here:

Train hard,
John Wood signature
John Wood

Wouldn’t it be awesome if someone went around and interviewed all the legends in a particular area for their tips to success? That’s exactly what Jack Zanger did back in the early 1960’s – ol’ Jack spent six months traveling around the country “talking shop” with the most successful golfers of the day, his interviews became a series of articles and later a book on the physical preparation side of golf.

Interestingly, many of the interviewees seemed to have one key element in common…

Hand Gripper Reps

Many people have written in over the years to ask what my hand gripper “reps” look like when I train. I can’t (and won’t) speak for anyone else but here is a short video clip illustrating what things look like when I do my thing.

For best results, I prefer a full range of motion, a “pause” when the handles touch and letting the handles open in a somewhat deliberate manner – no monkey business here. Preferences aside, a greater range of motion means a greater percentage of muscle fibers are involved, ergo: a more efficient and effective workout.

The reason that I bring this up is that tempo is important, and some people had asked if reps should be done rapid fire, etc. You can do your reps in any way you like… What is shown here is simply my preference but I have certainly gotten very strong training grippers in this manner.

It should also probably be noted that any reps that I do, even with much lighter grippers, follow the same guidelines.

If you want to know what I recommend, then this style of would be it, at least the vast majority of the time. When it comes to reps, I have done it all: fast reps… slow reps… full reps… partial reps… timed holds… assisted reps… upside down reps… negative reps… all of those are worth experimenting with and some are more useful than others. My recommendation is to establish a “baseline” to see what you can do in the super-strict “style” outlined above — that way it makes it much easier to see whether or not you are getting stronger.

Train hard,
John Wood signature
John Wood
Many people have written in over the years to ask what my hand gripper “reps” look like when I train. I can’t (and won’t) speak for anyone else but here is a short video clip illustrating what things look like when I do my thing.

For best results, I prefer a full range of motion, a “pause” when the handles touch and letting the handles open in a somewhat deliberate manner – no monkey business here. Preferences aside, a greater range of motion means a greater percentage of muscle fibers are involved, ergo: a more efficient and effective workout.

The reason that I bring this up is that tempo is important, and some people had asked if reps should be done rapid fire, etc. You can do your reps in any way you like… What is shown here is simply my preference but I have certainly gotten very strong training grippers in this manner.

It should also probably be noted that any reps that I do, even with much lighter grippers, follow the same guidelines.

If you want to know what I recommend, then this style of would be it, at least the vast majority of the time. When it comes to reps, I have done it all: fast reps… slow reps… full reps… partial reps… timed holds… assisted reps… upside down reps… negative reps… all of those are worth experimenting with and some are more useful than others. My recommendation is to establish a “baseline” to see what you can do in the super-strict “style” outlined above — that way it makes it much easier to see whether or not you are getting stronger.

Train hard,
John Wood signature
John Wood

Handbalancing: Even Big Guys Can Do It

I’m about as far removed from a typical gymnast as you can get. Not only am I 6’5″ and very firmly in the heavyweight class, I’m also bottom-heavy (i.e. I carry a lot of weight in my legs) which makes me ill-suited to any type of handbalancing…yet I’ve still become pretty decent. Check this out:

The “Secrets” of handbalancing, if there are any, are simply knowing what to do and then putting in plenty of practice time. I’m not ready to run off and join the circus quite yet, but I can still impress the neighbors any time I want. Of course, handbalancing isn’t just about showing off, the upper-body strength and shoulder stability built through handbalancing have gone a long way toward improving pressing power and other facets of upper body strength — so it will pay to add some practice to your program.
I’m about as far removed from a typical gymnast as you can get. Not only am I 6’5″ and very firmly in the heavyweight class, I’m also bottom-heavy (i.e. I carry a lot of weight in my legs) which makes me ill-suited to any type of handbalancing…yet I’ve still become pretty decent. Check this out:

The “Secrets” of handbalancing, if there are any, are simply knowing what to do and then putting in plenty of practice time. I’m not ready to run off and join the circus quite yet, but I can still impress the neighbors any time I want. Of course, handbalancing isn’t just about showing off, the upper-body strength and shoulder stability built through handbalancing have gone a long way toward improving pressing power and other facets of upper body strength — so it will pay to add some practice to your program.