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

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

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.

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…

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

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.