Monday, May 11, 2015

Chin-Ups! And How to Do Your First One!

Chin-ups are one of my favorite exercises. In the past, I've vastly improved my fitness levels and dropped serious body fat by adopting a steady diet of Chin-Ups, Push-Ups, Dips, and running. If I wanted to go super-minimalist in my current training, I would probably stick to Chins along with Kettlebell Swings and Turkish Get-Ups.

I need to pause a moment here, because any article on Chin-Ups has to address a bit of nomenclature. So here it goes: Pull-Ups (usually) refer to grabbing the bar with your palms facing away from you. Chins-Ups (usually) refer to grabbing the bar with your palms facing towards you. There are other variations, such as Neutral Grip (palms facing each other, which is requires a certain type of bar). In general, Chin-Ups are easier than Pull-Ups because the biceps are more engaged and take some of the pressure off the back. I like to use a Lifeline USA Jungle Gym, which allows for a sort of rotating grip that I prefer.

Why do I love Chin-Ups in all their forms? Besides being incredibly functional, there is just something emotionally satisfying about them. It feels good to pull yourself up. You feel powerful. It also looks cool, which is no doubt why so many films—Taxi Driver, Aliens, The Bourne Identity, G.I. Jane, The American, I Am Legend, Skyfall, etc.—feature scenes of characters to some sort of Pull-Up. It reinforces their badassery.

Chin-Ups are also very hard to do. Many people (most?) can't do a single one. For a long time, I was one of those people. 

How did I train to do my first Chin-Up? Through the power of negatives! A negative involves stepping or jumping up to the top position of a Chin-Up and then slowly lowering yourself. 

Here's specifically what I did:

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Thought of the Day, April 23, 2015: Rumi on Love's Power

“The power of love came into me,
and I became fierce like a lion,
then tender like the evening star.”
— Rumi

Armor Building, Double Cleans, and Silat

Lately I’ve been incorporating a bit of “Armor Building” into my training. I first learned of the concept from strength coach extraordinaire Dan John:
I work with a lot of people in the collision sports and collision occupations. One of the hardest things to do while preparing for these endeavors is what I call 'Armor Building,' a term that one of my football players coined a few years ago.
Essentially, Armor Building is all about preparing the body—especially the trunk—for collisions with other things.

Me, being taken down Silat-style.
As a martial artist, I am mostly interested in colliding with other people. Recently, I’ve been working on my Silat skills. Silat is a Southeast Asian martial art found throughout Malaysia, Indonesia, and the southern Philippines. A few years ago, I helped my instructor, Burton Richardson, film a series of Silat instructional DVDs. While there are many different styles of Silat, Burton’s version is very much about colliding with your opponent. It isn’t a parry-and-hit-back art as much as it’s a crash-into-your-enemy-and-slam-him-to-the ground art.

(A vanity-related aside: I was nursing a nasty back injury when we filmed the Silat DVDs and hadn’t trained for months. I had flab around by midsection and my posture was all screwed up. I looked terrible. But that was then. To paraphrase a line from Night Court, "I'm much better now!" You can see some clips of the videos here.)

If I’m going to be crashing into people, I don’t want to hurt myself doing so. And that brings us back to Armor Building.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Thought of the Day, April 22, 2015: Yasmin Mogahed on Strength

“Being both soft and strong is a combination very few have mastered.”

—Yasmin Mogahed

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Recipe Wednesday: Sour Shchi

Earlier this year, I posted a recipe for the Russian (technically Ukrainian) staple borscht. Today I'll be continuing the Slavic theme with something that might not be quite as familiar to many readers: shchi, specifically sauerkraut or sour shchi.

Shchi is a cabbage soup, and is such a part of Russian culture that there is even a old saying about it: "Shchi da kasha – pishcha nasha" which translates to ”Shchi and kasha are our staples”. There are countless ways of making shchi.  My recipe is pretty simple, and is inspired by one by Muscovite Victoria Logunova.  

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Friday, March 20, 2015

Thought of the Day, March 20, 2015: Rainer Maria Rilke on Spring

“It is spring again. The earth is like a child that knows poems by heart.” 

— Rainer Maria Rilke