Maxwell Strength & Conditioning Blog

Enjoy a peek at the world through Steve's eyes as he delivers sermons on everything from training to peace of mind.


Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Behind Closed Fire Doors

August is upon us and many of you have late summer vacation plans. Well, there's no reason in the world to abandon your routine and lose your hard-won fitness gains. Your Coach and his lovely assistant travel the world in their mission to share the scripture of St. maxwellsc. Circumstances find us in remote areas and/or hotels with nary even a cursed elliptical. In truth, hotel gyms irritate me. Composed of mostly cardio crap with sundry dumbbells and some sort of ill-maintained cable machine. Never an honest pull-up bar or dip stand to be found. That's why I never leave home without my trusty Lifeline Jungle Gym and heavy speed rope.

The ability to pull yourself free from the clutches of Earthly gravity with the power of the upper arms and chest is the single most productive upper body exercise you can do and the Lifeline Jungle Gym provides the means to do exactly this no matter where you find yourself. With low ceilings, inadequate doors and an overall cramped feeling, your hotel room may be too confined a space to put even the most minimal equipment to use. Worse, even hotel gyms are usually to dank and crowded to host a decent workout unless you're willing to play hamster on the treadmill--destination: Nowheresville. Bleak? Yes. However, virtually every hotel does hide a rarely used fitness resource, with bonus, ample privacy, and all the room needed for a complete workout: it's the stairwell.

Most hotel stairwells house cozy foyers in front of the fire doors, good for laying down a yoga or bath mat for core and ab work. Ceiling height is usually higher than your room, with enough to skip rope. If this isn't the case, go to the bottom-most fire door exit, just outside of which you'll usually find a small, private area where you can skip rope in peace--just make sure to prop the emergency exit door open so you don't lock yourself out! Finally, the stairs themselves offer plentiful opportunities for stair climbing, backward bear crawling and any number of foot, calf and ankle exercises.

Suspending the Jungle Gym from an overhead railing offers multiple arm and hand positioning for various upper body pulls. The Jungle Gym handles rotate, just like the more expensive counterpart sold on television. When the Jungle Gym can also support Dips, one of the most productive upper body exercises. In fact, the Chin-Up and Dip make up the perfect balanced pairing, comprising the mainstay of most gymnastics programs--have you ever seen a (competitive) gymnast with a poor upper body?

Be warned: Chins and Dips on a Jungle Gym are consider more difficult than using stationary bars--especially Dips--because the stabilizers of the core and shoulders must work extremely hard to keep the body from shivering and shaking. For those of you who are not yet doing Chin-Ups and Dips, there are numerous modifications and variations on these movements in your coach's bag of tricks and you can find some on my Spartan 300 and Ultimate Upper Body Workout DVDs.

Further expanding on the Jungle Gym's potential are Push-Up variations challenging enough for even the strongest out there.

But let's not forget the legs! Aside from its light weight and portability, the Jungle Gym has several advantages over rings (for the record, I very much like rings). You can do an assortment of hamstring Leg Curls and gluteal Bridges to get at the all-important posterior chain and the Jungle Gym makes the perfect support for doing Pistols. While most people can't pull off freestanding Pistols, with the aid of the Jungle Gym handles, I've gotten almost anyone doing this wonderful exercise. And even if you're not quite ready for supported Pistols, body weight Amasov Squats are yet another fantastic lower leg developer.

On a recent European trip, my teen protege and I opted to get a final workout in before the next morning's flight. Grabbing up the Jungle Gym, we headed down the hallway to the stairwell. This stairwell was a bit too narrow for rope skipping but at the very bottom, sure enough, was a fine little patio, surrounded by foliage, offering an ideal place to warm up. After working up a nice lather, my girl knocked out a few sets of Calf Raises on the bottom step.

Next up, the Single Leg Glute Bridge, utilizing the handy Jungle Gym stirrups. These were chased with the Single-Leg Curl.

After hypertrophying up her fabulous glutes and rear thighs, we moved on to Pistols. All three movements were performed circuit-style on first one leg, then the other.

Performing hamstring and glute work before the Pistol really drives home the Pistol's hip involvement. Because they aren't focused in on recruiting the hamstrings and glutes, most people will primarily feel the Pistol in the front thigh and knee. There is also a tendency to rock forward upon the ball of the foot during the ascent, as opposed to remaining heavy in the heel. Pre-exhausting the gluteal muscles and hamstrings with the Single-Leg Bridge and Leg Curl respectively, then immediately going to the Pistol, really helps the client dial in and experience the hamstring/glute involvement (possibly for the first time) and optimize the Pistol. Damn, I just gave away some freaking AWESOME advice right there!

For the primary upper body pulling movement, we chose the Chin-Up/Knee Raise combination. Set it up by suspending the Jungle Gym from the overhead railing and setting it at shoulder-width. This is a fantastic movement with a strong core component, working everything from the chin to the toes.

For balancing the shoulder girdle in the vertical plane, she kicked up into a handstand and held for time. Handstand holds are phenomenal for shoulder and tricep development and that the yogis have been touting them for thousands of years is testimony enough of their health benefits. For the more advanced, Handstand Push-Ups are an option--and the practitioner will be handsomely rewarded with super-strong overhead pressing ability.

The secondary pulling/pressing combo was the body weight Row, basically a reverse Push-Up. This is an extremely important plane of motion for balancing the shoulder girdle, as well as a critical posture-balancing movement, due to its shoulder and upper back strengthening aspects.

Complementary horizontal pushing was covered by another compound movement, the suspended Push-Up. Once again, the Jungle Gym allowed her to suspend the hands while the feet remain on the stairs. By shortening the straps and maintaining the body at a steeper angle, you can progressively unweight to make the exercise easier.

This workout was chased with some core moves done on a folded bath towel on the floor. As a finisher, she carried Coachie on her back--piggy-back style--the ride of my life! My diminutive Tinkerbell carried her 170 pound burden up four flights of stairs--you've got to have a lot of trust in your partner for this one, but I definitely advocate it for the super-fit. I don't, however, recommend walking down stairs with a load, as most of the benefit is from going up. Going down stairs loaded places unnecessary stress on the feet and knees.

All in all, a very productive workout which can be done by most anybody in most hotels anywhere. I myself did a similar workout, but replaced the Handstands with Dips and suspended Push-Ups with Atomic Push-Ups.

Dozens and dozens of exercises can be created with the Jungle Gym and my upcoming plans include releasing downloadable video listing them.

There is truly no excuse to miss a workout. If you don't already have one, get yourself a basic Jungle Gym. It's worth every cent of whatever currency you spend and will provide a lifelong benefit.

Yours in Strength & Health!


Of Interest:

My seminar season is opening soon! First up, stateside, a kettlebell workshop and a Body Weight Trainers Cert in Nashua NH, then two weeks in Iceland, followed with a Level 1 BW Trainer Cert in Florence Italy; then our semi-annual two-day Level 1 MaxBells Certification at maxwellsc in Philadelphia, where I'm also presenting a Level 2 MaxBells cert and introducing the Level 2 BW Trainer Certification. Be assured--you don't want to miss out! Click here for the schedule of events.

I was recently interviewed by Caleb Queern for The FightWorks Podcast, click here to check it out.

My compadre-in-training, Dominik Feischl, has released the seminal DVD of his recent Gorilla Camp. I'll soon be carrying the English language version on my site, but if you just can't wait, go get your Osterreich on here. Two opposable thumbs up!

Finally, I'd like to welcome everyone to my new blog! I'm very pleased to be hosting the blog on my own site and I'd like to thank my web designer, Chris Crooke for the fantastic work he's done. I highly recommend him to anyone in need of a new website or simply a face-lift for your current site.