Tips from the Webmaster

I don't have much to offer advanced bodybuilders, but in the years I've been working out, I have found some things that worked for me better than others. I have always been a "hard gainer" but even when I have managed some gains, the results have not been of the class where I could say I "belong onstage."

The most common advice I see – go hard and heavy -- has not worked for me. All it does is screw up my joints. So I have been inventing and modifying exercises, and now have some that gave more results than what I was able to accomplish with expensive health club equipment, even though I am not getting any younger. My objective here is to share them and hope they help someone else. They won't substitute for the variety of movements available at a complete health club, but see what you can do with them.

1) Low bar pull-ups. There's nothing better for the bis and lats. To do this effectively, the bar should be no higher than you are tall. The trick here is to KEEP GOING when you can't do any more with your full weight. Push against the ground with your toes, or one foot, or both feet, until your arms feel like they are going to come off. When I started doing the exercise like this, I also noticed it in my abs and quads, so it may have been having an effect there too.

You can make your pull-up bar by cutting two 1 x 2 inch boards about 12 inches long for the supports. Put a deep notch in the end of each board to hold the bar. Cut a piece of 1 inch steel pipe or similar material for the bar as long as your doorway is wide. Nail the boards into the doorframe so the bar will be the proper height, and so any door can still close, but don't hammer them in all the way if you want to remove the boards later on. Get a length of foam pipe insulation a couple inches shorter than the bar and slide it on, then lay the bar on the supports so it is free to rotate. Do not fasten the bar for several reasons. If it is free to rotate it will strengthen your grip, and it will prevent you from hanging on by your skin -- something that has caused internal tears and blood blisters in my hands many times. Most importantly, it will be quick and easy to remove when you want to walk through the doorway.

2) Low-support dips. For the lats, lower pecs and tris. How you support yourself on most dip machines or other facilities is awful. All you need are two strong tables or desks, and phonebooks or wood blocks. Build the height up even with your wrists standing with your arms at your side. Do them the same way as with the pull-ups above.

3) For the rear delts and tris. This is the only thing I've found for the delts that did not screw up my shoulders. All you need is an empty inside corner of a room. Stand looking into it diagonally with your toes about half your height away from the corner. Lean in, supporting yourself with the side of your fists, kept as close together as you can in the corner without touching. You will have to force outward against the walls, which works your delts. Do "push-ups" extending your arms all the way out in front of you from the shoulders with each rep. As it becomes impossible to do any more reps, move one of your feet inwards towards the corner for support during the "low" part of the rep and KEEP GOING. A towel will protect the wall from the inevitable marks your hands leave. It will also prevent you from cheating by using the friction of the wall surface.

4) For the pecs. Stay in your corner and switch your hands so your wrists cross, right hand on left wall, and vice versa. Try to completely contract your pecs at the top of each rep. Do as many as you can and then switch the forearm on top and do some more. I wish I had known about these excercises when I was standing in the corner as a little boy.

If you are strong and need a challenge, you may want to construct some push-up "anti" supports so you can do these from the ground with your full weight. You can use two short 6 inch wide boards, each supported diagonally by two wooden triangles. These will stay put when used on carpet, but might need a rubber surface if used on a hard floor. If the triangles are cut 42° - 48° - 90° instead of 45° - 45° - 90°, you will have the choice of arranging them an "easy" way and a "hard" way.

5) For the abs. From a standing position, bend down with your hands on your knees. Bend as far as you can so that your abs are fully contracted, pushing with opposing force with your arms (pecs and tris) against your knees. The motion is sort of like you're throwing up. If your abs cramp, take advantage of the fact that in cramping they are getting the exercise they need.

Scheduling: I used to do my resistance excercises religiously after the aerobic part of a workout. I have since read, and this experience corroporates that this was a mistake. I have been running now, but seperate the two workouts, and find that I can run farther and easier than before.

Diet. I personally have a problem with sweets. The pleasure they offer seems to sap my energy and desire to do other things. Nevertheless, just because you add sugar to something doesn't mean you are removing nutrients, though practically speaking it seems to work that way. Carefully reading ingredients on packages allows you to differentiate foods similar to what you might make at home from concoctions that are actively harmful and toxic.

I feel more harm comes from added fats.  Mayonnaise, fatty sauces, dressings, and deep-fried foods are completely out.  Besides obesity and heart problems, fats and oils can cause gastrointestinal distress. Vegetable oils are marketed as if they are some kind of health food solution, a new essential nutrient, but they have just made the obesity epidemic worse.  Partially hydrogenated soybean oil seems to adulterate almost everything pre-packaged.  In the restaurant, someone has convinced us we want everything dripping with a glossy, oily sauce. However, the forces leading us to consume excess fat are more cultural than practical.  What’s to stop one from taking apart a hamburger, wringing out the fat, and putting it back together as a high-protein low-fat meal?

For building and maintaining muscle, you can't avoid meat, and pork seems to work best. I don't mean to discount environmentalists and vegetarians and the issues they raise relating to meat production and consumption, but supplements never have worked for me, and neither have whey protein powder, eggs, and similar foods. Also, I feel better when I have eaten green vegetables. MSM (a supplement used to assist soft-tissue regeneration in the joints) may help, as may common multi-vitamin supplements and vitamin C.

Martin Cole
January 2009