Thursday, October 30, 2014

Basement Gyms - Dealing With Low Ceiling Height

The Basement Gym is a great place to retreat to whether it's first thing in the morning, late at night or somewhere in-between.  You can decorate it how you like, play your favorite music and no matter the weather, you've got no excuses to have at it.  It can be liberating to have your own space to do what you like, practice movements on your own and pursue goals at your own pace.

But, basement gyms can sometimes have their drawbacks and most normally that comes in the way of limited ceiling height.  And that lower ceiling height can put a damper on some movements that you want to keep incorporated into your workouts.  But does that mean we should set aside some of our training tools until the garage opens up in Spring?  We don't think so.  There are some alternatives when working with low ceilings and in today's blog post, we'll discuss a few of them.

The bottom line up front is to not be discouraged because of the handful of exercises you can no longer do with the restricted ceiling height but to look at what other exercises you can do.  Necessity is the mother of invention and staying creative with your programming will keep you improving and interested.  Looking forward to the move to the basement gym can be just the thing we need to shake up our routine and to bring in new exercises we haven't tried before.

Moving the Bar Overhead - Here's a big one.  Working with a bar is important and when challenged with a low ceiling height, pushing a bar over shoulder height is sometimes just not possible.  But instead of completely abandoning the bar from use, just keep all your movements no higher than shoulder height.  That still leaves deadlifts, bent rows, good mornings, cleans, front squats, hack squats and back squats.  And if you've got a flat bench handy, shoulder pressing from the seated position is still an option and actually keeps your lower body from helping to get the load overhead.

But how to train movements like the snatch, jerk, overhead squat when the ceiling height is low?  Assuming you can extend your arm fully overhead without punching a hole through the floor, your new best friend is the kettlebell.  Many of the movements done with a barbell have kettlebell counterparts and if the kettlebell is held on the back of the wrist or the front, it will never reach higher than your outstretched fist.

Box Jumps - Traditional box jumps in low ceiling spaces can get a little hairy.  With a box that has multiple height options you can choose the smallest height, stand on it then check for good overhead clearance.  If you've got good overhead clearance, it's safe to jump.  Normally, athletes land on the top of the box after a jump with hips, knees and ankles flexed then stand upright.  So it won't be the jump on to the box that gets you.  However, jump off the box when you haven't got a lot of overhead room and you might be counting stars.

A Mini Plyo Box [16x20x24] is a good solution.
Here's a few options to keep plyometrics in your routine if you're feeling a little cramped on space.  First, don't shove that plyo box into the corner until spring.  It has a ton of other uses including elevating your feet for pushups and ring rows.  Second, no worries about being forced into a lower box height to keep from knocking your head on the ceiling.  Instead, use a weight vest to add intensity to the lower height.  You'll probably run out of gas a lot quicker than with the higher box jumps, too.

Pull Ups - When limited ceiling space threatens to eliminate pull-ups from your routine, now's the time to get creative and force yourself into thinking of new ways to keep your raw pulling strength moving in the right direction.  Assuming you've got the pull-up bar installed as high as possible while allowing enough room to get your head over the bar, let's talk about a few ideas to keep this number one bodyweight exercise at number one in your training program.

The kipping pull-up is getting a ton of press and it's not all good.  There are those that openly oppose the kipping pull-up stating that it leads to shoulder damage and produces much more stress on the joints.  We're not sold either way actually, but one thing is true:  In order to kip, you really need to have your feet hanging free from the ground.  Odds are, you won't be able to do that in most basements anyway so instead of working kipping pull-ups, work on slowing the exercise down and concentrating on dead hang, strict form pull-ups.  And when you can knock out 3 sets of 8-10 reps, it's time to add some weight and vary hand position.

Ring Muscle Ups - Nothing lets the air out of the ballon as much as not being able to work on ring muscle ups when we're forced into the basement gym.  It's a fun movement and without the freedom to swing freely under the rings to develop momentum for the kip, it can be extremely challenging.  But just because we can't perform a kipping muscle up doesn't mean we abandon gymnastic ring training.  They are great for a host of other movements such as ring push ups, ring rows, ring dips, levers and more.  And if you haven't tried ring turn out ring dips, this winter is the time to master them.

But just like the pull-up, you might want to work on that strict muscle up.  I'd bet good money that anyone who has the strict muscle up can certainly perform one while kipping.  And the lower ceiling height will force you to keep the kip out of the equation.  So, we might have a little challenge in the works for the winter months.  Nail that strict ring muscle up.

Double Unders - If you're really cramped for space, even double unders can be a challenge.  And if your rope is hitting the ceiling as you are trying to jump, then there's not a lot you can do.  But movements like the Tuck Jump or stationary jumps to a target overhead can be a good substitute.

And the winter season is one of the best times for an excuse to buy an indoor rowing machine.  Concept 2 manufactures a stellar rower with a great performance monitor.  And Concept 2 has a great online logbook where you can log in your workouts to keep track of your progress and to see where you stand among others that log in their workouts.  And even if you find one on craigslist, you don't need to be a registered owner to take advantage of the log book.

Floor Movements - There are literally tons of challenging pressing movements you can do in a space no taller than 3 feet.  The pushup is one of the most basic fundamental pressing exercise but by adding some variation in hand placement and body position, you can crank up the difficulty well beyond the average athlete's reach.  The next time you are knocking out a set of 20 or more, try moving your hand position into a diamond shape just under your navel.  If that doesn't ratchet it up high enough, move that diamond to just under your face.

Wall Walks - If you've got enough room to stand with you hands outstretched above your head, you can incorporate wall walks into your routine.  One warmup we did for a long time in the gym was a set of 10 of these unbroken.  From the prone position with your feet touching the wall behind you and your hands just under your shoulders, pick your body up and walk your hands backward toward the wall behind you.  As your hands step backward, your feet walk up the wall.  Stop when your hands are less than 6 inches from the wall.  Your body will now be completely vertical.  But you're only half done.  Now walk with your hands and feet in unison again back to the starting position.  That's one rep...only nine more to go :)

Variations - once you've got ten consecutive wall walks down, now try Wall Runs.  From the vertical position against the wall, pick one hand up off the floor and touch the same side shoulder.  Return the hand to the floor and repeat with the other hand and shoulder.  Believe me, it sounds much easier than it is.  And once you've got 10-20 solid unwavering wall runs down, now walk laterally with your hands along the wall.  See if you can make it all the way around your basement. [Corners are challenging].

Even with a challenging ceiling height, you can make due.  And the added challenge it can sometimes bring helps us look for new ways to train.  Instead of seeing the lower ceiling height as a detriment, instead embrace it as an opportunity to vary your routine and bring a handful of new exercises into your wheelhouse.