Friday, January 30, 2015

Gear Tips - Equipment Maintenance

Have you noticed that there is a lot of competition in the world of CrossFit.  Of course you have.  The box density in any area is constantly increasing.  There are only so many people in a region, and each box is competing for those athletes.  And since visual impact of your gym can play a big role in potential clients signing on, keeping your equipment in great condition goes a long way.  

There are some very simple things that you can do to keep your equipment safe, performing well, and looking good.  Here are a few tips that we have come across over the years that require a small investment in time, but can reap big rewards.

Steel Products:

Kettlebells:  I know, a kettlebell is a steel ball with a handle on it.  What is there to maintain?  Well, they do experience wear and tear on the handles and the base.  Paint and powder coat have a tendency to wear off over time.  Simply take a piece of sand paper or steel wool to the worn area, then grab a can of flat or gloss spray paint (depending on the finish) and touch up the bare areas. 
Pull Up Racks and Squat Racks:  The rig is the centerpiece of the gym.  If it is well maintained, it can last virtually for ever.  But, they do experience wear, especially when you've got 100+ athletes using it everyday.  The squat stations have barbell hooks and barbells constantly moving in and about the posts.  Additionally, bands, gymnastic ring straps and athlete's hands are constantly on the pull up bars.  Just like the kettlebells,  a little steel wool and paint go a long way to keeping your pull up rack or squat rack looking like the day you bought it.

Truly any of your steel products will benefit from a fresh coat of paint.  Sleds, bumper stackers, and storage racks all take a lot of abuse and wear.  It is just the nature of the environment and the expectations of the equipment.  I have seen the difference with a sled at Victor CrossFit in Victor, NY.  Taking 15 minutes to add a fresh coat of paint, and a few new decals, brought that 4 year old sled back to new life!
There are other pieces that can use a little TLC to keep your gym looking top notch: 

Med Balls and Bumper Plates:  Like kettle bells, typically very little maintenance.  But, wiping them down periodically with soapy water will keep them looking good.  It is also an opportune time to inspect the bumpers for cracks or loose collars and the med balls for tears or ripped seams.

Plyo Boxes:  You jump on, you jump off.  That is the life of the plyo box. Most of the damage to a plyo box does not come from actual athletic use.  The damage comes from an athlete dragging the box across the floor (I know, even though you tell them not to do it under penalty of burpees).  When dragged, the edges of the plywood can splinter and fray.  If you don't catch it early, it can spread and make the boxes look worn beyond their years.  As above, a good dose of sanding on the worn areas with a hand sander or small orbital sander can make fast work of returning your plyo boxes close to new condition.

Gymnastics Rings:  First and foremost, it is important to continually inspect the straps and buckles for wear.  Frayed straps or wearing springs in the cam buckles can cause serious injury to your athletes.  If they are frayed, or the buckles are not working properly, they need to be replaced.  And although we vote for wood for gymnastics rings over plastic, heavy use can turn the wood color to dark brown/black after even a few short months.  The easy button for getting your wood rings back to like new condition is that sandpaper which once again comes to the rescue.  A couple of minutes for each ring with a coarse sand paper will bring them back to new (or close to it). 

Barbells are one of the most utilized pieces of equipment in a CrossFit box.  They are constantly picked up, put down, and have bumpers on and off them all day long.  Make sure to wipe them down periodically and check the bushing and bearing for rotation.  A little light oil in the bushings can help make the movement smooth and fast.

In Summary:  It really does not have to take a lot of time to maintain and inspect your equipment.  The more often you do it, the less time it takes.  If your equipment is not maintained, malfunctioning, or dangerous, your athletes will find another place to work out.  It's just like the maintenance on your car - you change the oil, take it out for a wash and from time to time have to get new brakes and tires.  The good news is that with periodic maintenance, your equipment will continue to perform well for you and your athletes for years.  And the more often you set aside time to maintain, the better your equipment will perform.  

There is a lot of competition out there.  Potential athletes are looking not only at where your gym is in relation to where they live, but they evaluate your training and your personality.   Making a great first impression visually also can be the difference between getting a few more clients every month or losing them to another box.  We're here to make sure that your equipment stays top notch.

So, if you are ready to expand or start a box, garage gym or simply buy some new equipment, visit Hammerhead Strength Equipment or call 585-298-1718 any time.


the Hammerhead Team

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Dumbbells vs. Kettlebells - Will The Battle Ever Be Decided?

Having used both kettlebells and dumbbells for years in my garage gym and in commercial gyms, it's safe to say that they both have their place in the fitness arena.  The popularity and usefulness of both are evident but when it comes to having to decide between the two, that's when we've got to really analyze which of these tools get the job done the best.

Before we commit to one versus the other, it's important to note that most any tool when used consistently with intensity can afford us some great results.  If it's gathering dust or only pulled out one to two times a week then it won't matter if it's absolutely stellar at what it does, we won't see any benefit from it.

We're going to stack up the dumbbell versus the kettlebell for those folks that need to make a choice either because their limited space or budget [who doesn't have those two issues?]  If at the end of the day we see one as a clear stand out for our goals then we can make the best choice when outfitting our home gym.

One Handed vs Two Handed - For the most part, both the kettlebell and the dumbbell are one handed tools.  Both are designed to fit comfortably in the hand with the dumbbell leading a bit in this category due to the availability of the contoured handle.  It's a bit more ergonomic and can reduce hand/grip fatigue with prolonged use.

Since developing grip strength and endurance in the grip are part of the goal, we don't see contoured handles as a huge winner but it's something to make note of.

The kettlebell has a leg up on the dumbbell with it's wider handle, though.  Movements like the two hand kettlebell high pull or two handed kettlebell swing are popular movements that are hard to mimic with the dumbbell because of the shorter handle the dumbbell has.

Floor Friendly - We've got to tip the scale in the dumbbell direction for this category.  No matter what the weight, dropping from too high and you've got some dancing to do to avoid getting bitten, but the Rubber Hex Dumbbell can make minor collisions more friendly for your floors, knees or whatever else might be in the path.

Smooth Grip versus Rough Grip - Most dumbbells have a chrome plated steel handle with light to moderate knurling to enhance their 'grip-ability.'  Since many of the movements are virtually static the chrome is an adequate choice.  Some manufacturers are also adding rubber coatings or rings to make the grip a bit more 'sticky'.

The kettlebell wins in the grip category in our book due to it's textured yet smooth handle.  With just enough variation in the surface of the handle due to the casting process, the kettlebell handle can make the athlete feel much more confident in their grip.  And that edge the kettlebell has in the grip category is all part of the design due to some of the movements that the kettlebell offers.

Balance - Let us start off by saying that perfect balance isn't always your best friend.  Let's take a look at the plank push up for just a moment.  With both hands firmly on a level floor, the movement is  fairly isolated.  Place each of your hands on a medicine ball or slam ball and we've got a whole new ball game.  Instability in the movement recruits a bunch more muscle and forces even more concentration.  That's a good thing.

Due to the shorter handle and overall design of the dumbbell, it's only possible to grip it one way - dead center.   That means every time you pick it up it will feel balanced in your hand and no matter where you are moving it, that center of balance stays consistent to your hand.

The balance of a kettlebell, however, is completely different from that of the dumbbell and that's pretty evident from first glance.  Not only is it shaped and weighted differently, but the horseshoe shaped handle gives you a bunch of options on where to place your hand[s] when you pick it up.  That, in itself changes the balance and feel of the weight as you push, pull or swing.

And that variation in grip can change up the intensity of an exercise that will force more muscle to get involved as well as require your undivided attention when working through the movement.

Challenge:  Here's a quick exercise to try even a few reps on that will point out the balance differences between these two great tools immediately.  Work through a few reps of the one arm shoulder press.  The first round with a dumbbell, round two with a kettlebell [positioned like the picture to the left], then round three with the bottom of the kettlebell pointed up.

Versatility - This is big in our book.  We're not big believers in single use equipment unless it's stellar at what it does [like the jump rope or the Concept 2 Rower].  If you only have one use for a piece of equipment you've invested in, it might not get as much attention Day 30 as it did during the first week.  Versatility ranks high in keeping us moving forward with our fitness goals.

The great news is that both the dumbbell and the kettlebell rank really high in this category.  Both of these tools have a wide variety of exercises that they bring to the table because they can be moved to most anywhere on the body - the hip, the shoulder and overhead.   We spelled out nineteen different ways to use the kettlebell in an earlier article and that's just scratching the surface.  The dumbbell doesn't trail that far behind but our vote leans toward the kettlebell here.

Switch It Up -  The kettlebell has some really interesting and challenging movements that just can't be copied with the dumbbell.  Exercises like the figure eight and the single arm passing swing rely upon the balance, shape and larger handle of the kettlebell for success.  That larger horseshoe shaped, textured handle makes changing hands mid movement a fun way to move the weight.

Neither choice is wrong, but we tend to favor the kettlebell versus the dumbbell as it stands out in many of the above categories.  And one of the ways we love to get in a great workout with any equipment that is always changing is with the deck of cards.  Assign one movement to each suit - kettlebell swings, pushups, kettlebell goblet squats, kettlebell kayaks, sit ups, lunges...  Each face card counts as ten, Aces can be one or eleven [or even 10 of each].  And keep the jokers in as 30 second rest cards if you like.  Shuffle the cards then draw them one at a time, completing all the reps before drawing the next card.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Garage Gym Workouts - Day Five

Warm Up:

Choose One:

1 Mile Run
5 Rounds of:
5 - Ring Pull Up
10 - Push Up
15 - Squat

If you've got the weather for it, get outside and run today.  It's a great change of pace from moving weight around and it's a great warmup too.  Run at about 60%-70%.  If you can't get outside or on a treadmill, then run through the 5-10-15 Warmup.


10 x Wall Walk

With today's wall walks focus on quality rather than speed.  Performing 10 of them consecutively is challenging so rather than let your form suffer by working when over fatigued, take three breaths at the top and at the bottom of the movement.

It's important as well to get your chest right up close to the wall and to maintain a good vertical position.  Take a quick video of yourself performing these movements and see how you do.


12 Minutes of:

10 x Gymnastics Ring Row
30 x Single or Double Under

A few notes on today's programming.  Gymnastics Rings are one of those great tools that scales to any level athlete easily.  To make the ring row more challenging, raise your feet up off the ground on a chair, plyo box or stack of bumper plates.  To decrease the difficulty, keep your feet on the ground and raise the rings higher.  The Gymnastics Ring Row is an exercise that looks deceivingly simple but to get the most out of the exercise, be sure to touch your wrists to your chest on each rep.  As you fatigue this will become more and more difficult to do.  Rest as needed and count only those reps where your wrists touch your chest.

The Double Under can be one of those elusive skills and if it's not in your wheelhouse yet, have a look on our tips for success at the double under here.  Unless you are reasonably proficient, work the single under today and keep in mind that the movement and effort between the single and double under is very similar.

If you are just joining us, jump back to Day One of our Garage Gym workouts here.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Garage Gym Workouts - Day Four

Training Day Four:

Warm Up:

Work Steadily for 5 Minutes through rounds of:

10 x Jumping Jack
10 x Jump Squat
10 x Situp

The Jump Squat has the same movement as the Air Squat with a jump up in the air at the top of the movement.

Today, set the timer to countdown from 5:00 and work steadily but not speedily though as many rounds of the warm up as you can while maintaining efficient movement.  The warm up is meant to get you prepared and shouldn't leave you completely spent, gasping for air so partition accordingly.

Then Rest 3-4 Minutes and:

Set your timer for a 1:00 minute countdown and at :30 seconds left perform a

Gymnastics Rings Static Hold

Set the gymnastics rings up as you would for a ring dip, leaving enough clearance on the ground so that from the top of the dip position, you can extend your legs fully without touching the floor.  When the timer reaches :30 sec left, jump up into the top of the ring dip position and hold.  Repeat for 5 Rounds, resetting the timer to countdown from 1 minute each round.  If you are unable to hold for :30 seconds, scale to :25, :20 or less.  Keep the rings parallel with your body and in line with your hips.

Then rest 3-4 Minutes and:

20 Minute AMRAP

10 Front Rack Kettlebell Lunge [5 on each side]
10 Knees to Elbows [on Gymnastics Rings]
10 Push Ups

Record your results and partial rounds count.  For example, 9 rounds plus all the Lunges and 3 Knees to Elbows would be recorded as 9+13

A Quick Note to Make Your Sit-ups Even More Effective:

The Sit-up is one of those movements that is widely known and programmed.  With it's popularity and practice, there are more than a few variations and opinions on what constitutes a proper and effective sit-up.  We've got a few tricks to make the best use of your time with this movement.

  • Using the Abmat - Although not essential but very popular as an accessory for sit-ups is the Abmat.  When used properly, the abmat fulfills its design and purpose which is to enhance and accentuate the sit-up movement.  We can circumvent that purpose if we sit on the mat rather than placing it behind us.  If too much of our butt ends up on top of the Abmat, it can act more as a fulcrum to actually make the sit-up movement easier and less demanding on our core.  Instead, move it back an inch or two and see what happens to the exercise.  There you go.
  • What To Do With The Hands - Admittedly, when fatigue sets in with any movement, my body naturally thinks of ways to make what I'm doing easier.  And easier isn't normally effective or safe.  While knocking out an unusually long set of sit-ups or performing them while fatigued, I can tend to use my arms to build momentum by touching the floor behind my head then throwing them up toward my knees.  Although it's effective at speeding up the movement, it tends to take the stress off of my core where I really want it.  So, one variation I use is to keep my hands together just under my chin throughout the movement [and holding a kettlebell works great too and adds resistance].  Or another method I've done is to spread my knees apart by placing the bottoms of my feet together then work through the movement while keeping my arms extended out in front during the entire range of motion.  And I touch my toes at the top of each rep.
Keep up the great work and stay with us all month long.  We've got some really interesting movements coming up that can keep you mentally engaged while training.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Garage Gym Workouts - Day Three

Training Day Three:

Warm Up:

Work through this warm up for 2 Rounds.  Work efficiently and not for speed but for solid, flawless technique.  Then take a 3-4 minute break before moving on to today's training.

1 Minute Jump Rope work
1 Minute Max Sit Up
1 Minute Max Air Squat

Every Minute On the Minute [EMOM] for 12 minutes of:

5 x Kettlebell Thruster Left Hand
5 x Kettlebell Thruster Right Hand

Perform all 10 reps on the minute every minute and work with a kettlebell weight that will leave you about 30 seconds of rest left on the timer.

As in the Kettlebell Push Press from Day One, fatigue will bring about the lifting of the heels off the ground as the weight is moved overhead.  Concentrate on minimizing this in the later rounds.

So, we're super glad to have you back for Day Three in our Month Long Garage Gym Workout Series.  By now, if you haven't been at it for a while or perhaps haven't been pushing this hard, you are experiencing some muscle soreness.  It's completely normal to feel some stiffness and muscle aches.  We offer some advice on how to deal with that below.

If you are just joining us, feel free to jump in or start with Day One in our series.  We promise to keep throwing some great workouts at you all month long and you'll only need a few tools to join in [we spell that out what you'll need on Day Two].

And as promised, we will be providing useful info on a variety of fitness topics throughout the month that will help you to become an even better athlete.  To start, we saw that Men's Fitness posted an interesting article on recovering from muscle soreness.  We all deal with that from time to time.  It's part of our growth as athletes.  You can have a look at the entire article here.  But we'll sum it up below as well as add our advice, too.

How To Combat Muscle Soreness
  • You Gotta Move - avoiding further exercise to rest your tired, sore muscles is not always the best answer.  Note: we're talking about muscle soreness rather than injury.  Training with injuries only prolongs the healing process.  But you are bound to have some soreness with training which will lessen with time and consistency.  We've found that sore muscles feel much better once they are warmed up. That first squat or push up the day after can feel a little stiff but after a few minutes working through a warm up similar to the one we've posted above, you'll feel much better.
  • Tart Cherry Juice - Men's Fitness suggested a little tart cherry juice in your post-workout drink.  It is believed to contain anti-inflammatories that can help ease soreness.  Here's an interesting read on the benefits of tart cherry juice.
  • Start with Starbucks - Ann Kulze, MD and author of the Eat Right for Life series says that drinking coffee before your workout can reduce muscle soreness and fatigue by as much as half.  There are studies on it here.  Cool.  Ann is my new best friend.  [Like I needed an excuse for Starbucks??]
  • Ice It Up - If you've got a particularly stiff area, Men's Fitness found that icing it is an even better solution to the hot bath.  They suggested a bag of crushed ice wrapped in a towel.  If you don't have crushed ice on hand, grab a bag of frozen veggies [like peas] and use that.
  • Medicinals - The Arnica Plant was found to help reduce muscle aches and pains too and it can be found in gels or creams.  I've been a firm believer [and practicer] in using Fish Oil to help with muscle soreness and joint mobility.  A pill a day at bedtime has kept me feeling great.
  • Deep Tissue Massage - Winner, winner, chicken dinner.  Yep, sign me up for a few of these a week.
Have any friends signed up with you for our series yet?  It's always better with two.  Get a neighbor or a friend at work to join in and keep each other motivated.  We'll keep posting workouts and advice every weekday on our Facebook page so jump on there, Like Us and share!

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Garage Gym Workouts - Day Two

Training Day Two:

Warm Up:

Work through this warm up for 4 Rounds.  Do not turn on your timer.  Work slowly but efficiently.  Then take a 3-4 minute break before moving on to the AMRAP.

10 x Air Squat
10 x Push Up
10 x Sit Up
10 x Jumping Jack

Complete As Many Rounds As Possible [AMRAP] in 20 minutes of:

10 x 2 Hand Kettlebell Swing [W-35lb/M-53lb]
  5 x Gymnastics Ring Dip
10 x Burpee

Welcome back to Day Two in our Month Long Garage Gym Workout Series where we will show you the amazing versatility and effectiveness even a few equipment pieces can have on your overall fitness.  And you can perform any of these movements right at home.

If you are just joining us, thanks!  For best results, start at Day One and remember to record your results either in the comments section at the bottom of our post or in your own book.  Recording your results [partial rounds count, too] is critical to the series so keep track.

In our series we will work with the following:
  • Kettlebells - ideally, three different size work best but even with as few as one you can still participate.  We suggest that if you want to start with only one kettlebell, make it a size that you can comfortably lift over your head for 10-15 reps.  Here's a guide on selecting which size kettlebell is best for you if you want some help there.
  • Gymnastics Rings - also topping our list for versatility and their unique scalability [everyone can use them] are our wood gymnastics rings (our plastic gym rings are great too).  If you are in need of a hanger system to get them installed in your garage or basement, our ring hanger does a great job.
  • Resistance Bands [we'll use the Red and Blue only] - most often thought of for the assistance they can provide in the pull up, we'll show you some of the more uncommon but amazingly effective ways to use resistance bands to push yourself to the max.  Here's our selection of resistance bands if you need one or two.
  • Jump Rope - most importantly when selecting a jump rope is to get one that is adjustable and size it to your height.  When it's properly sized you should be able to step on it with one foot and bring both handles together to just above your sternum.  We've found too that the super thin cables, although very fast, are not the best choice for the beginner and intermediate level jumper as it can be difficult to generate momentum on the rope.  Our thicker cable on the Club Jump Rope is easier to 'feel' during the workout.
A followup note on the timing sequences we will use:  As we discussed before, we will be working mainly with AMRAPs, Ladders, and EMOMs [see previous post for an explanation of each].  We will specifically stay away from definitive workouts such as the 21-15-9, Rounds for Time [RFT] or Chipper Style workouts in this month's series.

The main reason for avoiding these types of workouts is that although they are incredibly good at building mental endurance and toughness, they can sometimes push us out of our effective working capacities if the volume of work is too great.  It is important during the entire series to work hard without sacrificing form.  It is when our body begins to fatigue that we will naturally want to take shortcuts in the movements.  Those shortcuts are what can bring about injury so fight against them.  

Long "Chipper" style workouts or those often repeated workouts can tend to put our focus in different areas that we want you to start with [ie, increased focus on beating the last effort].  So, for example, instead of forcing through today's ring dips with form that might be questionable, instead, hop off the rings when you are too fatigued to complete good, clean full range of motion reps.  While off, take three good breaths then hop back on and keep going.  It is far better to take three breaths and return to good form than to storm through with technique that may lead to injury or that may border on an incomplete rep.

At the end of the day we are all after improvement and not just a score.  If you stay true to form and work hard, you will avoid injury and come back to fight the next day.  And that's what it's all about.

In our Garage Gym Workout Series, we'll be posting tidbits and advice on a wide range of hot topics including How To Combat Muscle Soreness which is coming in Training Day Three's post.  So stay tuned and stay with us this month.

Need some motivation to continue on?  Grab a friend, co-worker, or neighbor to join in with you and keep each other accountable.  We will be posting our series on our Facebook page each training day so feel free to jump on there and share it with someone that you want to see join in.  Remember to record your results as they are super important to your success.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Garage Gym Workouts - Day One

If you are not sure where to start when it comes to strength and conditioning training at home, get in on our free at home training series.  Our series will focus on some of the most simple movements with equipment that doesn't take up a lot of room in your home and can be used in many different ways.

We'll post a free workout every weekday for a month with links to each successive day.  Start on Day One and work in order.  It's important that you record your results either in the comments section below or at home.  You'll get weekends off to rest and recover and if you want to take Wednesdays off as well that's fine.  Don't work more than five days in one week though.

We'll use three major timing sequences.  The first time we introduce them, we'll explain how they work and how to set them up.  They are extremely effective but also very easy to program so no worries if you don't have a programmable wall timer.  You can use the timer on your phone easily enough or any clock with a second hand works too.

Here are the timing sequences we'll use at random in our at home strength training series:

  • AMRAP - As Many Rounds As Possible.  You'll start with a set time to work with - most normally it will be 20 minutes.  We'll give you a three to four exercise workout that can easily be completed in a minute or two.  The idea here is to keep repeating the workout until time expires.  Keep track of your rounds and remember to record your results. [Partial rounds count!]
  • LADDER - With a continuously running clock, perform one repetition of the listed movement in minute one, two reps in minute two, three reps in minute three and so on until you either cannot complete the reps in the minute or you complete twenty reps in the twentieth minute.
  • EMOM - Every Minute On the Minute.  We'll give you a workout with a small number of reps that can be completed in about 20-30 seconds.  With a continuously running clock, perform the workout on minute one and rest the remainder of that minute.  When minute two comes up, cycle through the workout again and rest the remainder until minute three comes up.  At the top of every minute, complete the workout.

We'll also limit the number of pieces of equipment you'll need.  That makes everything easy to get out and put away when needed.  And outfitted even with these few tools we'll show you how to get incredibly fit.

Here's what you'll need:

  • Kettlebells - ideally, up to three sizes is the best but even with one you can do great things.  We suggest ladies start with the 26lb kettlebell and guys with the 35lb kettlebell.  Here's a guide to selecting the right size kettlebell for you.
  • Gymnastics Rings - coming in at one of the most versatile training tools ever invented, rings are on top of our list.  No worries if you haven't worked with them before.  We promise that even a first time user will be able to go through the exercises we'll list.  Here's some advice on how to hang your gymnastics rings if needed.
  • A Fitted Jump Rope - note that we said 'fitted'.  It's important to size the jump rope to your height and style.  Too long and your speed suffers.  Too short and the rope will trip up on your feet.  No worries though, we'll show you how to fit the rope to your height right here.

Training Day One:

Complete as many rounds as possible [AMRAP] in 20 minutes of:

10 x Goblet Squat [W-26lb M-35lb]
10 x Kettlebell Push Press [W-26lb M-35lb]
10 x Plank Pushup

The Goblet Squat is an amazingly effective way to add weight to the Bodyweight Squat or Air Squat and in many cases, holding that weight in front of your chest can actually improve your form.

The Kettlebell Push Press is a shoulder to overhead movement with the kettlebell in which a slight dip and flexion in the hips and knees is allowed to build momentum to get the kettlebell overhead.  It is natural for fatigue to bring about lifting the heels off the ground.  If you find your form starting to slip, stop, take three breaths and start again.

As with everything in our strength training series, we are much more focused on quality rather than quantity.  Good form, proper depth and controlled movements trump speed every time.

Don't forget to record your results.  We will be referring to them in the future.