Friday, October 23, 2015

How to Deal With Low Ceiling Height in the Basement Gym

For all the Garage Gym athletes out there, late fall can trigger the signal to move the gym space inside.  The Garage is a great place to train but the cold weather can really put a damper on motivation if you don't have a way to heat your space.

One of the biggest challenges in retreating to the basement is one of the most common setbacks that basements can bring - lower ceiling heights.  And really no matter how you slice it, minimized ceiling height can immediately rule out some of your favorite exercises like the ring muscle up and even some overhead barbell work.

Although there may be some exercises we just can't perform effectively, rather than be discouraged, now is the time to be inventive and resourceful.  The limited ceiling height can force us into re-thinking our training plan and with that comes some fresh ideas to re-ignite our passion for fitness.

They always say that necessity is the mother of invention and we'll offer up a few suggestions on movements that don't require a lot of overhead ceiling space but can still provide all the challenge you are after.

The Kettlebell [or Med Ball] Kayak - If the standard sit up movement has been dominating your programming, it's the perfect time to step things up.  Adding a kettlebell or medicine ball to your core work can quickly ramp up the challenge and the Kayak exercise is one of the best.  With your body in mid-sit up position and feet just off the ground, start with a kettlebell or medicine ball held at your mid-line and twist from left to right and back again.  Each full twist counts as one rep.  To make it easier, lighten the load or drop your feet to the ground.  No high ceilings needed here.

Floor Movements - The pushup is one of the most fundamental pressing exercises and by adding variation in either hand placement or foot position/height, you can crank up the challenge easily.  The next time you are knocking out a set of 20 or more, try moving your hand position to either side of your hips.  That lower hand position is a great change up.  And after you've changed hand position, raise your feet either on a stack of bumpers or a plyo box.

Renegade Row - Another fantastic spin on the pushup is the renegade row which can be done with either kettlebells or dumbbells.  Just as in the push up above, you can play around with hand position and foot height,but now at the top of the movement add a weighted row by lifting the kettlbell or dumbbell up to your side then lower to the starting position.  With every pushup rep, you switch sides.

Wall Walks and Handstand Pushups - If you've got enough room to stand with your hands outstretched above your head without touching your ceiling then you can incorporate wall walks and handstand pushups into your routine.  One warmup we use to do for a long time in the gym was a set of 10 wall walks.  They are deceivingly challenging and are great for increasing your ability at Handstand Pushups and Handstand Walks.  Start at the prone position [stomach side down] with your feet touching the wall behind you and your hands just under your shoulders, pick your body up into the push up position and walk your hands backward toward the wall behind you.  As your hands step backward, walk your feet up the wall.  Keep walking your hands back toward the wall and your feet skyward until your body is 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 it's time to incorporate Wall Runs.  From the top of the Wall Walk position before moving back to the prone position on the floor, 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.  It sounds simple but only with practice is it accomplished.  And once you've got 10-20 solid unwavering wall runs down, now walk your body laterally long the wall by moving your hands.  Still think you need a high ceiling to train hard?

Barbell Work - Here's a big one that can deflate any enthusiasm to move your training to a low ceiling space.  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 your daily training, remember that there are still quite a few movements that reach no higher than shoulder height.  That still leaves deadlifts, bent rows, good mornings, cleans, squat cleans, front squats, hack squats and back squats.  We just counted off eight movements you can still do even if you can't get the bar overhead.  That's no reason not to bring that bar down there with you.  And if you've got a flat bench handy, shoulder pressing from the seated position is brilliant at getting your overhead pressing movements super clean.  From standing, sometimes we allow our lower body into those pressing moves by bouncing at the knees or flexing at the ankles.  While seated, that assistance from our lower body is completely negated.  Cool.  Get a flat bench and give it a try.

Overhead Kettlebell Work - If you are still itching to get at movements like the snatch, jerk, overhead squat when the ceiling height is low, don't rule out kettlebell work. Assuming you can extend your arms 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 with the kettlebell held behind the ads as pictured left, it will never reach higher than your outstretched fist.  Overhead work with one or even two kettlebells [or dumbbells] can be incredibly challenging for even advanced level athletes.  You won't be missing the overhead barbell work at all with a few kettlebells in your arsenal.

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.

Ring Muscle Ups - Nothing can let 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 one of my favorite movements but without enough overhead clearance, it's challenging at best.  But just because we can't perform a kipping muscle up because of our low ceiling space 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, front and back levers and more.  And here's an often overlooked movement - the ring turn out.  From a supported position [pictured left], rotate your wrists from parallel with your hips to pointing in front of you.  Sounds easy but if you haven't tried it before, you might find it challenging.  And that ring turn out is going to build some super shoulder strength that will make a host of other gymnastics rings movements easier.

If attaching gymnastics rings to your basement ceiling has you scratching your head, our gymnastic ring hanger makes short work of getting that done.  You can have a look at it here.

Concept 2 Rowing - The winter season is one of the best times for an excuse to buy an indoor rowing machine.  Concept 2 manufactures a stellar indoor rower with a great performance monitor. that gives you tremendous feedback and can also motivate you to push on.  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 pick up your rower on craigslist, you don't need to be a registered Concept 2 owner to take advantage of that free online resource.

Even with a lower than ideal ceiling height, you can make the best of it.  And the added challenge it can sometimes bring helps us look for new movements to train.  Instead of seeing the lower ceiling height as a excuse, instead embrace it as an opportunity to vary your routine and bring a handful of new exercises into your wheelhouse.  You'll be glad you did.

We love it when people share our posts or give us "+1"s.  Like our posts?  Let us know.

Have other low ceiling height training ideas you want to share?  Let us know how you deal with low ceiling heights in your daily training.  Train hard, train often and train smart.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Hammerhead Gymnastics Ring Hanger

One of the first pieces of equipment that should grace any garage gym is a set of gymnastics rings.  We can't stress enough how much versatility, scalability and results you'll get from owning them.

And although you can hang your rings from a wall mounted or ceiling mounted pull up bar, you'll get the most out of them if you can hang them up high so that you can hang in a supported position with your head clearing the ceiling and your feet not touching the floor.

We introduced our gymnastics ring hanger back in 2012 because we knew our garage gymmers needed a safe, permanent solution to keep our gymnastics rings installed as high as their ceiling levels would allow to open up all the exercises that gymnastics rings have to offer.

Ideally, gymnastics rings should hang high enough that you can hang in a vertical supported position with your head clear of the ceiling and your feet off the ground.  That distance varies from athlete to athlete so here's a simple formula that works for everyone and all you need is a tape measure.

Stand against the wall with your hands comfortably at your sides and have a friend mark your height with a pencil on the wall.  Mark that point letter "A".  Then, with your hands at your side, point your fingers toward the floor and mark the point to the bottom of your fingers letter "B".

With these two measurements your ideal height for mounting gymnastics rings is "A" + the distance between "A" and "B".  Its an easy method to measure and it also includes a few extra inches just to be sure your head clears overhead.

If you've got that overhead clearance in your garage or basement then you've got all the space you'll need to open up all of the exercises that gymnastics rings have to offer.  But even if your ceiling falls a little short of that distance, hanging the rings on our ring hanger is still a great choice.

Regardless of your overall mounting height, hanging gymnastics rings safely is everyone's top priority.  If you've ever been cycling through a set of muscle ups or moving through an inverted hang, the security and stability of your ceiling attachment is paramount.

Here's what our Gymnastics Ring Hanger offers:  

Three Points of Protection - The more advanced your skills become, the position of your body relative to the floor gets more and more precarious.  Our ring hanger comes with [5] 1/2" thick by 4" long wood anchors.  We suggest a minimum of three be installed but give you the option of two more.  Front Levers, Back Levers, Skin the Cats and Inverted Hangs are certainly fun to practice and with our minimum three anchor points, you can continue to concentrate on your gains.  

Anchor Insertion Length - Most home construction is either 2x4 lumber for garages or 2x6 lumber for floor joists.  To provide for the strongest attachment to those studs, you want a lag screw in the middle of that stud and 3" deep.  Our 1/2" anchors measure 4" in length to allow for the extra 1" thickness of the bracket.  We also suggest you pre-drill the mounting holes with a 1/4" diameter bit to keep the stud from splitting.  1/2" diameter anchors are thick and that pre-drilled hole will allow you to [1] confirm that you've hit a stud and [2] make driving that anchor all the way home easier without sacrificing strength.  And here's a little gear tip - coat the threads of the anchor with bar soap and it will drive even easier into the pre-drilled hole.

Proper Ring Spacing - Our fully welded Ring Strap Brackets are properly spaced to keep your gymnastics rings the correct, comfortable distance apart and oriented parallel to your body.  Inadequate spacing - either too wide or too narrow - will cause an increasing amount of stress on your shoulders which can lead to injury as well as halt your progress toward some of the advance movements such as the muscle up.  the ideal spacing for rings is just about 20" apart for most athletes.

Rope Climb Attachment - Not long after we introduced our gymnastics ring hanger, it dawned on us that we could easily give our garage gym athletes even more for their money.  A few short months after we put our ring hanger into production we added a set of holes right in the middle of our bracket to allow a climbing rope attachment to be added.  So as your strength increases and your garage gym equipment list develops, you can add a climbing rope to our ring hanger at any time.  And you won't even have to take it down off your ceiling.  Our design allows you to install the climbing rope attachment even when the bracket is already anchored to the ceiling.

Gymnastics rings are not only fun to use and scalable to any level athlete, they're even more effective when hanging up high.  Browse our selection of gymnastics rings and hangers here.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Seven Great Kettlebell Exercises You Should be Doing

The Kettlebell Swing, although an extremely effective exercise, can be over-programmed.  So, if you find yourself reaching for the kettlebell for only the ever-popular swing, we're going to put seven more exercises in your grab bag in the next 6 minutes.

If you haven't heard us say it before, the kettlebell is easily in our top six list for equipment that brings great results, takes minimal to moderate skill to implement from day one, and is so versatile you can grab it every day for a month worth of training and not repeat an exercise.

Here's seven great exercises that are just a bit out of the mainstream but will keep your interest level peaked and your gains coming on.  Let's get at it...

  • Goblet Squat - One of the most effective exercises for any athlete is the squat.  It dials in at one of the most basic fundamental movements yet it is not easily mastered.  Proper depth and body position is critical to reap the most benefit so keep a careful eye on your form.  The Goblet Squat is the perfect adaptation to the "air" squat.  This movement is performed with both hands on the kettlebell and elbows down at the sides.  Keep the kettlebell 'locked' in place as you lower and raise your body in the squat.  The kettlebell brings a high level of intensity to this popular movement.  And it's easy to incorporate into your grab bag.
  • The Kettlebell Halo - A bit out of the norm, the kettlebell halo is one of those movements that is amazing for strength and flexibility in your shoulders yet does not require a heavy load.  While holding the kettlebell handle with both hands near where the handle meets the bell, move the kettlebell clockwise from the front rack position under the chin, around the head following your jaw line, then behind the head, and returning to just under the chin.  The key to keeping this exercise as effective as possible is to keep the head stationary and move the weight rather than your head.  After moving the kettlebell clockwise, reverse directions.  A lightweight kettlebell is all you need here to keep it effective.
  • Overhead Squat - Another variation on the squat that adds interest and intensity is the Overhead Kettlebell squat in which the kettlebell is held overhead with a straight arm as the body lowers into the squat and raises up again.  The kettlebell is held overhead and centerline to the body while moving throughout the range of motion of the squat.  Once you've got the single arm version mastered, try the double kettlebell Overhead Squat but keep the weight light at first.
  • Turkish Get Up - One of our all-time favorites, the Turkish Get Up requires quite a bit of practice to execute correctly.   The movement begins on your back, moves through arm-supported one leg kneel, deep lunge position, to standing, then returning to the deep lunge, the one-arm supported one leg kneel then finishing agin on the back.  All the while the kettlebell is kept overhead.  One of the keys to success in the Turkish Get Up is to always keep your eyes fixated on the kettlebell from ground to overhead and back down.
  • Figure Eight - I have yet to see this exercise inserted into mainstream programming yet it really is intense, and focuses well on the core.  From the top of the single arm deadlift position, the kettlebell is passed between the legs and caught from behind by your other hand.  Instead of immediately passing back through the legs again, the kettlebell now swings around the hip [right arm-right hip, left arm-left hip] to the front of the body as you stand fully upright.  While half-squatting, grab the kettlebell while it swings back between the legs with the opposite hand.  While standing, the opposite hand now swings the kettlebell around the hip to the front of the body, ready to be caught again on the swing back between the legs.  The path of the kettlebell forms a figure eight and thus the name.  If this exercise proves a little too daunting at first, simply forego the pass between the legs and pass instead in front and behind.
  • Russian Twists - From the top of the sit up position, place a moderate to lightweight kettlebell next to your hip.  Grab with both hands and move the kettlebell from one side to the next, touching the ground only briefly.  To enhance the difficulty, keep the feet up off the ground the entire time.  To lessen the difficulty, keep the legs flat on the ground and extended in a vee.
  • The Kettlebell Windmill - done with either one or two kettlebells, one kettlebell is held overhead and the other at the hip.  While keeping the overhead arm locked and upright, move the opposite arm slowly and deliberately down the same side leg [left arm-left leg] all the while keeping your eyes fixed on the kettlebell which is overhead.
One of the biggest keys to consistently training is to add variety and interest to your programming.  The kettlebell is one of those versatile tools that can really keep you from boredom if you let it.  The kettlebell swing is a perfect exercise and should definitely be in your monthly or weekly mix, but adding these seven exercises above will help you get even more out of your training and your investment.  The kettlebell ranks a close #1 in our book for all the versatility it brings.  If your home gym is lacking in the kettlebell department, stop in and see us for some great deals on this great tool.

Have another great use for the kettlebell you'd like to tell us about?  Chime in and share.