Workout – July 2002
See May 2008 page for an update

My workout this month is designed to eliminate back pain and back injury which are always a risk when I indulge myself in my main un-Paleo weakness: competitive sweep-oared rowing.

In masters rowing (masters are rowers at least 27 years old), the regattas are raced over 1,000m, taking about 3:10 for an eight and 3:30 in a coxed four.  The Olympics and world championships are raced over 2,000m and this makes them primarily an endurance event (for which muscular strength/power is also very important), whereas over 1,000m we have what is primarily a strength/power event (for which endurance is very important).

In rowing, most of the power comes from the legs and is transferred through the body core, back and arms to the oar.  So, my training is designed to

•  build leg strength

•  strengthen the back, abs and body core (and keep them injury free)

•  strengthen the arms and grip.

Leg strength
For leg strength I am doing dead lifts and squats.  In my deadlifts (after a warm-up – which I get by cycling to the gym and doing a couple of lifts as I add each pair of plates to the bar), I do 3 singles at 230% of my body weight.  This is my max.  I then warm down with 2 or 3 sets of five fast reps at 200% body weight.  For deadlift advice see Pavel Tsatsouline’s book Power to the People.  For each of these deadlifts I use a trap bar and I drop the weights after each lift.  I lower the bar only when lifting 150% body weight or less.

I have not squatted for a year and was surprised to discover how much conditioning I’d lost for this exercise and how much muscular soreness my return to squats produced – even though I have been deadlifting weekly without soreness.  My squats are 2 – 3 sets of five reps at 150% body weight now and I’ll take the weight up from there, warming down with fast reps of lower weight and deeper squats.

Both these exercises call on the stabilizers and the body core, which is why I prefer them over any leg press machine.  If I were younger and better coordinated I’d do cleans and clean-and-press – magnificent exercises to watch and highly effective as training for rowing.

Because of the stress these two exercises put on the hamstrings, I give my hammies a good stretch after each workout.  Two to four minutes continuous, twice with each leg.  Not 20 seconds as is normal gym advice.

Back, abs and body core
I am not doing anything specifically for the lower back.  It comes along for the ride with my legs workout and also when I exercise my abs and arms.

For the abs, I have a lot of fun and have gone beyond Art de Vany’s recommendations in terms of intensity.  This gives me a muscular lower abdomen which, despite the six-pack definition, protrudes more than the most aesthetic.  But abs are fun the way I do them: keep the reps down and the variety up – the Paleo prescription.  100 crunches is distinctly un-Paleo – very industrial, mechanistic and Taylorist.  I keep the reps down to ten for most exercises and accumulate reps by working my way through a battery of routines in between the other exercises in my workout: legs / abs / shoulders / abs / core / abs / arms / abs etc.

Abs exercise 1 – Swinging pull-ups – A great one for rowing.  Grasp the chin-up bar with a hand either side of the bar so you are looking along the bar as you hang.  Holding your body straight, swing your feet forward and pull your chest up to the bar at the same time.  Tap your toes against the far end of the bar while your body is up there, rigid and horizontal.  Hold it for a fraction of a second, lower in a controlled but not slow motion.  Repeat 10 times.  It’s a satisfying full-body movement.  10 reps.

Abs exercise 2 – Dragon Flag – Another of Pavel’s exercises; this one he borrowed from Bruce Lee.  Lie on your back on a chest press bench, so your butt is over the edge and your head and shoulders are flat on the padding.  You are looking up at the ceiling.  Grip the bench firmly each side, just beside the top of your head.  Now, extend your legs out so your body is straight or with a slight downward curve.  Holding the body rigid and pivoting on your shoulders, raise your rigid body through 90 degrees from the horizontal to the vertical, so you are looking along your straight body and legs, past your feet to the ceiling.  Lower steadily; not too fast or you’ll have trouble bracing yourself when you reach the bottom.  10 reps.  This is an easy exercise to work up to: omit the raising of the body and perform only the lowering phase.

Above January 2003 Above 15 January 2009
Above January 2003 Above 15 January 2009

Abs exercise 3 – Foot to wall twisting crunches – Lie on your back on a gym mat with your feet about 30-50cm from the floor and your legs bent at right angles.  Lift one foot off the wall and extend it out straight up the wall.  Apply traction against the wall with the other foot then, with your hands gently against the side of your head, come up with a twist, pushing your elbow toward the opposite, bent, knee.  30 reps and then repeat with the other side.

Abs exercise 4 – Medicine ball between knees – Back to the press bench.  Place a bar on the rack and sit where your head would be in a bench press, with your back to the bench.  Grip a medicine ball between your knees, hold onto the bench behind your body with your hands and have your upper back touching the bar.  Touching your back to the bar keeps the pressure on the abs and prevents you from developing a (less effective) swing.  Lift the ball up toward your chest, then lower it, touching your feet to the floor before the next lift.  The medicine balls in my gym go up to only 12.5kg, so I do 40 reps.  My preference would be to use a heavier ball with fewer reps.

Abs exercise 5 – Hanging tucks – Hang from the chin-up bar, facing out, that is, with your back to the wall.  You have positioned a Swiss ball between your lower back and the wall.  Bring your knees up as far as you can then straighten your legs so they are horizontal.  Pick a point in the distance to mark against the height of your feet so they don’t fall as the reps accumulate.  Bend then straighten your legs fairly rapidly.  This is an exercise for the Psoas muscles as well as the abs.  30 reps now, but I’ll graduate to holding a light medicine ball between my feet and doing fewer reps.

Abs exercise 6 – Huw’s pike – using a dip stand with the padded arm rests, raise your legs together, up from hanging down vertically through as much of 180 degrees as possible.  As you get to the top of the swing, lift your butt as high as you can, thinking of touching your toes to the ceiling.  7 reps.  Build up by lifting the butt higher and extending the toes up as high as you can.

Abs exercise 7 – Hanging crunches -  I haven’t got a pair of gravity boots, so I lie on the floor under the bar of the Smith machine, hook the padded front of my gym shoes over the bar and, with straight legs and hands on my chest, lift my body up off the floor into a crunch.  20 reps at the moment. I have used a 10kg plate on my chest, but the padding on my shoes is not thick enough to make a greater weight feasible.

Abs exercise 8 – Raise body on fingers – Sitting on the floor, feet out in front of you, hands by your sides, lift your body off the floor on your finger tips, holding a right angle at the hips.  Hold for 10, then 20, then 30 seconds.

Body core exercises
I do a number of these, but two are central: Russian Full Contact Twists and Max Cable Pulls.

The Russian Full Contact Twists are another of Pavel’s. Place one end of an Olympic bar in the corner of the room (against some protection like a folded towel, thick rubber floor covering etc.). Load a plate onto the other end, face into the corner and lift the loaded end of the bar up above your head.  Lean your body in to the corner. Swiveling on the balls of your feet, swing the end of the bar down so the plate or the bar touches your thigh, then swing it up and over, down to the opposite thigh. Build up to ten reps and then increase the weight so that five is your max. For a warm down, halve the weight and do 20 reps as fast as you can. A swing from left to right and back again counts - for me - as a single rep.

Pictures taken June 2003

Picture taken 15 January 2009 (Age 60)

Max Cable Pulls are a contrast to the usual gentle use of the cable pull machine. Load the stack at one end of the machine with a reasonably heavy weight. Attach the handle to the cable coming through the top pulley. Stand side on to the stack, legs apart. Pull mightily on the handle with both hands so it travels from above your head over, say, your left side across your body and right down to the floor in front of the right foot. Then back – quickly, but in control. 5 – 10 reps, building up the weight rather than the reps.

There you have the exercises. My visits to the gym last 45 – 75 minutes, the shorter ones when I’m doing deads and squats, the longer ones when I’m going through the abs routine. The deads, squats, Max Cable Pulls and Full Contact Twists each once a week. A selection from the abs exercises every gym visit, but because I’m preparing for rowing, I do Swinging Pull-ups every gym visit.

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Page updated 28 February 2009