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Vertical/horizontal shape up – 9 weeks

This is the third post I write about my current workout, see the first and the second post for more background information. I’m writing this post because I want to say that the fifty pull-ups program is more or less impossible to finish on time, but also because I want to give you a general update on how things are going. I’m going to separate the post into a vertical and a horizontal plane, just like I did last time.

Vertical plane

The exercises here have stayed more or less the same since last time, meaning that I still try to follow the fifty pull-ups program as best I can. I have stepped back a week or two in order to stop doing the exercises too quickly and that feels quite good. That means that I’m actually at the same level as I was five weeks ago, with the “slight” difference that the form is a lot better throughout the entire routine.

When I started the program, I was more or less convinced that it was impossible to complete on time. It simply doesn’t make sense to be able to go from 15+ pull-ups to 50+ in just seven weeks. Still, I decided to try. I finished week five of seven with the slightest possible margin (meaning pretty lousy form on the last few reps of the heaviest sets). Week six was completely impossible and will probably remain so for quite a few weeks more. I went from 19 to 26 pull-ups in six weeks, which is quite good. Going from 15 to 50 in seven is just not even close to being realistic.

Current pull-up maximum: 26 (performed in week five of the exercise program)

The handstand push-ups have seen even bigger changes. Firstly, I decided to stop doing lots of them against a wall and start practising doing them free standing instead. This is of course a lot harder, so my current goal is doing five sets of three push-ups. I’ve never been close to finishing all five, but I have managed several of isolated sets with all three reps successfully carried out.

Current handstand push-up maximum (guess): 10/12 (over four sets)

Horizontal plane

In this plane, we have my old “favourites” planche and front lever. Planche is at the very top of my list of things that seem easy but are excruciatingly hard. Going through the various progressions, I think most people with some balance can manage the frog stance for one minute without practising too much. Moving on to the tucked planche, most people can’t even raise their legs off the ground. It has taken me roughly two years to achieve the advanced tucked planche I have now, which I haven’t timed, but should be well over 30 seconds with good form, perhaps even 40 if I’m well rested. Straddle planche now? Forget it. Full planche? Dream on.

Current planche status: 5 x 25 seconds advanced tuck

The front lever is a lot easier in many ways. It’s hard to measure improvement here, because I do this exercise in the same cycle as the pull-ups and they do really make use of similar muscle groups. I don’t think I’m that far away from being able to hold a full front lever for a few seconds. I think I simply need to focus more on this if I want to make quicker progress.

Stopping too early?

I’ve noticed an interesting phenomenon in the gym. Why is it that some people do exercises that are way too easy for them? I don’t mean to say that other people are weak and that they should exercise more, that’s up to them, but if they have decided to spend time in the gym, why don’t make the most of it? I’ve seen people do assisted chin-ups where they literally fly off the top. I think the problem is that they don’t know or don’t feel that they are doing the exercise at a level which is too easy for them. Using about 50% of maximum capacity is not a good idea if you want to get stronger (and no, these people are not doing tons of reps focusing on endurance).

Might I be guilty of the same thing? For pull-ups, most definitely not. I’m pretty sure that I’m within one or two reps of my absolute maximum at least twice a week, which might even be too much. But what about planche and front lever? I think there is a risk. Thus, I’m going to make an effort from now on to time myself more, to try to push myself to hold these positions for longer periods of time. I don’t think I’m anywhere near the 50% of maximum strength I talked about above, but even if I’m at 80%, there are still 10-15% more I should use.

More core!

Some more core components have sneaked their way into my current routine, albeit separated in time by around an hour or so. The above-mentioned exercises are performed before gymnastics practice twice a week, plus once during the weekend, but the following core exercises are performed after the gymnastics practice is over.

The exercises are quite simple: body lever, some back related exercise (usually skin the cat to inverted hang in rings) plus human flag. The body lever is quite cool and feels very much like the ultimate front core exercise. I do 3 sets of 10 reps now, but I think I might start adding weights shortly. I’m not that happy with the back exercises, mostly because I haven’t found a good exercise that will help the planche without using exactly the same muscles (which is too exhausting). Handstand to tucked planche might be a goo idea. Hopefully I will have something more to say about this next time. The human flag is progressing slowly (doing it on horizontal bars rather than a vertical). I can hold it 5-10 seconds on my good side on a good day, 3-5 on my bad.

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