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Handstand push-up

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Four weeks ago, I wrote a post (read it here) describing two new physical challenges that I would undertake, both related to vertical pulls and presses, namely handstand push-ups and ordinary pull/chin-ups. I also said that I would report regularly, and seeing that exactly four weeks has passed, this seems to be as good an opportunity as any.

Adding a horizontal component to the same workout

Over the past four weeks, a steady exercise routine has been established, which is performed three times a week (twice before ordinary gymnastics practice and once before diving on weekends). I do the following four exercises in the following order.

  1. Planche
  2. Front-lever
  3. Handstand push-ups (HSPU)
  4. Pull/chin-ups

The first two should be familiar to anyone who has read anything about what I practice during the past three years or so, but I still have quite some way to go before achieving planche, but a significantly shorter time before I get the front-lever. I’m currently focusing more on form for the planche, meaning that I’m doing five sets of 15-20 seconds with what I consider to be almost perfect form. When I have increased this to around 25 seconds, I will start moving out into straddle planche, which still seems a long way away.

Building strength in the vertical plane

I started out four weeks ago with a maximum of 19 consecutive pull-ups and 14 consecutive handstand push-ups. I have followed the exercise program over at 50 pull-ups, both for pull/chin-ups and HSPU, starting from level 5 for chins and level 4 for HSPU. In general, things are going quite well, or at least better than I thought it would. Let’s look at chin-ups first. Considering that my maximum before starting was 19 and what week four looked like, I’m quite satisfied. This is what the progress looks like so far:


Green crosses for completed sets.

Starting with week number four, I have doubted that I will be able to finish one or more sets on any given day, but so far I’ve been able to do the required number of repetitions. Week 5 looks quite daunting, with starting repetitions of 22, 24 and 26 respectively. That means personal records three times in one week with a considerable number of reps to do after that. It’s doable, I think, but not easy. It’s interesting to note that from now on, the strain keeps increasing on the first set, but is actually reduced on the middle three. It’s usually a very demanding first set, then relaxing for three sets and then maxing. I have no idea if this works, but we’ll soon see.

What about the handstands push-ups, then? Admittedly, starting from week 4 for HSPU has been quite easy and I have never been close to failing any set during these four weeks. However, I haven’t jumped ahead in the program simply because I know the perils of advancing too fast with heavy handstand workout. It’s worth to take a few extra weeks to be on the safe side. This is what it currently looks like:


Green crosses for completed sets.

Some final remarks

The best thing with all this is that I feel that the combination of vertical and horizontal components cover almost everything except leg strength. These four exercises are very efficient and can be done four five sets each in less that forty minutes. I feel that the only thing I need strength-wise apart from this is some leg workout and perhaps some extra core, but that’s about it. Managing all the strength training I crave in one program done three times a week. Actually, it feels great!

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Vertical shape up

I haven’t written anything about practice/exercise recently (in fact, I haven’t written much of anything, but lets ignore that for now). Last time I mentioned anything about this was probably last autumn when I posted a list of dreams and ambitions, some of them loftier than others. I have been working on some of those ever since, but over the last few years, I’ve focused more on exercises in the horizontal plane, mainly planche and front lever progressions. As the title of this post implies, I intend to add focus to the vertical plane (e.g.. pull-ups and handstand push-ups), hopefully without losing too much focus on the horizontal plane.

I like combining exercises that are each other’s opposites, such as the pair front lever/planche and, as in this case, pull-ups and handstand push-ups. They are more or less the same motions, but performed in opposite directions and thus using antagonistic muscles. In this quest for vertical fitness, I’m going to use a two-pronged attack, using two of the programs that seem to be all the rage these days. Let’s look at pull-ups first.

Vertical pull – The 50 pull-ups program

This all started with a friend of mine showing a program where they claim that you can reach 50 pull-ups in only seven weeks. I said something like “no way, José” and simply dismissed this as silly. Of course, these seven weeks requires you to be able to do 15 pull-ups even before starting, but since I was quite sure that I could do that, I thought it was utter nonsense to think that I could reach fifty within two months. I still think it’s impossible, but even if I fail, it will still be some good workout.

Benchmark: Earlier this evening, I performed 19 consecutive pull-ups with good form and without kipping/bouncing. This means that I start in the most advanced category of the program. I performed the first session the same day as I performed the benchmark, but found it very hard to complete the last few reps.

Vertical press – The 50 handstand push-ups program

The loyal reader will know that I have attempted this before, but that I failed utterly for various reasons (I hurt my back the first or perhaps the second week). Before, I used the 100 push-ups program, which made no sense at all because ordinary push-ups are so much easier than the handstand version that most people can develop really fast. This time I’m going to be a lot more careful. I figure that pull-ups and handstand push-ups are roughly equally tough exercises, so a progression that works for one shouldn’t be completely off for the other. Therefore, I’m going to follow the same program for sets and reps for the handstand push-ups as for the pull-up

Benchmark: Apart from the pull-up benchmark, I also performed the handstand push-up benchmark (about three hours later after ordinary gymnastics practice, for future reference). I did 14 consecutive handstand push-ups with good form, of course against a wall. After that, form collapsed and I wasn’t strong enough to go on, although I think I have more arm/shoulder strength left. 14 is not enough to place me in the most advanced category, so I’m starting from level four, which is probably just about right.

Progress

I will report occasionally, but I won’t promise when or with what intervals. I will simply write when I think something interesting happens or I feel that I have something I want to write about. Perhaps I’ll write more on Facebook for those that are really interested, but since I think no one really cares that much, I won’t spam my website with progress reports to avoid wasting both my time as well as yours, dear reader. Feel free to cheer me on, though,  or ask how things are going, because that always helps!

Update: I realised that using the 100 push-ups program is just stupid. Why not use the sets and reps from the pull-up program instead? Two roughly equally demanding exercises should be able to develop roughly at the same pace, although from different starting points.

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A couple of weeks ago I finished the second steady state cycle (read more here if you don’t know what a steady state cycle is) and thus the time has come both to evaluate the results from that cycle, as well as introduce the next cycle. First, let us have a look at the exercises from the second cycle, which can be found is this document.

Evaluation of the second cycle

I’ve made significant progress with these exercises, moving from an average performance of 1.5/5 (meaning that I could finish around half of the exercises properly) to 3.5/5 (between “barely made it” and “very good”). Some exercises have seen little progress, such as planche and l-sit (no change at all and one point respectively). The performance of other exercises has changed drastically, most notably front lever (from 1/5 to 5/5) and headstand leg raises (from 1/5 to 4/5).

I also took the opportunity to do some benchmarking. There are two problems with these figures, and it’s very likely that they should be somewhat higher than shown above. Firstly, I had been ill for about a week before these exercises were tested and I had not recovered one hundred percent. Second, the weather here in Taiwan is getting hotter all the time, thus making it more and more demanding to do physical workout. As for the planche standstill, this might be explained by the fact that the form is gradually improving, resulting in a more demanding exercise and thus shorter times. Here are the numbers for this cycle (and the two cycles prior to this, within brackets):

Chin-ups: 21 (24, 16)
HS push-ups (wall)l: 13 (11, 5)
Adv. tuck front lever: 58 (51, N/A)
Adv. tuck planche: 36 (36, 24)
Handstand: 186 (N/A, N/A)
L-sit: 36 (N/A, N/A)
One-arm hang (right): 27 (N/A, N/A)
One-arm hang (left): 15 (N/A, N/A)

Presentation of the third cycle

As before, a detailed version of the program can be found here, along with notes I make continuously noting my progress over the weeks.

The third cycle will be similar to the second in many regards, mostly because I have the same goals as before. Planche and front lever proceeds according to plan, albeit very slowly to avoid injury. Chin-ups and and handstand push-ups look very much the same as before, but with increased difficulty and increased repetitions respectively. There is a greater focus on handstands, since I have added ten minutes of free handstands per week (accumulated time, usually in sets of one minute or something similar).

Regarding the legs/core section, things will change a bit more, even though the pistol remains the same (but with increased repetitions) as does the standing ab wheel, which I haven’t fully mastered yet. The two new exercises are the middle split hold, a progression towards the manna (which feels about one lifetime away) and wall climbs. These are here because I wanted to increase back flexibility and because I was bored with l-sit. I’m not sure if I like any of these exercises yet, but I should know in a couple of weeks.

In addition to this, I have added dynamic stretching to the leg/core sessions. Nothing fancy, but I want to start developing flexibility again and I feel that the time is now. I will also do static or isometric stretching in connection to the same sessions. I have also increased the dynamic stretching in the warm-up, which should at least maintain current flexibility in the upper body.

As I publish this, I have finished the first two weeks of the program and I can tell you it’s a lot harder than I thought. I’m considering backing down on the chins and some of the other exercises, perhaps going from five sets to three. It takes me ages to finish a complete session, not because I’m lazy, but simply because I need the rest.

A problem with efficiency

Although I’m in general very satisfied with my training right now, there is a specific problem that have grown inexorably all the time, namely that of efficiency. If I do my workout at home, there is a tendency to increase resting times, especially as the exercises grow harder and harder. Having a computer nearby makes it easy to procrastinate, which sometimes means that a session may take as long as two hours. It’s not the case that I rest too much between sets, but rather that I take too long breaks between completely different exercises.

I see three ways to get around this problem:

  1. I can simply disconnect from the Internet while studying, since this will enable me to do more useful things when resting (such as revising Chinese characters, an excellent choice because it works just fine even with intervals of just a few minutes.
  2. I can try to contract the entire session, leading to a much more demanding workout, perhaps too demanding.
  3. I can try to practice more outdoors, which means that there are less distractions and it’s easier too focus, but which is impractical if it rains heavily or it’s too hot.

Of these three solutions, I think the first one has by far the most potential. I don’t mind spending a long time on my sessions, but I hate wasting an entire evening without getting anything else done. Making sure I do something useful would remove the frustration, although the problem with protracted sessions would still remain.

Conclusion

Things are moving in the right direction, but somewhat slowly. I feel that I should focus more on exercises I enjoy, such as handstands. The good thing with having a wide variety of exercises is that there is always some area that develops rapidly, even if others might slow down temporarily. I feel that planche and front lever are moving very slowly, but that might also be an advantage and a way to avoid injury.

I have said it before, but I want to reiterate that this form of training program suits me very well. I think this is the first time in my life I’ve been able to stick to a fairly regular schedule for more than six months. I feel that I can keep on going like this for a very long time, because the separation into cycles makes it easier to verify progress and break the monotony that otherwise might creep in after a couple of months. If you haven’t already tried it out, do so!

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