Tools of the Trade

November 28, 2002 08:59 AM

A proper tool makes the job easier. I will show you how to do a great job of building strength with 'low tech/high concept' tools that pretend to be boring everyday objects.

Take a simple tool used in rigging for construction called 'a span set'. This is simply a flexible fiber sling rated by the manufacturer at 5000 pounds and up. They come in various lengths. I have used them successfully in assisted, racked, pistols. I attach the span set to a secure overhead beam and step back so I have to reach forward to hold on. I then rack a heavier than normal kettlebell and do a pistol. The purpose of the span set is like using a power rack with a spotter. Safety, range limitation, or perhaps a slight assist, like a spotter, through a rough spot. Keeping your span set far forward of you will teach you to lean into your thigh, head tracking the planted foot, and use the glute to drive you. This is a plateau breaking assistance exercise and not the real thing. Use it like medicine, infrequently, and in the correct dosages.

A span set can make an impossible exercise safe and possible. The overhead support I use is a custom made chinning bar. I needed to match the needs of my job, which frequently requires me to climb lighting and staging apparatus. I used speed rail fittings with a length of two-inch schedule eighty pipe. This is HEAVY DUTY. The fittings are lag bolted into the cedar beams in my ceiling. Doing pullups and chinups on this bar toughens the grip and hardens the body. I have no fear of bending or breaking that exists with those glorified clothing racks they sell as chinning towers.

The beautiful thing about simple tools is their cost, and usually they are unbreakable. Take a tire. I used to see early strongest man competitors like Bruce Wilhelm and Ivan Putski throwing tires in competition. I didn't think of an application until I saw the legendary "Real Contact" stick fighters, the Dogbrothers, use it as a training tool. There is a short clip of it on the first series of their instructional tapes. I questioned Arlan Sanford, aka 'Salty Dog', about his personal method. He is currently a construction carpenter, a former powerlifter (450 bench), mountain biker, and a practitioner of Krabikrabong, the Thai blade and empty hand art. He also practices mat work with a former member of the Gracie Barra school. His personal training for tire throwing employs two tires, one big, and one small. He spins using a hammer throwing-like style for both left and right sides. He runs to the lighter tire, but walks to the heavier tire. He alternates heavy tire days with light ones. The lighter is more aerobic, while the heavy tire is more anaerobic. He does this training in addition to sparring, lifting, and biking. Tires are cheap or free. You can imagine the transfer to striking power or overall body power this drill has. Power and cardio in a nice tight package.

Some innovative training aids are harder to come by. Years ago I saw strength guru Dr. Ken Leistner doing shot put curls. These were done after some nasty drill like climbing a rope with a weighted belt. Two things are significant here. One, shot puts are not too common, and two, they are not adjustable. Enter Dragondoor.com. Buy some nine pounders. You will notice they look like shot puts with handles. Go down to the local climbing store and buy some carabiners and some nylon slings. With these simple tools in hand you have adjustable shot puts. Start with nine-pound curls, after your weighted chins, then add small barbell plates as needed. Grip hard, tighten the abs, and tense the glutes.

Grip strength is always on hard core trainees' minds. One drill used in South East Asian stick fighting is to work a stick from top to bottom with finger movement alone. Strongman and armwrestler Mac Batchelor used to do this with full, long necked bottles (not Arbor Porter!). You can move from a broomstick, to a rattan fighting stick, to an axe handle, to a pipe. All cheap, all good tools. You can alternate hands, or do two sticks at once until you can't close your hands.

I finish my finger work with some high tension, low speed, pronation/supination motions. I hold the stick in the middle and slowly rotate with my arms bent at ninety degrees, elbows anchored into my sides. You can advance by holding the stick on the end, then adding SMALL amounts of weight? slowly.

There it is. Simple yet sophisticated, cheap yet unbreakable tools to add a new dimension to your training.

Train hard!

Tom Furman is a Florida based certified Russian kettlebell instructor. He is available for private training, group seminars, or workshops. Contact Com. Tom at powerfactor71839@aol.com.