Friday, September 13, 2013

An Innovative Way to Work Up to Freestanding Handstand Pushups

“He who conquers others is strong; he who conquers himself is mighty” 
- Lao-tzu

Siegmund  Klein
Mastering the ability to maneuver your own body weight with control is the essence of athleticism.  This ability is called kinesthetic awareness and no other training or device can teach you this better than bodyweight training.

I love training with kettlebells, dumbbells, barbells, clubbells, macebells, stones, medicine balls and resistance bands. However, much of the strength in my stabilizer muscles comes from focusing on balance while pushing and pulling my own body weight from multiple angles.  Other benefits of this training include; increased coordination, flexibility, and of course increased muscle strength and muscle mass.

One of the foundations of all sports and athletics is called relative strength.  This means aiming for maximum strength relative to your size and weight.  There are many body weight exercises that help increase your relative strength, some include: pistols, handstand pushups, one-arm pushups, and one-arm pull-ups.  All of those examples are demanding feats that require diligent and intelligent training.

I enjoy challenging myself with more difficult exercises so I can continue to grow as a trainer and as a strength athlete.  Currently I am working on achieving my most challenging training goal ever: the one-arm chin up.  I am also working on and off on achieving the freestanding handstand pushup.  With a well-designed progressive approach, I have made steady progress toward these goals.

One of the most effective bodyweight exercises for pressing strength is the freestanding handstand pushup.  Besides strengthening the core, it develops powerful shoulders, total-body coordination, balance, and kinesthetic awareness.  Therefore, I want to share with you an innovative approach that will help you work up to your first freestanding handstand pushup.  If this exercise is entirely new to you and you cannot hold a handstand with your entire body weight against a wall (wall handstands) for at least 30 seconds, you should first master the progressions from the book Convict Conditioning by coach Paul Wade.

However, if you are able to hold your feet against a wall for 30 seconds, start by pressing from the floor with a pair of resistance bands suitable for your level of strength.  


Attach a pair of bands to a suspension training or a pull up bar

The bands work similarly to having a workout partner.  They help you during the wall handstand  press when you need it and not much when you don't.  They even help to assist your balance.  If you lose your balance when taking your feet off the wall, just place your feet against the band and let it stabilize you.

Use the bands on some days, and on other days, do isometric holds with your entire body weight, using a wall to help guide your feet.  Slowly lower yourself from the upright position, pausing for a few seconds every few inches.  This approach will develop the strength necessary to perform wall handstands presses.

Once you are able to do eight to twelve reps wall handstand presses with your whole body weight, use the resistance bands approach on deloading days.

If you don't have a good sense of balance control during your handstand pushups or want to simply knock out some good reps for hypertrophy purposes, simply keep the feet against the band.  In this video below  I am keeping my feet against the band on a high rep day. I am using the bands to gradually build up the strength required to perform extended range handstand push ups with my entire body weight between cement blocks.

Keeping the feet against the band makes the press a lot easier and allows you to do more reps.  However, if you want to work on your balance control, strive to complete this movement with minimal support from the wall and from keeping your feet against the band.  With a consistent training, you will become less reliant on the bands and you will be able to do handstand pushups with your feet barely touching the wall and  with your whole body weight.

You can gain a great deal of pressing strength by performing wall handstand pushups with your entire body weight. It's useful to wear a pair of socks when starting out.  The socks will slide up the wall and you’ll be able to focus entirely on pressing upward.  As you become less dependent on the wall, you can begin to wear shoes to minimize your ability to use the wall for assistance.  A pair of shoes will not glide up the wall, forcing you to take your feet off its surface.


Assuming your goal is to do a freestanding handstand pushup, there is no need to obsess about gaining balance and control during your handstand presses.  Eventually with consistent practice the freestanding handstand pushup will happen surely.

Here is a video demonstrating the entire approach and a pressing technique for safety performance and to amplify your strength:


Monday, April 8, 2013

How to avoid and eliminate elbow pain for good

Disclaimer: I’m not a clinician, nor do I play to be one.  My advice is for educational and informational purposes only; and is not intended to be a substitute for a physician’s advice or diagnose an issue. This information, as effective as it had been for me, and as it might be to you, is based on my own scientific research and experience. Please consult your physician about the suitability of any opinions or recommendations as they relate to your own symptoms or medical conditions.

In this article I will lay out for you useful and practical information about how to prevent and eliminate medial and lateral elbow pain. Being a hardcore lifter all my life, I had suffered a number of times both injuries back in the days when I first started training. I learned the hard way and with my own research how to end and avoid, for good, both medial and lateral epicondylitis and epicondylosis while getting massive and stronger.  

Here is a video of me doing pull ups with  a 28 kg kettlebell (61.6 lbs) plus a 5 lb dumbbell = 66.6 lbs at body weight of 115 lbs with pain free elbows:

Anti-inflammatory drugs, bracing the elbow, local cortisone injections, supportive straps, and even orthopedic surgical repair will take care of the symptom but not the root of the symptom. None of these approaches are substitutes for rehab exercises and the corrective strategies to get rid off of the true cause of the pain which is nothing but muscular imbalances due to training errors such as high volume, high intensity  training, and dysfunctions throughout the body.

In any kind of an acute inflammatory response, such as epicondylitis, your first goal is to work on reducing the inflammation. So the best thing to do is to ice the affected area right away for ten minutes twice a day and lay off for a while from any activity that might cause the pain. Once inflammation had subsided considerably, you need to start incorporating some joint mobility drills to wig out the tension and stretching exercises to re-establish balance between the hand extensors and the hand flexors.  

If the issue is epicondylosis, which refers to the chronic inflammation and degeneration of these tissues, in addition to icing and resting the elbow, you need to emphasize strengthening exercises with full mobility drills: and  increase blood flow to the area with manual therapy as well as the corrective strategies necessary to re-establish proper movement patterns throughout the body.  Keep in mind that in order to know what corrective strategies to practice based on your body dysfunctions, you need to hire a qualified physical therapist or a certified FMS instructor. 

 Tennis Elbow or Lateral Epicondylitis/Epicondylosis:

Tennis elbow is the colloquial name for lateral epicondylitis (LE) which refers to an acute inflammation of the periosteum (connective tissue covering the bone) as well as the tendons and muscles of the forearm that originates from the lateral epicondyle right outside of the elbow.

Lateral epicondylosis refers to the chronic inflammation and degeneration of these tissues. It is the breakdown of these tissues, which causes the pain and weakness at the elbow.  Causes are excessive repetitive strain from the wrist extensors, forcing the wrist extensors to suddenly perform a task they are not prepared to perform, and over training. Another cause might be deeper movement dysfunctions related with lack of proper movement elsewhere in the body. For instance, the repetitive tennis stroke coming from a player with a lack of hip mobility who compensats by extending the wrist and forcing the forearm musculature to work too hard to drive power into the ball. This compensation besides making the stroke less powerful and accurate is also creating the so called tennis elbow or lateral epicodilitis/epicondilosis.

Therapy solutions for lateral epicondylosis:

1) Start your therapeutic approach with soft tissue mobilization or self myofascia release. You may use your hands and/or a lacrosse ball or TP ball on the affected area for about five minutes. It is also a very good idea to apply some arnica oil while massaging the affected area.

 2) After you are done with your soft tissue mobilization, perform a few joint mobility drills for the elbow, hands, and shoulders for about five minutes.  Pavel has a great DVD of joint mobility drills for the entire body (not just the hands and elbows), which I highly recommend here

3) Do eccentrics of wrist extension to strengthen the tendons of the forearm with a homemade 18” uneven dumbbell handle. Eccentric means lengthening of the muscle in response to external resistance.

At your local sports store get a 1lb plate weight and a pair of spring collars to hold the plate in place. Additionally, get an 18“stick at your local hardware store that can fit perfectly into your 1lb plate. Load one end of the handle with the weight placed towards the far end. 

Grip the handle holding the weight at one end with your forearm on top of your thigh and the handle pointing straight up. Turn the handle lowering the weight slowly until your palm is facing downwards, and then bring it back up to vertical with your other hand. Continue for the prescribed amount of reps.

Perform with one pound (or more depending on your injury and level of strength) 2-3 sets of 10 to 15 reps two to three times a day.

If you find the 18” handle too painful or challenging to control, simply slide your hand closer to the weight. As you get stronger slide the hand further away from the weight and decrease the amount of reps.

4) After you are done with your therapeutic strengthening exercises, ice the affected area for 10 minutes to reduce and/or prevent inflammation.

Once your wrist extensors are healed with these therapeutic approaches, add this killer exercise to your arsenal to continue to strengthen your wrist and forearm muscles and to reduce the risk of further injury:

Kettlebell Bottom Up Cleans: This is a fantastic exercise that requires balance and patience. It strengthens the wrist stabilizers and develops forearm muscular endurance; which increases the necessary forearm strength for combat applications, rock climbing, and tennis performance.

Place the kettlebell between your feet. Hook the handle with your fingers and clean it to shoulder height. Hold the bell for about 10 seconds. Perform 3 to 5 sets.

Golfer’s Elbow or Medial Epicondylitis/Epicondylosys :

Golfers elbow is the colloquial name for medial epicondilitis (ME) which refers to an acute inflammation of the medial humeral periosteum (connective tissue covering the bone) as well as the tendons and muscles of the forearm that originates from the medial epicondyle right inside of the elbow at the origin of the flexor tendons of the forearm. Lateral epicondylosis refers to the chronic inflammation and degeneration of these tissues.

Causes are excessive repetitive strain from the wrist flexors as well as muscular imbalances without exercising the opposite muscle groups in the forearm.  Also carrying heavy suitcases or heavy groceries bags with weak shoulders and weak wrist muscles may lead to ME.

Sports activities that involve a lot of gripping and excessive pulling such as bodybuilding, grappling, rock climbing, heavy odd object lifting, bar and nail bending must counterbalance the demands placed on the wrist flexors by strengthening the wrist extensors and lengthening the wrist flexors.

Another culprit of ME might be deeper movement dysfunctions related with lack of proper movement elsewhere in the body. For instance, a rock climber with ME might be gripping way too much instead of allowing the back, shoulders and chest to help to do the work due to lack of proper structure, function, and motion in the shoulder girdle.

Therapy solutions for medial epicondylosis:

1) Start your therapeutic approach with soft tissue mobilization. You may use your hands and/or a lacrosse ball or TP ball on the affected area for about five minutes. It is also a very good idea to apply some arnica oil while massaging the affected area.

2)  Perform joint mobility drills for the hands and elbows to wig out the tension and to lengthen the flexors for about five minutes or so.

 3) Eccentrics of wrist flexion to strengthen the tendons with the home made uneven dumbbell handle.

Grip the handle holding the weight at one end with your forearm on top of your thigh and the handle pointing straight up. Turn the handle lowering the weight slowly until your palm is facing upwards and then bring it back up to vertical with your other hand. Repeat.

Perform 2-3 sets of 10 to 15 reps.

If you find the 18” handle too painful or challenging to control simply slide your hand closer to the weight. As you get stronger, slide the hand further away from the weight and decrease the amount of reps.

4) Wrist extensions with a rubber band: Expand  the wrist bands from are by far my favorite bands on the market. They come in a pair of five progressive resistances and the quality is good. You may also use the rubber bands that come with the broccoli, carrots, or asparagus at your local market but the resistance might not be ideal for your therapeutic and strengthening approach.

If you decide to go with the Ironmind bands, start with the white band which is the lightest one. Place the band around your finger nails and extend the fingers opening the band. Perform 2-3 sets of 20 reps. Progress slowly on to higher reps. As your wrist extensors get stronger, move on to the next heavier band and begin with lower reps.

How to prevent elbow pain for good:

Now that I covered effective therapeutic strategies to cure your elbow pain, I will share with you some invaluable tips to prevent both medial and lateral epicondylitis/epicondylosis for life.

1) It is imperative to ALWAYS maintain antagonist balance between the hand extensors and the hand flexors in full mobility strength. Period. Therefore, always do some form of mobility strength work and joint mobility work before and after your pulls and presses exercises. Here is a video of me performing a few mobility drills to develop full mobility strength before and/or after grip and pulling work.

2)Train smart when lifting weights and avoid over training. Varying the volume and the load from workout to workout, besides ensuring steady strength gains, will also tremendously reduce the risk of injuries. For instance, some days you may go with a high load/low volume; other days low volume/low intensity for active recovery; other days medium load/medium intensity; and sometimes you may go balls on walls with a high volume/high intensity approach.

3) When doing pulls and presses together, it is a good idea to go from an exercise that requires a gripping position (or flexion of the hands) to an exercise that requires a position of extension of the hands, to counterbalance the grip work. For instance, if you are super setting or alternating pull ups with presses, chose an exercise that requires an open hand position after your pulls. In this case either pike presses or head stand push-ups (depending on your level of pressing strength) requires an open hand (wrist extension). You may also alternate pull ups with dive bombers push-ups or one-arm dumbbell rows with two hands or one-arm push ups. This approach is a great way to counter balance wrist flexion with wrist extension while strengthening the pulling and pressing muscles.

4)Strengthen your grip, wrist and forearm muscles, once to twice a week. Grip work when done in moderation and with variation will not only prevent pain at the elbows, but it will also bring phenomenal strength gains to your whole body and enhance the link between the brain and the entire kinetic chain. Choose two exercises to strengthen your grip and forearms at the end of your work out. Perform two sets and vary the reps.

5)Lastly, make sure to do some tissue mobilization work with your hands, a foam roller, a lacrosse ball or T.P. ball either on your active recovery days or before and after your training.

How to prevent Lateral Epicondilitis (LE):

1) Avoid ‘skull crush presses’. This exercise puts a lot of unnecessary stress in the olecranon process (process of the ulna that forms the outer bump of the elbow). Compound exercises such as dips on parallel bars or gymnastic rings, close grip bench presses, Hindu push-ups, and kettlebell crush floor presses are much better to strengthen all the pressing muscles with a lower risk of injuries to the elbow.

2) Avoid high volume of isolated triceps work.

3)  Keep your wrist straight when doing presses while gripping a bar, a kettlebell, or a handle.

4)  Vary your pressing exercises.

5)   Vary your grips.

6)    Always do some joint mobility work before and after your training.

How to avoid Medial Epicondilitis (ME):

1) Avoid lifting straps when doing heavy pull ups and deadlifts. Lifting straps create muscular imbalances making the forearm and the wrist weak. Don’t be stupid (like many gym members). Strengthen the grip and forearms at the same time that you are strengthening the pulling muscles.

2) Avoid doing pull ups on a straight bar or perform them sporadically. Straight bars offer a mechanical disadvantage to the elbow and recruit less pulling muscles. Gymnastic rings are awesome for pull ups and chin ups; besides recruiting more pulling muscles and stabilizer muscles alike, they are a lot kinder to the elbows.

3) Vary your grip position when doing your pulls. Perform reverse grip pulls, close grip pulls, parallel grip chins, and thumb less underhand grip pulls. If you train at home and only have a straight pull bar, you may want to make your own inexpensive pair of handles with a chain and a PVC pipe. Hang them from your pull up bar and perform your parallel grip chins and/or close grip pulls with your cool handles.

4)  Avoid barbell curls on a straight bar. Again, pulling work on straight bars is bad news for the elbows. Dumbbells are the best choice. The second choice would be the EZ bars.

5) Vary your pulling exercises

6) Avoid high volume of isolated  bicep curl work

7) Always do your joint mobility work after you are done with your pulls and grip work

You will find immediate relief for your elbow pain using these therapeutic approaches. Once your elbows are completely healed, train smart and apply all the tips I am sharing with you -at not charge- to avoid elbow issues from happening again. I give you my word that you too will grow strong with pain free elbows like me and with full mobility strength.

Applied knowledge is power!

~Marty Covault~


Sunday, March 3, 2013

Indian Clubs: The missing piece in your work out puzzle

Dr. Ed. Thomas and Marty Covault

I’d like to share with you the results of a seminar that has changed the way I train.  As personal trainer, I like to have multiple approaches. When learning the teaching skills of a new tool, I always seek out the best masters so I can bring top quality to my clients.  For club swinging, that means Dr. Ed Thomas, who is one of the most innovative practitioners of this training modality.  Dr. Thomas covered in our certification both the German Turnvereine and classical Indian club methods. He also taught us how to properly use different techniques of the inversion table. I can’t wait to share this work with you, my clients.

What are Indian clubs and what can they do for you?

Indian clubs is an ancient art that is at least 5000 years old. They are for the shoulder girdle what kettlebells are for the lumbo-pelvic-hip complex. 

The shoulder girdle is one of the most movable areas of the body, which makes it the most vulnerable to injury. Conventional weight training inhibits shoulder girdle mobility and creates muscle imbalances that result in injury. In the long run this will require time away from training, changes in your life-style, and may even end an athletic career.

When you lift weights in a traditional manner, you lift them in a straight line. Yet the body is designed to move in all planes of motion. Unlike conventional weight training, Indian club movements are multi-dimensional. The circular patterns of Indian club exercises can be described as circular weight training.  It moves and strengthens the joints of the wrist, elbow and shoulder in ways not possible with traditional weight training.

They’re fun, portable and inexpensive too. Here’s a list of the benefits that Indian club training provides:

• Assists rehabilitation from shoulder injury
• Releases tension from the shoulders
• Develops finger dexterity, grip and forearm strength
• Improves Coordination
• Develops natural shoulder girdle mobility
• Enhances neural plasticity and brain function
• Increases dynamic flexibility
• Strengthens the muscles, ligaments and joints of the back and shoulders
• Restores and repositions the location of the shoulder girdle making it mobile 
• Speeds recovery from surgery
• Improves postural awareness
• Develops circular strength, and as a result, functional muscle mass

Everyone benefits from Indian clubs – Everyone:

  • Older adults: The shoulder girdle tends to get rounded as we age. Club swinging counter-balances this issue, re-positioning the shoulder girdle to where it belongs. This keeps the shoulders mobile and efficient.

  • Computer workers, massage therapists, drivers, physicians: Those who are forced to work with rounded shoulders, flexed upper back and a forward head position will sooner or later experience movement restriction and pain. Club swinging counteracts these daily postural occupations by repositioning the shoulder girdle to where it belongs, restoring mobility to its full range of motion.

  • Kids: From a very early age kids are forced to sit in classrooms for long hours with slouched shoulders and a flexed upper back. Introducing kids to Indian clubs will engage their mind and body, restoring their daily postural misalignment while keeping them physically active.

  • Police officers/military:  When shooting a firearm one must hold the weapon away from the body. The leverage of the heavier firearm in the out stretched arm is one challenge of aiming a gun. Shooting a gun for a period of time, besides requiring serious wrist stability, also requires strength of grip, forearm and shoulder.  The same goes when swinging Indian Clubs. When swinging an Indian club you have to hold it away from the body.  Because the Indian club has the weight at the end of the handle, swinging it promotes tremendous strength in the forearms, hands and shoulders. Most Indian club movement patterns demand a wrist that is stable in a neutral position while keeping a tight grip so they don’t fly out of your hands mid-swing. These movement patterns build tremendous wrist stability and major grip strength. Also, swinging the light clubs develops keen finger dexterity for shooting firearms.  This is why in the 90s, Dr. Thomas re-introduced Indian club swinging to the physical training regimen of the US Army.  During the Victorian era soldiers from all over Europe trained with Indian clubs and in the US, Army soldiers trained with Indian clubs through the 1930s.

How to get started

Indian clubs are affordable – training can start with a single pair of one-pound clubs.

Beginners should purchase a combo set that comes with a basic instructional DVD here. Contact me when you are ready for personalized instruction along with a customized program designed to address your specific needs. As a strength athlete for over 30 years, I give you my word that your time training with Indian clubs will be as wisely invested as mine.