Sunday, 25 May 2014

Basic finger extensor training

This is a follow on to my post on basic grip strength training

Training the extensors is a vital component of strong, injury proof hands. By training the extensors you balance out your grip strength, which helps to keep the hand and wrist stable, helping to prevent injury. Training the extensors can also help to maximise your grip strength training, by increasing the size and strength on surrounding and related muscles in the forearm. This is a basic guide to at home minimalist extensor training to accompany basic grip training.

Finger tip press ups

This is the staple of most extensor training. Holding the hand in an isometric position uses both sides of the hand, allowing us to get in some extensor training. Finger tip push ups also allow us to put pressure though our fingers in a progressive manner to slowly build the bone and connective tissue of the fingers. I have currently built up to 3 sets of 3 one arm fingertip push ups, but this was by no means easy. At one stage I was doing sets of 10 regular fingertip push ups, but after breaking my wrist (parkour injury) and not training fingertips for a long time I was very weak in the fingers. I had to start my training from very simple kneeling press ups. This took several months until the movement just clicked (figuratively, not literally) and I started to make progress. Aim for 3-5 sets of 5-10 reps before moving on

From there I extended my kneeling press up by locking my body straight from thigh to back (squeeze the butt). This made the movement more difficult, with more weight going through the fingers. Again aim for 3-5 sets of 5-10 reps before moving on.

Keep your butt squeezed
Regular fingertip push ups were my next step. Since this is quite a big jump, I suggest doing isometric holds at the top and bottom of the push up, and then building up to actually doing press ups on the finger tips.

Keep your back flat
 Once I could do 5-10 finger tip press ups per set I used press up progressions (un-even and archer) from the convict conditioning book to work towards the one arm fingertip press up. Again the jump to full one arm finger tip push ups is big so I used isometric holds (5 seconds) at the top and bottom, then negatives before I build up to the full press up. Also when training these for the first time, keep your other arm close by to spot yourself in case your fingers fail, safety first. I now train these once per week, often at night while I’m cooking dinner. I suggest either training them before grip training, or on a separate day, not after grip training as you may risk fault in your fingers.

Other finger tip options

All sorts of body weight movements can be trained on the finger tips such as frog stands, elbow levers, handstand push ups, L-sits etc. Personally I don’t currently train any of these but they are worth doing.

Rubber band extensions

This is the second basic stable of extensor training. I use the bands from iron mind which I bought along with some grippers and other items. I like these bands since there are several different strengths to use and work up to. If you can’t or don’t want to buy any, just look for thick rubber bands, then start to double them up. I use my bands 1-2 times per week, working the weakest bands first building up to the strongest, doing sets of 10-12 of each.

Rice buckets

Rice buckets can be used for all kinds of grip, hand and wrist training. I don’t personally use one but they do look like they would be helpful. Check them out here on

Isometric hold and lift

This is another option I don’t personally use but I’ll mention it here. Take a large jar or similar container, half fill with rocks/sand, put your hand in the neck of the jar, open your hand to a finger tip push up position, this should lock your hand inside the jar. Then do several lifts with your hand locked in this position.

That should be more than enough for you to start training your extensors and injury proofing your hands.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Basic Grip Strength Training

I was going to write a post on training with my hangboard/ mini campus board. However as I thought about it I realised I would probably be doing people a disservice by not first discussing some basic grip strength before taking on something much harder (campus boarding). So this article is my take on some very simple at home grip training. There are many facets of grip training which you can read about on (great explanation of the elements of grip here), however what I suggest here is very simple, and requires very little equipment to take you a long way into grip training. I used the convict conditioning 2 book to train up to the one arm towel hang, and much of what I present here is in the book (as well as elsewhere on the internet for free). I have tried not to give away much of the CC2 book as the author has put a great deal of work into the book and it would be unethical for me to present it here for free. I will however lay out some basic training ideas to help you build an excellent base of grip strength. If you are struggling to reach much higher levels (one arm towel hang) I suggest investing in the CC2 book.

Why train the grip?

So many authors have written on this topic so it’s not necessary for me to repeat it all here. The short version is that a strong grip will make both training and lifting easier. If grip is lacking it can limit your upper body pressing and pulling, if your grip is strong you can squeeze harder and radiate more power though the body (Pavel Tsatsouline) etc. That, and grip training is just fun.

Basic hangs

I believe a one minute bar hang is a good indicator of a reasonable level of grip strength and from here you can try some hang boarding, rope or towel hangs etc. If you are unable to do a vertical bar hang from a pull up bar (or other high bar) then horizontal hangs is a good place to start. Using either rings or a low bar, hang under the bar with your body held rigid (tight abs, back and butt). Keep the shoulders held back and tight (left hand photos), not soft and high (right hand photos). You could do some ‘shrugs’ between the two positions, but I suggest focusing on keeping the shoulders back. Aim for 2-3 sets of 30 seconds to 1 minute holds before moving on to vertical hangs.

Eyes closed because its raining.
All the same rules (suggestions) apply for the vertical hang, shoulders tight, aim for 2-3 sets of 1 minute hangs. From there you could add time, aiming for a 2 or even 3 minute hang, or move onto more difficult hangs.

Squeeze the butt, point the toes, build good movement habits

Some options for incorporating this kind of hang training is to add these hangs to the end of a pulling training session, or on their own as a mini workout during the week. Personally I find that the morning is not a good time for training the grip, not sure why but I always feel much weaker in the morning. Although that may not be the case for you.  Another good option is to do your max pull ups (or rows) then continue to hang for as long as possible.

While you’re hanging

One good piece of added training while you are hanging is to do scap pulls (see Ido Portal). I haven’t been trained by Ido Portal but I believe these are done by pulling the scapular back and down, causing the chest to rise. I suspect these would carry over well to training the front lever.

Higher levels of grip training

Once you have a solid vertical hang you could move onto more difficult versions of hangs. One arm hangs and eventually one arm towel hangs are an excellent step in training both the grip and solid shoulder positions (keep the shoulder packed tight). A good exercise to do is to hang from both hands, release one and swing out, then retake your grip and let go with the other hand to swing out to the other side. Thing could be combined with shrugging the shoulders or pull ups.

Keep that shoulder tight

Other options are to use two towels for hangs, pull ups and hanging core work. I used to use these like a drop set after a harder version of hangs. I would take two towels and knock out some hanging leg lifts (credit to for the idea).

The same can be done on a short length of rope. The rope I use here cost about $5NZ per metre, I bought 3 metres and gave a metre to each of my friends who train at home.

Fat bars

Fat bars (2-3 inches) are another excellent option for grip training. I have a fat barbell and dumbbells which currently live at a friend’s house, but you can turn your pull up bar into a fat bar by wrapping it in a towel.

Two small towels wrapped around the bar

Personally I don’t often use these grip training approaches for pull ups since I am putting most of my energy into training for the one arm chin up. However if max pulling strength is not your primary goal adding these into for regular pull up workouts could work very well.

Other grip training options

There are countless other options for training the grip such as crush grippers, pinch training, block weights, ripping cards/phone books, sandbags etc. I have tried to outline the simplest options using minimal equipment to build your base before trying out different versions of grip training.

Training the extensors

Training the finger extensors (opening your hand) is important for building max wrist strength, stability and for injury prevention. I’ll cover these more thoroughly in my next post, but just quickly here, finger tip push ups, rubber band extensions, reverse curls, and rice buckets are all good options. Full article here.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Homemade Parallettes

Just an example, hands could be closer

I’ve seen lots of articles and videos on building parallettes, mostly out of pvc pipe. These all look pretty good, but pvc pipe and fittings are not that cheap in NZ. So when I had some leftover dowel from my stall bars I decided to make some wooden parallettes. Since this is the first set I have built I decided to build slightly smaller, shorter bars and I will likely build higher bars later. 

I used off cuts of 20mm plywood from work and 400mm long, 32mm dowels for the bars. The plywood is 200mm high, and 240mm wide. Very simple to build and screw together. These parallettes will work well all kinds of gymnastic movements and will help me build towards a full deficit handstand push up. My next set of bars will be 400mm, possibly 450mm high so that I can get a full deficit on the handstand, this will likely be as high as I will ever need the bars.

Super simple and very solid

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Homemade stall bars (Swedish bars)

Hanging from the top, low leg raise (mush harder an stall bars than on a pull up bar.

Quite a while ago I saw some of Ido Portal’s videos with those old school wooden bars on the walls of his gym and I thought “they look cool, I bet I could build some, but I have no idea what they’re for”. Then Ido put out two videos using the bars known as stall bars, or Swedish bars, one video showed a front support (like a front lever) and the other showed a back support (like a back lever). So now I knew something I could use these bars for, but it was a lot of wood (and money) to lay out so I never got serious about building some. 

Recently I bought the gymnastics bodies, foundation one course, which uses stall bars quite frequently (I make nothing off that link). While they are not a necessity, it starts to get difficult to work around things without the stall bars and eventually I would need to set up something like a ladder to use instead. So I bit the bullet and built myself a set. 

As always I looked around as much as I could to get an idea of how most people build them, and common issues that arise before I jumped in and built mine. First step was to decide on the measurements. Most commercial units are 3 foot wide (900mm), but my rafters are 800mm apart so my unit had to be 800mm wide. As far as I could tell most bars were set 150mm apart, and the top bar is offset by about 120mm. I used 32mm pine dowels (pine was all that was available to me), this seems to work quite well as any thicker and the grip would fail first, meaning any gymnastics training would be sub optimal. The dowels were the most expensive part costing about $160NZ total. As far as I can tell the way I have set my bars up will work very well, possibly I won’t use all of the bars but I’m not familiar enough with gymnastics training to know. If in the future I have any issues I’ll update this post.

So to maximise space I cut the sides to fit floor-to-ceiling (approximately 2200mm), then laid out the sides which would be drilled to fit the bars. The wood I used is 140mm wide and 20mm thick. I used this because it was cheap and available (about $8NZ per metre). I used wood glue to glue two boards together for each side, as well as two shorter pieces for the top. I then drilled these boards for the dowels. Note: Always drill from the side you will see as the holes on that side look good and not blown out which can happen on the other side. These boards (drilled) were then glued to the outer boards (not drilled). I put a small amount of glue into each hole before I put the dowel in. It was tricky to get both sides together so call a friend if you can. I then added the top, bottom and middle braces, threw some screws in and waited for it to dry. The unit is screwed into studs behind the plywood but I might add some small brackets to the outside just to be safe.

Undrilled sides, finished drilling, one side glued
Top, bottom and middle braces
All finished I’m quite happy, it looks pretty good for something I built and feels very solid.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Tough Mudder (NZ) – Strengths and skills

I completed the first New Zealand Tough Mudder last Sunday (27/4/14) and had an absolute blast. I felt like the distance (18km) was set just right, such that the course was long and hard but still do able. The obstacles were a lot of fun; I was particularly impressed with the Berlin walls, Everest, and the walk the plank. All the mud was excellent and over all I really enjoyed the course and obstacles. I would have liked to see monkey bars, or hanging rings on the course but clearly this took a lot of money to set up and the event is in its infancy in New Zealand so I’m sure everything will scale up next year. I had such a great time; I plan on running both days next year.

That’s all I really want to write on the event itself, a friend of mine shot a short video which you can see here. In the second half of this post I want to lay out some strengths and skills which I think were important in this Tough Mudder. I know there are countless training plans, break downs and obstacle tutorials on the internet, I haven’t looked at many of them; this is just the way I saw things going down and how my run went so that you can apply this to your own training.

A friend and I before and after Tough Mudder. Photo credit to Francis Wheeler.


This is a long run over rough terrain, so (in my opinion) training some long distance running is key. Personally I built up to 8km training runs on the road, ideally I would have liked to build up to 10-12km. I know there are camps who say you can run long distance by only training short distance but I feel like the legs need volume; you need to feel long distance and know how you respond. I’m not suggesting 3-5 times per week running a 10k, but I think running 5-10k once per week is helpful (for more of my thoughts on running, and training for a half marathon see this old post here). Even better training might be to do a lot of your running off road to get used to the rough terrain of the course. I do all my running in vibram five fingers so I have strong feet and ankles, I believe this helped a lot on the course. Also I think the barefoot running style of feet landing under the body helps on wet slippery ground.

Climb ups

I felt like this was the most important skill/strength on the course, muscle ups weren’t necessary but climb ups were. Almost every time you needed to get up and out of a mud pit you needed to do a climb up, not to mention the Berlin walls and blades of glory. There was always people around to help (that’s the point of the event), but I find being pulled over or out of something uncomfortable (being dragged across your chest and belly). I found it easier to pull myself out, or have someone boost me from underneath. Building strong push ups would help, dips would be even better, but the best thing I can suggest is look up ‘climb ups’ on YouTube and have a go, or find a parkour practitioner you can teach you. You could even train this by climbing out of a ground level pool repeatedly.


Personally I tried not to jump too often during the race, as I said I was running in five fingers which I find put more pressure on the calves, I just wanted to play it safe and not add the additional stress of jumping. That said if you feel confident learning and training some basic parkour precision jumps would go a long way. Not needed for any obstacles, but could be helpful jumping over water hazards on the course.

Leg strength/Endurance

This one’s important, particularly with the Berlin walls and Everest falling towards the end of the course. It helps a lot to have additional leg strength that you are able to call on after running 16k (or more) to get you up and over obstacles. High rep swings and high rep squats might help this, I’ve been doing 100kg back squats for 20, don’t know if this helps directly but it is mental training as much as it is physical.


A few obstacles required that you crawl hands and knees, or if you’re bigger on your belly. This might be helpful to train for in order to do fast. Trust me, you don’t want to muck around in the electric eel. 

Upper body pulling and grip

I didn’t find this to be tested much on this course but looking over possible obstacles, many call on a strong upper body and grip. Pull ups, climbing, and all manner of grip training (particularly hanging) would be important if your event includes any of these obstacles. 

Finally some advice for after the event, moving around in a hot pool made me feel in top shape for work the next day, however I had a hard karate class on the next Wednesday which I felt fine heading into, but my legs were just not ready for it. They failed big time and it was all I could do not to fall over, so take it easy after the event.