Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Bones and Pistols: a start at B2D responses to readers' queries

This post provides a summary of what research suggests about what we can do to enhance bone strength - and especially when we can do it. It also includes a preliminary review of Steve Cotter's Mastering the Pistol DVD. All because of what b2d readers want to know :)

A little while ago, i asked b2d readers if there were any topics of particular interest to them they might like to know more about. Ron asked about Why Hardstyle (implicitly perhaps as opposed to GS?) - a part of a reply to that is in a recent post on early impressions of GS training which may or may not help Ron's quest.

One of the other queries was from supercat strongman Adam Glass on bone strength:
A few weeks back i posted a question relating to the subject of bone adaptation to stress- a law was recited back to me by several members. I would like to see some more information on bone growth-specifically how i can increase the resulting thickess and researched methods of enhancing bone strength.
I've been fascinated by bones ever since i had to study about bone formation for the CSCS certification. It's a topic i find rather overwhelming because SO MUCH is going on in bone. So rather than try to get into the intriguing complexities of bone development and growth, i've restricted myself to Adam's question.

A more detailed discussion of his question is over at geekfit. That seemed a more appropriate place for the article as it has finally given me something i've been looking for: an unequivocal imperative for desk jockeys in their 20's to get working out. Working out now for future ease from pain and disability may be about as exciting to think about as pension planning , but the results are in: bone loss is inevitable, and the best cure is prevention rather than treatment.

If you're interested in the topic, there's lots of detail and referenced research over at the article on geekfit, but let me quote the summary here:
While studies have mainly focussed on post-menopausal women, bone health - in particular bone mineral density - is a concern for both men and women. The best cure for bone loss is prevention rather than treatment, and the best approach for this prevention of inevitable bone loss is to bank it up with extra BMD work in childhood, youth and young adulthood. The best approach to do this loading is with resistive force work: power training, stop and start sports.

Nutrition is critical for bone building, but will not cause bone building any more than simply eating protein will cause hypertrophy. While we still don’t know what the optimal prescriptions are for optimal bone mineral density building, all the studies looking at this effect show that doing nothing is the worst approach; better to do some fast load bearing activities - but not over doing it, or one may have the opposite than desired effect with microfracturing the bones beyond repair.

Because of the critical effect of bone loss post our alas early peeking in life, it’s great to know that we can bank up bone for future benefit by using it regularly and vigerously - at least a few times a week. If you’re reading this, you’re not too young to start the deposit, no matter what gender. Use it or lose it seems to be increasingly a way of describing our entire physiological system, and that is certainly the case with our locomotive, protective, rather magnificent living skeletal system.
The Butt
Another topic posed by Jason was to write the next phase of the Bum as the Path to Sveltness . In that geekfit article i argued that since the butt hosts the largest muscle in the body, working it will have a big bang for the buck.

The Pistol and the Butt
As a preview to more descriptions of butt oriented effort, allow me to come back to the Issue i've been having with the Pistol. The pistol must be one of THE ULTIMATE butt working body weight moves, but i've been focusing on the weighted pistol. Adam gave me some great advice for slingshotting with a kb which i have tried with great pleasure and fried my legs too boot, and Irontamer David Whitely has volunteered to look at a video of my (pathetic attempt at) weighted performance. Rannoch suggested i look at Steve Cotter's Pistol DVD, and i owned a skepticism of any more sets of instructions. But then two things happened.

  1. after cold reflection i thought, my body weight pistols just suck too much: i don't "own" as the expression goes - the body weight pistol. So how get even heavier and do a weighted pistol. To me a weighted pistol is the bell is in the rack - not being used as a counter weight. Maybe no one else cares about that, but it's where i'd like to be. So i decided to get back to basics and focus on just getting more reps. back to the drawing board.
  2. i was at a recent event where the very rannoch recommended dvd was just sitting there, on sale. So dear reader, i bought one.
Another Pistol DVD?
Mastering the PistolWhat i am looking forward to doing is a detailed review of the dvd once i've had a chance to work through it to "master the pistol" - which by Steve Cotter's definition is 10 body weight pistols on each leg.

One may ask (as i did ) why one would need another Pistol DVD since there is already Pavel's most excellent Naked Warrior which teaches both the one arm push up and the pistol, and includes variants of each.

One may ask the same question about why would anyone do another kb instructional dvd after the excellent book/dvd "Enter the Kettlebell"? And this is rather the same question as why are there a dozen textbooks all teaching stats? Part of the answer may be that different teachers/writers/coaches convey the same topics in different ways, and at different times, different approaches may connect more effectively than at others.

Alternative Approaches
Right now, after working through some of the Cotter DVD, there is a certain appeal to the approach. Rather than working pistols by working the same move on progressively lower boxes, there are a series of supporting drills and levels in the DVD.

The DVD provides:
  • flexibility exercises
  • balance work
  • strength prep work
  • three levels of actual pistol practice prep
  • doing those 10/10 pistols
  • variations of pistols (including weighted)

Again, i'm not saying that one approach is better than the other. For my mental state right now, the Mastering the Pistol DVD seems a closer fit.

And here is where there may be a kind of philosophical difference between the two approaches. Cotter's focuses on drills and routines to build up the strength ultimately to execute the pistol as effortlessly as one might get up from a chair. In other words, the progression on the DVD implies that if you do all the preliminary levels, the end result will be the 10/side pistol.

Pavel's approach seems to be more about learning how to generate tension to succeed with movement. He does not quantify number of pistols done to master the move; rather he demos the types of moves that should be possible once the particular strength technique is mastered. The same technique is to be applied starting with the highest box necessary to do the move down to finally the fully in the hole bottomed out posture to do the move.

Naturally there is overlap between the two: Cotter uses progressively lower boxes as parts of his series, too, but again, there seems a philosophical difference especially with regard to the role of tension. That's not a bad thing; it's just different, and i think in a good way for me as a pistol trainee. I like more information.

To Boldly Go...
What i don't know is how Cotter developed his program, any more than i know how Pavel developed and tested his: did each of them test their approach out with 10 newbies to see what worked? Or did they just draw on their experience to say "this seems like a reasonable program to help build up the muscle skill necessary for this move." Dunno.

What i do know, is that, like having a couple texts on say statistics (and i have more than two because it's a topic that drives me crazy so the more insights i can get into ANOVA calculations the easier i breath) to get different material AND to get different perspectives on the same material, it seems there is much to learn from both.

So i'm flagging Cotter's program up as something that looks like an interesting plan to follow to build into the pistol - it even uses Adam's sling shot in level one (thought without the kettlebell :) ).

What it also confirms for me as i work through Level 2 is that, regardless of approach taken, it has been the right decision to get back to basics: to master the bodyweight pistol first - with perfect form for perfect reps (a focus in these moves) - before getting into the weighted variety. It may put off my Bete challenge, but c'est le gare.

This stepping back to perfect the bodyweight variant seems necessary. And as Pavel claims in the Naked warrior, doing the Pistol is a testament to strength, movement and agility, so why not get it right? Right now, it feels like Cotter's circling around and up to it program may be right for where i'm at.

I'll look foward to a more complete review when i'm done the progressions and see where that lands me relative to "mastery."


Casey said...

Great stuff. If the bone density research isn't enough to get people moving I honestly don't know what is. I suppose we'll all learn the lesson one way or another.

Also thanks for the heads up on the pistol DVD. As my pistols are nonexistant, this was especially interesting. I have zero trouble doing them with weight (counterbalance) but the bodyweight version eludes me. I think it's a flexibility issue, but none of the calf stretches I've worked have made a big difference.

Mike T Nelson said...

Keep us updated on your progress and thanks for the info as always!

Since you know Z Health, don't forget about SAID specific R Phase work for the pistol! As always, test it (muscle test, gait, etc) to see which technique is right for YOUR body on that day.

Rock on
Mike N

dr. m.c. said...

Well master mike, since you've said it, why don't you explicate on what an R phase specific drill for a pistol would be?

with thanks

Mike T Nelson said...

Remember that any Z Health drill can be done in ANY position!

Follow this
1) Where are you weakest in the lift or move the slowest?
2) Get into that position comfortably, so if you need to hold on to something that is perfectly fine
3) Do a Z Health drill for the action you are trying to improve
4) walk--observe gait (better, worse or no change)
5) redo the exercise and note any difference

For a pistol
Lets assume you are me and you get stuck/slow about 1/3 of the way up
1) get into that position and in this case I will have to sit on something so that I can comfortably stay in that position
2) my guess is that I think my hamstring is not working the best, so I will do an OPPOSITE elbow circle to potentate the hamstring
3) walk, observe gait
4) redo pistol-better?

Hope that helps
Mike N

dr. m.c. said...

Thanks mike.
do you film yourself to reassess?


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