Results matching “Bird”

Rudolf PlukfelderIt's nearly the end of a week in the sun (for me, at least). In my absence, a few of my favourite articles from the Straight to the Bar archives :

  • Bonus : Normal programming resumes tomorrow. In the meantime, take a look at this clip via Napalm's Corner. A great angle, amazing control. Superb.

Riddick Lamont 'Big Daddy' Bowe

Heavyweight boxer Riddick Lamont 'Big Daddy' Bowe. A great athlete.

Jedd JohnsonThis series looks at some of my favourite articles from this site; updated to include new developments and other changes. I hope you enjoy it.

One of my favourite article series' this year was Jedd Johnson's superb Straight to the Grip Contest. If you didn't catch the original articles, here's what you've been missing :

This series is also available as a PDF document, either here [392kb, .pdf] or via the Diesel Crew site. It's a great read.

18th century fistfight - Test articles


A couple of 18th century pugilists (possibly Elizabeth Stokes on the left) at work. Image via Female Single Combat Club.

Parts listThis series looks at some of my favourite articles from this site; updated to include new developments and other changes. I hope you enjoy it.

There's something inherently satisfying about building things yourself. Perhaps this is best seen in the home gym; where every piece of equipment can be hand built, from scratch, exactly the way you want it.

Using your own gear definitely has its advantages.

Where do I start?

If you know which equipment you want in the gym, but are not quite sure how to go about building it, this article from October 2006 should help.

DIY: Home-made Gym Equipment

When it comes to the typical home gym, it's usually a matter of getting down to the basics. Have you ever considered expanding that setup a little with your own lifting platform? Climbing wall? Stones for Strongman training? To find out how to construct these and much, much more, read on:

Big Steel - Building a thick dumbbell handle
Tom Black

Making wooden handles for your dumbbells. You'll find more great stuff on Tom's article page including notes on the construction of a plate-loading sledgehammer and a modified adjustable gripper.

Brian's Strength Training site

Equipment for Janda Sit-ups and other fun things.

Bryce's site

Everything from bars to a belt squatting setup.

Building a Lifting Platform (Ironmind)
Randall J. Strossen

Now all you need is a set of bumper plates.

Building Your Own Set of Atlas Stones
Jason F. Keen

Making stones using an old - but effective - recipe of plaster, cement and water. And a couple of inflatable balls. A similar article appears at Body Results.

Crossfit Forum - Equipment

Some good discussion on the ins and outs of equipment, both store-bought and home-made.

Edgewalls - How to Build a Home Climbing Wall

Construction of a bouldering/traverse wall.

Fred the Head

Plastic shopping bags, pipe, a tennis ball and of course lots and lots of duct tape.

Gruntbrain's Grotto

A forum for DIY gymrats everywhere.

Judo America

Building a spring loaded mat. Superb.

Lean & Hungry Fitness - GHR

If you've ever considered the idea of having your own Glute-Ham Raise, take a look at this. While you're there, check out the home-made slammable medicine ball (based on instructions [.pdf, 1.21mb] from Pierre Augé).

Mission Specific Industries

Free instructions for building squat stands and plyometric boxes.

PE Digest - articles

Some great articles here, including Make Your Own 200m Track [.pdf, 204kb]

Plans for a home-made squat rack
Bill McBride

What more could you want?

Olympic Bar Measurements

Want to know the exact dimensions of that bar you're about to transform? They're all here.

Old Dude's Garage Photo Page

Photos of various home-made equipment.

Highland Tools

How-to articles on construction of Hammers and Weight for Height/Distance equipment.

Joe Skopec - articles

Assorted DIY goodness including photographs of a home-made pulldown attachment and a Reverse Hyper bench for the rack.

Ross Enamait forum - Training Equipment

Some great ideas here (start in this thread). If you're hungry for more, take a look at his articles on constructing (and using) a waterball and a sandbag [.pdf, 344kb].

Scottish Heavy Athletics

Notes on the construction of various Highland Games equipment.

This to That

Excellent advice on joining materials to other materials.

Construction history of many items in the outdoor Toffe's Gym (which is in a superb forest setting, incidentally) including calf-training equipment, a heavy-duty bench and of course the power rack. Excellent stuff.

After reading those, it's time for a trip to the nearest hardware store. Plenty of fun things to experiment with.

Want more?

If you enjoyed this, the following may also be of interest :

Rudolf Plukfelder - Test articles

Rudolf Plukfelder

Rudolf Plukfelder
demonstrating a split clean.

Rooftop running trackThis month's collaboration with Run to Win's Blaine Moore looks at training when you're travelling. To kick things off, Blaine discusses a few options for finding and using a running track. Enjoy.

Nap in the sunThis series looks at some of my favourite articles from this site; updated to include new developments and other changes. I hope you enjoy it.

Biphasic sleep - what is it?

The idea itself is simple, and is common to many children, the elderly and many people inbetween. Essentially it's a matter of taking an afternoon nap and sleeping less at night.

Although there is a time saving (I usually nap for around 80 minutes and chop 3.5 hours off my nightly slumber), there are many, many other benefits to this routine. To give you an idea, here's the summary I wrote following my initial 30-day trial of the arrangement.

Biphasic Sleep : 30 Day Summary

This was a very rewarding experiment in a couple of ways. Firstly, it clearly demonstrated just how effective the '30 day' approach is (there are a lot of life changes you can make if you tell yourself it's only for a month - and by then you may not wish to change back); secondly it threw quite a bit of light on the notion of biphasic sleeping. Here are a few things I discovered during that time.

The 90 minute sleep cycle
I've gone from a skeptic to a true believer on this one. The idea that in quality sleep the cycles are around 1.5 hours in length not only seems plausible, but highly likely. Think back to the last really good night's sleep you had (woke up feeling refreshed, ready to take on the day) chances are it was a multiple of 1.5 hours (4.5, 6, 7.5 and 9 hours are all quite common). By forcing myself to adapt to multiples of this, I had more feelings of 'that was a good night's sleep' than usual.

Adaptation period
It took around a week to adapt to the new structure, which was/is:

  1. a 90 nap starting around 19:00 (this time varies slightly according to how tired I feel on the day)
  2. a longer sleep of 4.5 hours starting around 02:00

In total that's 6 hours per day, or 42 hours per week (giving me a 14 hour bonus on a typical 7 × 8 hour week).

There are a few things to be aware of with the length of this adaptation period. The first is to watch your caffeine intake. Now, I'm certainly not going to be hypocritical enough to suggest that you give it away altogether (I'm enjoying a cup of coffee whilst writing this); however I would suggest that having three double espressos 30 minutes before a nap is a bit much. Use your judgement.

The second is sugar intake. As with coffee, use your common sense. A bit of maltodextrin in a shake certainly isn't going to kill you, but try to stay away from the jam doughnuts.

The third consideration - perhaps related to the previous two - is the stress factor. If you come home from work every day fired up about something-or-other, don't take your nap immediately afterward. The best routine (for me) seems to be work -> workout -> eat -> sleep. There's nothing like throwing a bit of iron around to help alleviate stress.

Impact on strength training
It has to be said that I seem to favour the frequent, short workout approach - a few sets of rack pulls there, a few sets of floor presses there. Rare is the day which doesn't include some form of strength training.

My routine was like this prior to the start of biphasic sleeping, and doesn't seem to have been affected at all by it. I was fortunate enough to avoid serious injury throughout the period of the test, and there doesn't appear to have been any impact on recovery. DOMS still rears its ugly head occasionally. The thought of an ice bath still feels me with dread.

There are two major considerations here. The first is that the periods just prior to and just following sleep are always less productive. Think for a minute of all of the projects you've completed 2 minutes after waking up, or when you're about to attain 'qwertyface' (passing out through tiredness at the computer). These periods vary from person to person and day to day, but around 15-20 minutes seems pretty typical.

Biphasic sleeping doubles the number of these periods. This means that instead of 30-40 unproductive minutes per day you now have 60-80. However, you've gained - for an 8-hour-per-day sleeper - 2 hours per day. An extra hour of productive time per day? I'll take that more than happily.

The second consideration is the quality of that productive time. This is where it becomes difficult to state just how much more productive I feel than a month ago (although the quantity of articles written for this and other sites is probably a good indicator); particularly as I've been intentionally monitoring my productivity for a few weeks now. That monitoring in itself provides a productivity boost (nobody wants to write down '30 minutes just surfing the internet, reading emails and generally slacking off').

More refreshing
Together with the productivity change in the difficult-to-measure department is the improvement in the refreshing quality of sleep. Aside from a few days (with a known cause of poor sleep) and the adaptation period - which was always expected - I've had more 'leap out of bed, ready to face the day' mornings than usual. As irritatingly happy as that may sound (particularly if you're reading this over your morning cup of coffee), it makes a tremendous difference in the way the day's problems are faced and resolved.

I was pleasantly surprised that a 90 minute cycle included the deep sleep and dream recall that occasionally accompanies a 7.5 hour night. This dream recall didn't really begin until I was past the adaptation phase, and was able to wake up naturally just before the alarm went off.

If you're not used to remembering your dreams, this may not seem like much of a benefit; however the dream recall is usually associated with feeling refreshed, which is an obvious benefit for everyone.

On vs In
The cause of the poor sleep mentioned above - at least a major contributor - was a change to the routine of 'on vs in'. Usually I simply kick my shoes off and lie down on a bed, couch, poolside lounge (OK, wishful thinking for that last one) when it comes time for the 90 minute nap. For the main sleep period of 4.5 hours I go to the trouble of switching out the lights and climbing into bed - often waking up naturally just prior to the alarm sounding.

The poor sleep (and associated zombie status) was largely a result of climbing into bed on both occasions (hey, it was cold). Once I realised the cause and reinstated the on vs in distinction, quality sleeping resumed.

The bad side
As with any change to a schedule, there are negatives. These seem comparitively minor to me; although their impact will obviously vary from person to person. They are :

You may have less time to spend with your partner/spouse.
Biphasic sleeping simply refers to getting your daily requirement in two chunks, rather than at specific times. However, If you choose to try biphasic sleep while your partner/spouse is on monophasic sleep (a solid block of sleep, as most people try to get) you will find that at some point each day you will be asleep while they are awake, and vice versa. If you happen to be able to schedule things so that you sleep whilst they work, great. If not, this may be a downside.

You'll be tired during the adaptation period.
There's no way around it. For the first week or so, you'll be more tired than usual (it's a lot like being jetlagged) while your body gets used to the new routine. If you don't wish to - or can't realistically with your current schedule - go through this, it may be a downside. For me, this was a known change with a potentially great benefit at the end of it.

Who would benefit from biphasic sleep
Just about everyone. The positives far outweigh the negatives (at least for me), and there are a couple of cases where the positives may seem a little more, well, positive. They are :

As Kris - who's been trying out biphasic sleeping himself lately - pointed out, parents of young children can benefit. If your young son/daughter routinely takes an afternoon nap, taking one yourself (while you have a chance) isn't a bad idea at all.

The other situation that Kris mentioned is that for those with back pain, a single period of uninterrupted sleep may result in stiffness and pain. A rather undesirable coupling at the best of times; alleviated in part by breaking up your sleep into two (biphasic) or more (polyphasic) periods. After all, the less time spent lying in one position, the better.

Changes I would make
When I started doing this, my idea was to have a 1.5 hour nap and a 3 hour main sleep period. This proved to be a little under what my body required, and I switched to a 3/4.5 hour split (3 hours by default, 4.5 on workout days). Once again this didn't feel like quite enough, and I changed to a regular 1.5 hour nap followed by a 4.5 hour sleep (every day). This feels right.

I say this to demonstrate that making small changes can be of benefit, and I'll continue to make them as required. As the volume of weight training increases (as it almost certainly will), as I age and as my life situation in general changes; the length of the main sleep period will change.

I'll also be keeping a more accurate record of my dreams (particularly now that I'm well past the adaptation point, and dream recall is becoming far more frequent); more for personal interest than anything else. I've no doubt that there is some meaning in there, but I don't believe we're anywhere near finding out what that is.

The third and final change I may make in the future is to adjust the timing of the nap. A 7pm-ish start suits my current schedule, but this may change. Whatever the starting time becomes, the length of 80-90 minutes is not likely to change.

Overall, I love it. As with any change, there are teething problems and the odd case of fine tuning. However, the benefits of biphasic sleeping far outweigh the negatives (in my case) and I'll stick with it. If, like me, you have a somewhat skeptical nature, give it a try. You won't be disappointed.

: If you've missed the brief notes for a particular day of the experiment, you'll find links to them listed below. Sleep well.

Biphasic Sleep: Day 1
Biphasic Sleep: Day 2
Biphasic Sleep: Day 3
Biphasic Sleep: Day 4
Biphasic Sleep: Day 5
Biphasic Sleep: Day 6
Biphasic Sleep: Day 7
Biphasic Sleep: Day 8
Biphasic Sleep: Day 9
Biphasic Sleep: Day 10
Biphasic Sleep: Day 11
Biphasic Sleep: Day 12
Biphasic Sleep: Day 13
Biphasic Sleep: Day 14
Biphasic Sleep: Day 15
Biphasic Sleep: Day 16
Biphasic Sleep: Day 17
Biphasic Sleep: Day 18
Biphasic Sleep: Day 19
Biphasic Sleep: Day 20
Biphasic Sleep: Day 21
Biphasic Sleep: Day 22
Biphasic Sleep: Day 23
Biphasic Sleep: Day 24
Biphasic Sleep: Day 25
Biphasic Sleep: Day 26
Biphasic Sleep: Day 27
Biphasic Sleep: Day 28
Biphasic Sleep: Day 29
Biphasic Sleep: Day 30

What's the current situation?

Depending upon my coffee intake for the day (caffeine and sleep aren't the best of friends), I switch between biphasic and monophasic (the traditional night's sleep) approaches. I still sleep biphasically 4-5 days per week.

What changes have I made since the trial?

Very few, and very minor ones at that. The length of a sleep cycle shortens slightly after a while (a couple of months in my case); so I set the alarm slightly earlier (and have more free time each day as a result). Other changes involve the regular switching between monophasic and biphasic sleep (it's now either one or the other, nothing else seems to work as well) and a slight tweak to eating times. Although I now eat many times a day in any case.

What other changes would you suggest?

None, really. The only thing I would say is 'give it a chance'. A lot of people seem to try the routine for a week, and wonder why it doesn't instantly work. Think of it as a change in your workout routine. It needs time.

Final thoughts

Overall, it's great. I've managed to decrease the quantity of my sleep whilst increasing the quality (recovery times haven't changed at all), and learned how to get to sleep quickly. Anywhere, any time.

I love it.

Grant Golding - Test articles

Grant Golding

Canadian gymnast Grant Golding.

Barbell Step-upBack in September 2006 I took a look at an exercise which doesn't seem to attract the attention it deserves - the barbell step-up. If you haven't tried it, it's definitely time to give it a go.

One further point before the article itself : despite the title, I perform both step-ups and squats (as do many Olympic weightlifters). In my opinion, they both deserve to be widely known.

The Step-up - a real squat alternative?

In the 1920s - particularly in the US - weight training began gaining favour with the public at large, and the Step-up began finding itself in various books and magazines. However, the back squat gradually started to dominate (largely due to the efforts of the German Henry 'Milo' Steinborn and Joseph Curtis Hise) and the Step-up was all but forgotten.

The Step-up seems to have been largely overlooked as a weight-bearing exercise for the thighs - primarily due to the dominance of the back squat. This article may just make you reconsider its use.

What is it?

The Step-up - as the name implies - is nothing more complex than stepping up onto an object, then stepping back down from it. Although it is an incredibly simple exercise, there are a few things to be aware of.

Factors to consider

Perhaps the most important of these is the height of the step. The basic exercise works the hips and thighs, and the step height adjusts things in favour of the quadriceps or hamstrings. A higher step works the hamstrings harder, a lower step targets the quads (1).

According to Anatoly Bondarchuk, the 'normal' or ideal step height (for those with perfectly balanced quad and hamstring strength) is such that when the leading leg has the foot flat on the step, and the corresponding thigh parallel to the ground, the trailing leg has the toes just touching the ground (but the heel elevated) (1). This will naturally vary from person to person, and the use of a weight plate is common to bridge small gaps (it's unlikely that your training partner will have exactly the same requirements as you).

In addition to the step height, speed and number of reps both play crucial roles in determining the effectiveness of this exercise (for your personal goals). The usual rules apply - in general the reps will be lower and the breaks longer when training for maximum strength, and the reps higher/breaks shorter for hypertrophy goals.

The starting/finishing distance of the feet from the step also makes a difference, with a larger gap emphasising the Gluteus Maximus and a smaller gap emphasizing quadriceps (2).

Muscles used

The target muscle group is usually the quadriceps, though the weighting of this can be adjusted by altering the step height and gap as indicated above. Other muscle groups involved are (2) :


* Gluteus Maximus
* Adductor Magnus
* Soleus
* Gastrocnemius (Second Leg)

Dynamic Stabilizers

* Hamstrings
* Gastrocnemius (First Leg)


* Erector Spinae
* Trapezius, Upper
* Trapezius, Middle
* Levator Scapulae
* Gluteus Medius
* Gluteus Minimus

Antagonist Stabilizers

* Rectus Abdominis
* Obliques

As you can see, this is well and truly a compound exercise, and targets similar muscle groups to the squat.


Bodyweight step-up
The simplest form is a bodyweight-only step-up onto anything of a reasonable height (usually something below knee height). The speed, number of reps and step height will all play roles in the effectiveness of this exercise for your goals. Because of this flexibility the step-up can be used as a warmup, conditioning or strength training exercise.

Dumbbell step-up
As per the bodyweight step-up, performed whilst holding a dumbbell in each hand.

Barbell step-up
As per the bodyweight step-up, performed whilst holding a barbell across the shoulders in the same manner as for a back squat.

Step-ups wearing a weight vest
As per the bodyweight step-up, performed whilst wearing a weight-vest (such as the V-Max).

Sri ChinmoyFormer East Bengalese marathon runner Sri Chinmoy (pictured) switched to weight-lifting in the mid 1980s (when he was in his 50s); setting a personal record for Step-ups done whilst wearing a 50lb weight vest by regularly performing 100 in 1996 (aged 65). Once again, the usual rules of rep ranges and breaks apply.

Inspired by Chinmoy's effort, the slightly more spritely Ashrita Furman (6) completed 2,574 step-ups (bodyweight only) onto a 15" bench in one hour, later that same year.

Performing the step-up

Although almost any form of step is suitable for bodyweight step-ups, a large flat surface will be increasingly necessary as the weight lifted climbs up. One solution - which enables a quick changing of height - is a Step-Up Bench Accessory, such as this one from Gill Athletics.

For bodyweight-only or dumbbell step-ups, the pins (of a power-rack) themselves are a quick and often handy step.

When using a weighted bar, begin with the same stance and bar position as for a back squat. As you step up onto the box/bench/step, keep the torso as erect as possible (try to keep the shoulders roughly over the hips throughout the movement). On descent, slightly bend the leg you're coming down on to (it'll reduce the shock and increase safety).

Comparisons to Squatting

I realise that powerlifters are not going to suddenly stop squatting in favour of performing weighted step-ups. However, there are a couple of benefits to the step-up which might favour their inclusion in your routines :

  • The weight used in a barbell (or heavy dumbbell) step-up is much less than that of a heavy squat performed by the same lifter (1). This difference alone greatly reduces the stress inflicted on the lower back.
  • The step-up eliminates the bounce which is sometimes used during a squat (particularly in the deep squatting favoured by bodybuilders and Olympic weightlifters). This lack of bounce reduces the impact to knees.

Working them in

Perhaps the most obvious way to incorporate them in your routines is to simply replace squats with step-ups. Realistically, though, there are a couple of things to consider :

  • Look at your current quad : hamstring strength ratio. Although theories differ as to the 'perfect' ratio, the figures suggest that the hamstring muscles should be approximately 60-80% as strong as the quadriceps muscles. Failure to maintain that ratio increases the risk of injury.

    The relative strengths of these two muscle groups are usually tested using two exercises you may or may not already be using in your workouts - Leg Curls and Leg Extensions.

    If the quads are much stronger than the hamstrings (according to the above tests), a higher step should be used. Conversely, if the hamstrings are found to be stronger, a lower box should be used.
  • What are your goals? Are they leaning more toward hypertrophy, mobility or absolute strength? Step-ups are effective in the same rep ranges as squats - whether you choose to use sets of 1 or 100.

    Leonid TaranenkoSuccess has been had by Russian (and later Bulgarian) Olympic weightlifters who included healthy doses of step-ups in their training. An excellent example of this is Bulgarian Leonid Taranenko, who successfully lifted 266 kg (586 lb) in the Clean and Jerk at the 1988 Olympics. This was after 4 years of intense Step-up training rather than the traditional employment of the back squat.

    The Bulgarian team used (and possibly still do) the pulse rate as the primary indicator of when to increase the weight. Following warm-ups and a bodyweight-only set of 8-10 reps, triples (with increasing weight) are used. Following each set a pulse rate of 162-180 bpm is expected, and the next set not started until this has reduced to 102-108.


Step-ups can be used in many ways, and are a great alternative to (not necessarily a replacement for) the back squat. Give them a try.


1. Bulgarian Leg Training Secrets
By Angel Spassov, Ph.D., D.Sc. and Terry Todd, Ph.D.

2. ExRx
Barbell Step-up

3. Sri Chinmoy

4. Ashrita Furman

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