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Chin Ups

The Jenkins film camera

Do You See What I See?

I started filming myself doing some exercises shortly after I started my website, with the intention of developing a series of how-to videos to complement the written instructions that I was posting.  It was quite a shock to see myself. I thought my alignment and technique was better than it is. It just goes to show that knowing something and applying the same principles is very different.

Needless to say, if you are interested in making change and improvements, I highly recommend filming yourself. Watching in the mirror is helpful, and getting corrections from an expert is helpful, but to truly analyze and critique we need to view ourselves from the outside – a bird’s eye view. And practice, practice, practice.

I have years of experience helping other people correct form and technique and in the old days, could only dream of using film as a teaching tool. I knew, that for my clients to be able to understand and apply the corrections I gave them, they really needed to see for themselves what they looked like and what they were doing. Today, with easy access to media, this tool is at our fingertips…amazing!

But what if you don’t even know what you should be looking for once you’ve made your video? Well, you have to start somewhere.

Posture types (vertebral column) classificatio...

Posture types (vertebral column) classification by Staffel. Русский: Типы осанок по Ф. Штаффелю. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Analyzing how your body looks will give you a starting point. Are your shoulders level with each other? Do they round forward? Does your upper back look hunched over – does the head poke forward? Do your feet point outwards? Are your knees knocked together or bowed when standing straight? etc…When we look at other people we naturally and subconsciously critique proportions and symmetry. It is these proportions and balance or lack of, that is pleasing to the eye or not. And it is this alignment, proportion and symmetry, which defines functional movement patterning.

Yet, we all know that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Now, I have decided to put myself out as an example. I don’t mind showing my faults or where I’ve gone wrong. Sometimes, a bad example is as effective as a good example!

I’ve experimented with a lot of different training techniques over the years and have learned a lot from my mistakes and from many A-Ha!, moments along the way. So here goes…

Take me for example: I am just under 5’5”. I have a very small head in relationship to my frame. So when I was bodybuilding, I looked pretty ridiculous! But I couldn’t see how ridiculous I looked because my focus was to get as muscular as possible (naturally); hence the term muscle head. The first time I noticed how silly I looked was when I saw this photograph of myself (the day I won Ms. Fitness Canada – Toronto – 1994). And this is when I was much less muscular. I had toned down the muscle building when I discovered Fitness Competitions and decided that it might be a more balanced and feminine look for me.

When I look at this picture I can’t help but laugh, because it looks to me like the head just doesn’t belong, as if it has been photo-shopped in.

Anyhow, I still have a pea-sized head! Oh well, some things we just can’t change! Like I say to my kids, “You get what you get, and you don’t get upset.”

This long explanation is meant to prepare you for a series of videos that will use me as a learning example. I will demonstrate what I was doing wrong, relative to my imbalances and how I have gone about making corrections.

The first in the series is the Chin Up. I realize that for many, the chin up is a non-existent exercise and may even seem unattainable. Think of it as a simple example to get the ball rolling in terms of looking at analyzing movement.

About three weeks ago I casually filmed myself (with my phone) doing 5 Forward Grip Pull ups. Complete and utter disbelief when I viewed the footage. No wonder I’m having such difficulty getting my ribs to sit in a neutral position. No wonder my waist looks so short, its like I have been literally sculpting my body into this shape – almost solidifying. Finally, with video, I was able to analyze my own technique. No amount of Rolfing or bodywork can correct my alignment if I continue to undo the physical therapy by repeatedly reinforcing this alignment with such exercises.

It’s like taking one step forward and two steps back.

In the video, you can see (especially pull ups, numbers three to five), each time I do a Pull Up how I contract my latissimus dorsi so much that I am simultaneously thrusting my rib cage forward. This is not helping with my functional alignment. So I then ask myself why am I doing this exercise in the first place? Well, I like to be able to pull my weight. I think it’s important. Ok, fine – but, I tell myself that I can’t continue on like this. So I stopped doing any pull ups for two weeks while I thought about what I was doing to myself. How could I continue to do this exercise without adding to the problem AND not undo the myofascial release work?

It finally dawned on me. I would do Chin-ups with my knees tucked to my chest. The effect of tucking the knees to my chest and attempting to round my lower back (slightly) in the process would cancel out the lats to some extent – IF done properly. Holding knees to chest is difficult to begin with. I can do five, then I take a break and do five more. You can see in the video when I do the chin ups with knees tucked to chest, that in the last two I begin to arch my lower back ever so slightly…as fatigue sets in I naturally revert to my most powerful source and habitual patterning. At this point I am better off to take a break, recover the strength needed to hold a slightly rounded lower back or stop entirely. I will follow this pattern for a while and see where it leads.

I thought about putting my feet on a high stool in front of me as an option if I couldn’t tuck my knees to chest or for when fatigue sets in.

Next is to consider how often I will do this exercise. I have decided that I will do only 5 – 10 reps, three times per week, with one or two days rest in-between. There is also a very important stretch that I have added to my repertoire which encourages the opening and releasing of the fascia around my ribcage. I’ll show that one another time.

But just quickly, while we’re on the subject, I wanted to describe the evolution of my Chin Up:

About three years ago I started working out at the gym, after a long hiatus. (I trained at the gym for about one year before I switched to training at home exclusively). I had gotten back into using weight machines. One day after having built up some strength with the Lat Pull Down machine, I started eyeballing the Pull Up Bar, just maybe I might be ready to try a chin up. I used to do them regularly in my bodybuilding days. But no – nothing. I just hung there. Not a chance. I was hooked, I love a challenge…I would teach myself to do a chin up.

So each time I came to the gym I hung from the pull up bar – and tried. And tried. That was it – nothing – I just hung there trying. Still nothing. After a week of trying, I was able to budge about one inch of the way up. Basically, just isolating my shoulder blades downward. Light bulb moment! This was the first sign of progress. So I kept on with it. Each time I went to the gym, I hung and tried to pull myself up one inch, then one quarter of the way. It worked. After two weeks of trying, I finally did one complete parallel-grip pull up. It just snowballed from there, until I was doing three sets of ten reps. Yes – Three Sets of Ten! But then one day, I looked in the mirror, and gasped…oops, too many pull ups…starting to grow wings. So, I had to have another talk with myself…what exactly are you trying to achieve, Woman!? Right. Why on earth did I NEED to do 3 sets of 10 chin ups every other day? I didn’t. I just liked to. So I re-evaluated and decided that doing five to ten pull ups, once to three times per week was probably sufficient. This way I got my ‘fix’ and still had the strength to do them, to pull my weight when I needed or wanted to, like when I’m at the playground with the kids and want to do monkey bars or D-rings. Oh, and the wings went down.

Which brings us full circle. Back to top.

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About You As A Machine

43 year old. Wife & mother of two. I help you to help yourself. Be fit and healthy.

3 responses »

  1. wow…what an amazing article, thank you :) ladies you are both fabulous i am just working on to be able to do a pull up .. i used to run so my upper body is very weak at the moment but im working on it .. :) all the best k.

    Reply
  2. Interesting! I loved reading this! I am a dancer and aerialist and was training to do as many pullups as possible. I could do sets of 12 but my traps got GIGANTIC. I have taken a year break from any pullups and my upper body leaned right out. I loved being able to pull myself up though and tried to do on the other day – 2 max. EEK! Thanks for the example of strength without wings ;)

    Reply
    • Thanks for your comment!

      My traps got huge too from my years of weight training…I’m still working on getting them down a bit more while I re-balance everything!
      Live and learn – less is more. And that’s why I keep going back to saying that being consistent with less is the key.

      Reply

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