Tuesday, July 19, 2011


This is an awesome guest blog by Mark Twight, founder of Gym Jones, where he trains athletes, military personnel, and others for whom fitness goes beyond appearance. Twight was the man behind the scenes to train the cast & crew for the movie "300".

"You could get through workouts a lot faster if you didn't actually have to do them."

Some "fitness" folks like to quote the Henry Rollins phrase, "two hundred pounds is always two hundred pounds." At Gym Jones we say that, to ensure valid measurement, a yardstick must be one yard long and two hundred pounds is only that when moved through a complete range of motion - regardless of the speed at which it moves.

Fresh from quoting the man whose music they probably hate, those same folks mouth off about ideal range of movement and quality of work but unless those ideals manifest as action they're meaningless. No matter how hopeful the words, if the chin does not rise significantly higher than the bar then it's not considered a pull-up - kipping or otherwise - because the weight has not been moved through its maximum possible trajectory; the potential energy has not been fully expressed.

As our training group grew during the last year, we noticed that in the quest for faster times work quality was easily sacrificed. Such may be unconscious behavior, but I like to call it 'cheating'. When movement quality declined, I couldn't use the stopwatch to monitor improvements because other parameters must be fixed for the time to be relevant:

If the load is fixed and the range of motion (ROM) is always the same, then posting a faster or slower time is useful knowledge. If the load is fixed but the ROM is shortened, a second variable has been introduced and knowing the time is no longer useful.

Some argue that movements executed quickly lead to a higher power output and that if ROM is sacrificedalong the way, the trade-off is worth it. Yes, power output will be greater but the athlete who cuts ROM short and finishes faster is not doing the same workout as the athlete who pulls and pushes through complete ROM. If two athletes aren't playing the same game by the same rules, any comparison of the results lacks meaning. And there is no reason NOT to execute movements completely even when doing multiple reps for time. Putting a full kip on the pull-up, still not getting the head above the bar and calling it good is about as lame as it gets.

Understand that I am not arguing against kipping, wiggling or squirming to get 1 rep done. I'm simply stating that in our gym we don't count incomplete reps no matter how good the athlete's intention. Athletes shortcut reps because it's easier to do less than it is to do more and that's cheating....or at best, 'lazy'.

If we accept "chicken necking" instead of a proper pull-up (because it's 90% complete and more reps can be done faster thus increasing the power requirement), the natural conclusion is accepting speedily executed but partial squats. What we allow ourselves to settle for is largely dependent on our goals and the strength of our character.

It's up to the individual to figure out why he/she is doing something and to accept responsibility for those choices and actions.

Figure it out!

By nature mankind is comparative. We like to see where we fit into the scheme of things. If fitness is important, then timed or scored workouts are a lens through which we may see ourselves in a larger context. For this comparison to be meaningful, we all have to be doing the same thing. For example, track events: run a fixed distance. In the realm of gym fitness, rowing on the Concept II fills a similar role - there's no way to cheat it: 5000 meters is 5000 meters no matter how you get there. But when it comes to couplets, triplets, and chippers requiring a variety of movements, the execution of which may be "interpreted" as valid comparison among individuals is contingent on a fixed set of parameters.

At Gym Jones we use the following rules to ensure work quality:
  • Pull-ups: Elbows must pass behind centerline of the body, if this happens the entire head rises above the bar, active shoulder position at bottom (as opposed to full dead hang)
  • Push-ups: Chest touches the floor first, active shoulder and full extension at the top, body held as a solid plank, the hips do not move
  • Squats: Thighs must be parallel to floor (at minimum) in the bottom position, full extension at the top of the movement
  • Lunges: Trailing knee must "kiss" the ground but may not support any weight
  • Push-Press and Thruster: Arms must lock out overhead, hips displace horizontally to the rear to initiate recovery of the weight, Thruster includes all attributes of a proper squat
  • Kettlebell or Dumbell Swing: Weight must be raised higher than the head (arms about 45 degrees)
  • Box Jump: Once established on the box the athlete must stand up completely, whether jumping for reps or max height taking steps to gain momentum is not permitted
  • Ball Slam: Full extension at the top with hips forward, ball must actually be slammed (imagine that), catching it on the bounce is better style, rounded back not permitted during recovery
  • Burpees: Includes a proper push-up, explosive finish (jump), overhead clap, and feet remain together throughout movement to ensure maximum hip displacement
  • Wall Slam: Full squat required, ball must hit target
  • Dips: Upper arm must be parallel to the floor (at minimum) in the bottom position, arms lock out in full extension at the top
When everyone agrees on the rules the outcomes may be compared and relevant conclusions drawn. Strict standards prevent misrepresentation and the speculation that follows.

We train in preparation for sport-specific tests or work-related challenges. We don't train for the sake of it or because conditioning is our sport or hobby. We don't do this because we want to look a certain way or to lose weight (these are consequences).

We suffer during training to improve ourselves physically and psychologically and we measure those improvements on mountains, on frozen waterfalls, in burning buildings, facing cunning adversaries, on the battlefield, on the mat and in the cage. 

Because these tests occur outside the gym, in the real world, we don't compete in the gym. We work hard, and we work together to make the sum greater than its individual parts. Cheating won't help you get where you want to go.....so I enforce 'quality' all of the time.

That's my yardstick! How long is yours?


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