Category - Gear Reviews

Rubber Bumper Plates Guide and What to Buy

Rubber Bumper Plates Guide

Rubber bumper plates are one of the most important fixtures of your home gym.  This post will discuss pros and cons of the various types of rubber bumper plates as well as where to buy them.

Rubber bumper plates are among the top three things that are symbolic of the functional fitness movement:

#1 Beards & Sports Bras (usually not at the same time)

This has a lot to do with your gender, and we admittedly can’t help you out on that one!  But we’ve all seen the bearded, shirtless behemoths sweating alongside their fit, functional and fine female counterparts.  It’s hard to miss.

#2 Kipping Pull-ups

Then there are the kipping pull-ups.  Some people claim they don’t count as pull-ups, but that’s a tough pill to swallow.  After all, you’re pulling your bodyweight up and over the bar with every rep.  In fact, you’re typically doing it a lot more, and a lot faster than someone doing a dead-hang pull-up as well.  So really which one is more functional in the long run?  We’ve talked about kipping pull-ups before, and have a great article recommending what kind of pull-up bar is best for the home gym refugee as part of our Home Gym Essentials series.  For what it’s worth, we suggest you head over to Amazon and buy yourself a StudBar Pull-Up Bar if you’re in the market for a rock solid, mounted pull-up bar.

#3 Dropping the Weights

Perhaps the loudest and most obnoxiously functional icon of the functional fitness movement.  Throwing your weights is a rewarding victory dance after completing a 1 rep PR.  The sound of them clattering on the ground, shaking the floor at your feet is unmistakable.

But there’s more to it than that.  Dropping the weight is an essential skill to master for safety as well.  Of course, athletes can drop iron plates too, but they should be prepared to buy a new floor, regardless of material.  Dropping 250 pounds from 6-7′ onto any material is going to yield bad results.  Learning how to safely and effectively bail out of missed lifts will not only give you confidence to push your limits, but it will keep you from accidentally trying to catch your weights in an attempt to avoid an earth-destroying drop.

For this reason, we recommend rubber bumper plates.  There are several different kinds, and this article will discuss which ones we recommend for beginners and advanced lifters alike.

Rubber Bumper Plates

Coated Plates

Rubber Coated plates can be misleading.  They typically are composed of iron or steel, coated by a thin layer of rubber.  This thin layer is somewhat effective at dampening the sound of them clattering on the ground.  It is also marginally effective at absorbing the impact during things like deadlifts.  However they are not ideal for fast repetitions or heavy power lifting.

Why might you want rubber coated plates?

  • Most cost effective solution for a starter home gym.
  • They are versatile and easy to manage
  • Thin rubber coating offers some surface protection

It’s easy to load up a bar quickly with these types of rubber coated plates and get the workout going.  They are super-simple to identify by weight, whereas other standard olympic sized plates can be a little bit harder, especially when in a hurry.  And as mentioned before, the rubber coating does offer some protection to the plates themselves and to your floor and surrounding equipment.

What are the Drawbacks?

The biggest drawback is that they will not lend themselves well to being dropped from any height, or slammed against the ground like legitimate rubber bumper plates will.  This makes going super heavy a risky endeavor because you’ll naturally want to try and stop them from falling if you miss a lift, which could result in pulled muscles or other serious injury.

Additionally, due to their composition, they are various diameters in size depending on weight.  This makes them difficult to use for standard olympic lifts such as cleans, snatches and deadlifts, as the starting height of the bar may not be ideal due to the diameter of the plates you may be using.

The Bottom Line

For basic use, it is difficult to beat the price, however.  If you’re in the market for some rubber coated plates for your standard lifts, head over to Amazon and buy a set of XMark Rubber Coated Weights.  They are available in several different weight configurations (as a set) and very cost effective.

 

Solid Rubber Plates

If you want premium equipment, this is the way to go.  Solid rubber bumper plates have no metal (other than the insert/collar) in the plate, and the weight difference is created by varying the thickness of the plate rather than the diameter of the plate, as is the case with rubber coated plates.

Solid rubber bumper plates give you the benefit of a consistent plate diameter and an all-rubber composition that is safe for dropping, and for high repetition impact.

Paying a Premium

There are many manufacturers of solid rubber bumper plates.  Truth be told, many of these plates are sourced from the same factories and rebranded.  As a refugee, we urge you to avoid at all costs paying for a brand instead of a product.  There are times when the brand matters, but typically this is because they truly do offer a better product.  Such is the case with the Concept2 Rower which we have written about in other articles.

Rubber bumper plates should be priced for what they are.  For this reason, we recommend a very specific brand of solid rubber bumper plates, which are reasonably priced, yet every bit as effective as other “premium” brands you might pay extra for.  Do not fall prey to this trick.

Why might you want solid rubber plates?

  • Standard plate diameter means every lift that begins from the ground (i.e. deadlift, clean, snatch) will begin from a standard olympic height.  This is important for form and safety as much as anything else.
  • Using solid rubber plates, you can effectively “bail out” of a lift if something doesn’t feel right, if the weight is too heavy, or if you just wussed out.  Rubber is a great absorber of force and is less likely to damage your floor.
  • Solid rubber is one continuous piece of material, not composed of “crumbs” that are “glued” together.  It is resilient to dropping and high repetition and unlikely to come apart, chip or be as easily damaged as crumb rubber bumper plates.

What are some of the drawbacks to solid rubber plates?

  • Price price price – You typically get what you pay for, but you have to decide what your goal is for lifting.  If you’re not looking for high rep, high impact, then think to yourself if you really need solid rubber?  Maybe rubber coated is more in line with your goals and your budget.
    • Additionally, if it’s just you, and you’re not lifting in a high traffic facility, or a multi-family-member household, you may be able to get by with some crumb rubber bumper plates instead for a little bit cheaper
  • Appearance – Sometimes solid rubber plates will come in various colors.  This can be helpful for identifying weights by pound or kg in a pinch, but globo-gym refugees may find a greater appeal to rugged black plates.
  • Composition – Being all solid rubber, if they do chip or break, it is likely to be a large piece, rendering the plate unusable.
  • Smell – It might seem like a small thing, but they often come from the factory with a strong, factory-fresh rubber smell.  In a tight home or garage gym, this can be irritating for the first few days or weeks while the smell dissipates.

Bottom Line

If you’re looking for solid rubber bumper plates, we recommend plates from OneFitWonder.  Like we mentioned before, many plate brands source their rubber from the same manufacturer and then rebrand it.  Again:  don’t pay for a brand, pay for a product!  OneFitWonder has high quality solid rubber bumper plates available individually or as sets.  Below are some of our favorite sets available on Amazon.

Crumb Rubber Bumper Plates

These are the RefuGym preferred rubber bumper plates.  They put a check in every box and keep the most money in our pockets typically.  Crumb rubber refers to the composition of the plate itself.  These plates are still 100% rubber (other than the metal collars), but consist of fused/glued recycled “crumbs” of rubber, instead of a single solid piece.

Benefits to Crumb Rubber Plates

  • Standard plate diameter – similar to solid rubber plates, they enable the full range of olympic lifts.
  • 100% rubber absorbs impact the same way as solid rubber plates.  Some might argue that due to the less solid composition, these actually absorb impact better than solid rubber!
  • If it chips over time, it is likely to still be usable, albeit marginally lighter depending on how much chips off (we’re talking ounces here, not pounds).  However in our experience, they will take a beating for years without chipping appreciably.
  • Price!  They offer the same utility as solid rubber plates for usually (but not always) less cost.
  • Smell – Although not a hard and fast rule, they typically do not smell as much as solid rubber plates do

Drawbacks to Crumb Bumper Plates

  • They are not as premium as solid plates.  Functionally this makes no difference, though.
  • Although they are all factory tested to be within weight tolerance, there is a slight margin of error on actual product weight by comparison to solid rubber or rubber coated plates.  Again, we are talking fractions of ounces here.
  • More prone to chipping, however unlikely this may be.
  • Along with solid rubber plates, they do not have “handles” like rubber coated plates do.
  • No colors.  The majority of recycled crumb rubber bumper plates typically are black recycled rubber.

Paying a Premium

Just like the solid rubber bumper plates above, we have to recommend products based on price and efficacy, rather than on brand.  Crumb rubber plates often have the same manufacturers as well, and again, re-price based on brand.  In the case of crumb rubber plates, however, we get a bonus, because it just so happens that one of the best brands of crumb rubber bumper plates is also one of the best products!

The Bottom Line

Wright Equipment has been in the bumper plate world for a long time.  They know what they’re doing, have competitive pricing, and offer a product that has real value.  You’re welcome to visit other competitors and pay a premium for effectively the same product, but we wouldn’t recommend it.  You can’t go wrong with Wright Equipment & Wright Rubber.  You can purchase plates from them individually or by set.  We recommend by set in order to save on shipping and make things even more cost effective.  Below are some of our favorite sets from them on Amazon.

What’s the Final Verdict?

So who wins in the battle of the bumpers?

The Wright Equipment Crumb Rubber Bumper Plates take the prize.  Dollar for dollar they offer the best benefit of all the plates.  Our goal is that our equipment be as functional as we are.  In this case, we need weights that can handle high repetitions, potentially high impact, and equally as important, offer us the peace of mind that we can ditch/bail with them safely.

Crumb Bumper Plates absorb impact brilliantly.  Their standard plate diameter means all of our lifts can start from the ground at a proper olympic height.  Their composition means we can drop them from overhead safely.

Better to drop the weights from overhead in triumph than in failure, but we always want to prepare for the worst!

Their price point is often better than the price of solid plates, yet they offer just about every one of the same benefits.

Crumb rubber bumper plates can’t be beat if you’re shopping for a new set of rubber bumper plates.  Use them as a focal point in your RefuGym and you won’t be sorry!

If you can’t decide, head over to The Camp Store and shop around!

Got an opinion on rubber bumper plates?  Share it with us in the comments!

Thanks for reading… stay strong!

Fitness Wrist Wraps Review: WODies and Rogue Fitness Wrist Wraps

In the world of functional fitness, few things are as symbolic as the kipping pull-up and the power clean.  They’re functional, they’re unique, they’re dynamic and they’re effective at building total body coordination, power generation and metabolic conditioning.  Fitness wrist wraps and hand protectors can offer you the peace of mind you need by providing you with added wrist support and hand protection during heavy lifts and high repetition lifts.

One of the famed hallmarks of a functional fitness enthusiast has been torn calluses.  It’s almost a rite of passage.  You haven’t mastered the kipping pull-up until you’ve torn some skin and left some blood on the bar.  Ok, that doesn’t sound too hygienic, but it should still be pretty motivating…

But we’re all about working harder and smarter.  It’s one thing to augment your workouts with the occasional assist to get over a plateau (think assistance bands on a pull-up bar).  It’s another to cheat by providing yourself with a “handicap,” giving you a leg up, and making you feel like you’re progressing more than you actually are.

If there’s one thing you should be while working towards total body fitness, it’s honest with yourself.  Don’t cheat and don’t skimp.

That being said, there’s a difference between cheating and, as mentioned above, working smarter.  If you tear your hands up, you’re looking at days, if not weeks off of the pull-up bar to let your hands recover.  If you haven’t torn a callous on your hand yet, you’ll see why.  They can take forever to heal because your hands are always in motion.  And depending on how thick they are, they can actually be quite serious if they tear, exposing you to infection, scarring, and other nasties.

Fitness Wrist Wraps and Why You Need Them

This is why we are completely in favor of fitness wrist wraps and straps when you are doing high repetition movements like kipping pull-ups, muscle-ups or even power lifts like deadlifts and cleans.  Fitness wrist wraps come in various types.  Some are designed to protect your hands, and others are designed to protect your wrists.

WODies

WODies Hand ProtectorsFor hand and palm protection we love WODies.  These bad boys perform like few other fitness wrist wraps.  They absorb friction and don’t feel like you’re wearing an extra layer as much as other models.  After thousands of pull-ups (more than maybe we should admit), we have yet to have any wear or injuries related to these wraps.

WODies come as a two part product with both a wrist support and a palm protector.  They are ideal for workouts with multiple exercises, and keep you from having to switch between accessories or buy multiple products.  The palm protector easily prevents hand tears, keeping you able to workout longer.  The added bonus of the wrist supports means you can transition quickly to heavy lifts.

These are an awesome product.  Click here to buy yourself some WODies at Amazon.

Standalone Fitness Wrist Wraps

If you’re not too keen on the look and feel of the WODies, then you may want some dedicated wrist wraps.  The WODies are first and foremost hand protectors.  So if you’re an avid lifter and really want the security of added wrist support, we recommend a dedicated set of wrist wraps/supports.  Our very favorite wrist wraps are from Rogue Fitness.  The Rogue Fitness “Crossfit Wrist Wraps” are a solid product.  There aren’t many bells and whistles to them, but they are well manufactured by a quality company.

As we’ve always said, we promote products based on efficacy as much as possible.  We recognize value and we recognize products that work for what they’re built to do.  These wraps are one of those products.

Rogue Fitness Wrist WrapsThey come in multiple colors, and if you’re in the market for some dedicated wrist wraps, click here to pick up a pair.

Wrist wraps serve the purpose of offering wrist support primarily during heavy lifts.  Ultimately it comes down to safety.  They won’t necessarily increase your max lift, but they will offer you additional support while breaking plateaus and setting PR’s.  Die hard old schoolers will insist that any thing of this sort is cheating, including waist belts, but we disagree.  It’s a fine line and it must be toed, but not crossed.

Our philosophy is you should use the tools that help you progress as naturally as possible, using as much of your own strength and technique as possible.  It’s true that too much assistance can lead to poor habits, bad form, and additional problems.  Just like supplements you should assist your workouts as smartly and safely as possible.  You should rely on yourself before you rely on equipment for assistance.

Rowing on the Concept2 Indoor Rowing Machine: The Erg Life

Ah cardio.  Nothing says “I work out” like long, slow, boring runs… Ok, ok, it’s hard to convey sarcasm in text.  So let’s get down to it.  The RefuGym is not a fan of long, slow distance (LSD).  While tempo runs and the occasional distance benchmark is ok for a general sense of overall fitness and progress, it shouldn’t be the cornerstone of any fitness program.  One of the most effective cardio workouts we’ve found is through rowing on the Concept2 indoor rowing machine.

A growing number of coaches and studies are indicating that the best way to improve your performance with LSD is to actually train the short game.  Sprinting on a track is great for this, as is HIIT, which we discussed briefly here.

What we really find as a shortcoming to the running profession is that it focuses largely on lower body and the slight integration of core musculature (for postural support).  It does get the heart pumping, and the metabolic juices flowing, but your cardio game can be so much more.

Enter the Concept 2 Rower, or “Ergometer” is it is often called.

Like all of our recommended products, we try to get the greatest return on our investments.  We don’t want equipment just because it’s expensive and looks nice.  We want it to be effective.  For this reason, we recommend the Concept 2 Model D instead of the Concept 2 Model E.  The Model E comes with a few improvements, and bells and whistles, but it does not appreciably improve upon the rowing experience.  It features a slightly improved Performance Monitor, a higher base, and things like head-to-head rowing capability.  But if you’re a “refugee” you don’t need that stuff.

Stick with the Model D.

Rowing on the Concept2 Indoor Rowing MachineThe short and sweet of it is that a good rowing machine (or, better yet, an actual speed canoe or row boat) offers an incredible total body cardiovascular/metabolic workout.  Distances and paces when rowing on the concept2 indoor rowing machine are roughly equivalent to running, which can make programming fairly straightforward if you come from a running background.

By this we mean that if you a run a fast 18:00 5K, you can expect to row approximately the same distance at approximately the same pace.  Of course there will be some flex room in one way or the other, depending on your experience level, but it’s a good place to start.

Rowing on the Concept2 Indoor Rowing Machine

Like we said, proper rowing on the Concept2 indoor rowing machine will tax your entire body.  There are 4 basic phases to a proper rowing stroke, outlined below:

  1. The Catch
  2. The Drive
  3. The Finish
  4. The Recovery

Each phase is unique and specific, but when worked properly will feel seamless, natural and efficient.

The Catch

The catch is your starting (and also your unlabeled Step #5) position.  In this position your torso is leaned slightly forward, arms stretched out in front of you, knees bent, ankles flex, and heels just about to leave the foot holds.  It is important that even though your torso is leaned forward, your core remains tight.

You should feel like you are reaching forward without completely rounding your back.  Keeping your back rigid, maintaining a slight lumbar curve if possible, will remove strain from your back and improve the next portion of the stroke.

The Catch is the foundation of your stroke.  The further you can reach while keeping good form, the better.  The longer you can force the handle to move with each stroke the better.  This is why taller athletes tend to have a somewhat natural advantage over shorter athletes when it comes to races/competition (but not necessarily fitness!).

The Drive

This is where you generate your power and drive your figurative row boat forward.  The drive consists of an explosive push from your legs.  The angle of your body should not change until your legs have finished straightening out.  Your body and core should remain tight.

For every inch your hips move back while straightening your legs, the handle of the rower should move back the same distance.

This means there should be no movement of your legs that does not transfer into movement of the handle.  If your hips move back but the handle stays in place, or lags behind, it means you are wasting a ton of energy.  If you fail to stay rigid while you drive with your legs, you will have to make up all of the lost momentum using solely upper-body strength, which you will find is not efficient when it comes to rowing on the Concept2 indoor rowing machine.

You should drive back with your legs as strongly as possible, and for as much distance as possible, before you start to open up your torso/hip angle.

The Finish

The Finish is the end of the drive, but not necessarily the end of the stroke.  In The Finish, your legs have finished their explosive straightening.  You should be sitting on the rower with your torso at the same angle as it was in the catch.  Your core and shoulders should be tight.

It is at this point that you will open up your torso/hip angle while pulling ferociously back with your arms and shoulders.

By the end of The Finish, your torso should be leaned slightly back, still rigid and tight, with your legs completely straight, and your arms pulling the rower handle straight back to your chest.

There should be as little vertical movement of the chain as possible.  Your goal from Catch to Finish is to pull the handle and chain straight back.

Vertical movement of the chain is wasted movement and it absorbs energy that would be better transferred into horizontal movement (and thus driving the rower forward faster and further).

If you are having trouble with vertical movement, it is likely you are pulling with your arms too soon before your legs straighten out and before the drive is completely finished.  Likely you are moving the handle vertically in order to avoid hitting your knees; this is a clear indication that your legs have not finished straightening out yet.

Once your torso angle is opened up and you have pulled the handle straight back to your chest, you have completed The Finish.

Recovery

The Recovery is actually what it sounds like.  This is your brief moment of rest in between strokes.  We suggest taking a few fast rhythmic breaths during this portion as a means of helping you establish a pace.  With the explosive power of your drive, and your core tight, breathing will be minimal during the stroke’s first 3 stages.

The Recovery should be Steps 1-3 in reverse.  The last thing to get pulled back were your arms and the handle.  They should be the first ones to go forward.  Extend your arms and shoulders to place the handle back in front of you, following it up with your torso, returning back to the same torso/hip angle you started in.

At this point you will be essentially at the end of your drive stage again but going in reverse order.  From here bend your knees.

The handle should not have to move vertically to avoid your knees.  If it does, you are doing The Recovery in the wrong order!

As your knees bend, you will return to The Catch position.  Reach far forward with your arms and shoulders, knees bent, and torso/hip angle closed, ready for the next drive.

Tie It Together

Those are the basics of an efficient stroke.  Congratulations!  You’re now knowledgeable in rowing on the Concept2 indoor rowing machine.  Now let’s talk the rower itself.

The rower works with a flywheel, designed to provide increased resistance based on the effort exerted.  Certain stationary bikes work in the same way, and this actually closely mimics what happens when you place an real oar into water.

The Concept 2 Rower has a damper setting that can be adjusted from 1 to 10.  Often times this gets confused with a “difficulty setting,” with lots of globo-gym fools maxing it out to 10 thinking they are getting the best workout.  This is actually not true.

Think of the damper as the gears on a bike.  If set to 1, each stroke will require less effort.  However you will require more strokes per minute in order to move the same distance.  The net energy expended will be roughly equivalent to setting it to 10.  At a damper setting of 10, each stroke will be significantly harder, but the “boat” will travel much, much further per stroke.  Again, the net energy expenditure is approximately the same.

To simulate a real row boat, we recommend a setting in the middle, with 5 being our typical recommendation.  You may actually find, with practice, that you are a more efficient rower (meaning greater distance with less energy) at this damper setting, as most people do.  Do not misconstrue this and think you are not getting as good of a workout… trust us… you are.

Is That It?  Really?

Believe it or not, that’s all there is to the rower.  You can get out there, hop on a Concept 2, and even without a performance monitor, start rowing.  You won’t have the bells and whistles like distance, calorie and wattage calculations, but your body will know it’s working.

The Concept 2 features a terrific performance monitor though, and we strongly recommend you use it.  With it you can program and save an assortment of workouts, ranging from interval training to our dreaded LSD.

Just Go

Or you can just turn it on and start rowing on and it will keep track of your progress.

If you’re just getting started rowing on the Concept2 indoor rowing machine, one of the best ways to get a feel for it is to start at a slow, comfortable pace for short distances.

Make a conscientious attempt to keep your number of strokes per minute (SPM, or S/M) between 25-32 if possible.  Rowing too fast is often an indicator of an inefficient stroke.

We have witnessed many people going at 27 efficient s/m rowing faster and further than someone going at an inefficient 45 s/m.

It’s all about your form and the efficiency of your stroke and the power of your drive.  You can row 45 strokes per minute with no explosive drive, and it will feel like you are treading water.  Making an attempt to get as much distance out of each stroke, keeping between 25 and 32 strokes per minute, will yield the best possible workout.  Try it and see.

There is no solid pace for a beginner to shoot for.  Figure out what’s comfortable for you and work your weakness.  HIIT is easy when rowing on the Concept2 indoor rowing machine, and you can even program your own custom workouts.

A general guideline to shoot for is a sustained pace of 2:00 per 500m over various distances up to 10K.  For sprints, a very respectable pace is 1:30 per 500m.

There is a reason we love writing about rowing on the Concept2 indoor rowing machine.  It’s been a RefuGym centerpiece for years.  It is one of our essential gym tools and is built to last.

Barefoot and Minimalistic Running Principles

POSE running

“Chronic Cardio,” as Mark Sisson of Mark’s Daily Apple and The Primal Blueprint calls it, is, according to us, one of the greatest fallacies of the modern fitness industry.  Improper form in pursuit of cardio for the sake of cardio has created the need for further knowledge in barefoot and minimalistic running principles.

Everyone tells you that to get better at running, you just gotta run.  If you were reading the bestseller Outliers: The Story of Success, you might agree.  Maybe if you just put in the 10,000 hours required to master a skill, you’ll be one of those “natural runners” everyone always talks about.  The type of runner everyone envies.

The truth is, there’s a lot more to running than just doing it.  More importantly is how you run.  Over thousands of years, the human locomotive machine perfected the art of bipedal movement over land, through the natural selection of positive traits catering to it.  Just as our gut evolved to work in symbiosis with the billions of bacteria that line it, and our immune systems evolved to conquer disease that would otherwise extinguish the human experiment on Earth, the human musculoskeletal system evolved to effectively move us from point A to point B… in search of food, shelter and expansion.

So why is it that after thousands of years of fine tuning, “scientists” (read: shoe and fitness manufacturers) have determined they can do it better?  They believe that in the span of a few decades, they can improve on, or even negate the thousands of years of comprehensive troubleshooting we’ve already been through.  And so, with the signing of a check, and contracting of a factory, the big shoe companies sold us on the idea that we aren’t designed to run… but that we can be… if we use their products.

Barefoot and Minimalistic Running Principles

Ever watch a child squat?  It’s perfect.  Ever watch an adult office worker?  No?  That’s because the vast majority can’t.  To that same degree, there is a stark contrast between someone who has never worn shoes, and someone who was raised wearing Nike’s.  The entire form of their motion is different.

Not only is it different.  It is more efficient.

In Dr. Nicholas Romanov’s Pose Method of Running, available on Amazon, a name is given to what we believe is the humans’ natural running form:  “Pose Method.”

The “POSE” Method

The method involves what we like to describe as a controlled, supported fall.  In essence, the body leans forward at all times, commensurate with the rate of intended speed.  As the body falls, the runner will pick his or her trailing foot up, directly underneath themselves.  At the same time, the runner’s lead foot will extend directly underneath, replacing the support, and landing between the mid-foot and ball of the foot.

This “Pose -> Fall -> Pull” method is easily seen with sprinters.  Since we are already conditioned to run incorrectly, it is harder to master at slower speeds.  The benefits of this method largely revolve around the lessened impact of the lead foot.  By landing midfoot to ball of foot, with the foot directly underneath the runner’s center of gravity, any remaining impact is effectively absorbed by one of the body’s largest built-in shock absorbers:  The calves and hamstrings.

Runner Heel StrikeInstead of a heavily impacted “heel strike” (pictured), in which the shock of the impact is not so much absorbed as it is exploded upon the bones and joints of the lower leg, the forefoot strike provides a natural absorption and bounce, allowing the runner to nearly float on the surface they are running on… provided they maintain a forward lean at the ankle.  When we talk about barefoot and minimalistic running principles, we are envisioning the POSE method.

The Wrong Footwear

The major shoe manufacturers would have you believe the correct way to run is by striking the heel of your foot on the ground as you push yourself forward with your trailing leg.  They will also tell you that the reason behind your shin splints, stress fractures, and chronic knee pain, is that you don’t have enough padding on your $100+ running shoes.  When you go to buy your fancy shoes, they come with anywhere from 1″-3″ of heel padding, which encourages you to strike with your heel even more, and thus perpetuates the cycle.

Instead of correcting the flaws in your running form, which were causing your injuries to begin with, the major shoe manufacturers encourage you to mask it with temporary corrective measures, all the while encouraging you to develop worse and worse chronic running injuries, and forcing you to buy shoes which allow you to compensate over and over again.

It is a brilliant marketing scheme, but unfortunately it is damaging generations of recreational runners by completely ignoring the essential barefoot and minimalistic running principles.

As a refugee, you should feel great without shoes on!  It’s our natural form, and with a little practice you’ll find you enjoy running much more.

Fixing Your Form

Read Doctor Romanov’s book to start.  Watch some videos to get a better idea of what it should look like.  But ultimately, the best thing you can do is practice.  Do not confuse this with meaning “more is better.  The quality of your practice is much more important than the quantity.  You must focus on mastery of the barefoot and minimalistic running principles in order to make this work.

We suggest you start barefoot on a soft grassy surface.  Run no more than 400m at a time for the first few days or weeks.  This will help the small muscles and bones in your feet get used to not being cushioned by layers and layers of superfluous padding.  You will develop callouses and calcifications.  Your tendons will stretch and heal.  Pay close attention to your Achilles Tendon, which often times is the first sign of injury when you have begun the switch to barefoot running too quickly.  Tendonitis is difficult and painful to recover from, so pay close attention, and if you notice pain, stop and rest.

Vibram Fivefingers KSO

If you are concerned about rocks, glass, sticks, etc.  Or maybe you just don’t want to get your feet dirty.  In this case our favorite minimalist shoes, which still encourage the proper running form are the Vibram Fivefingers KSO (men).  The KSO stands for “Keep Stuff Out,” and just means they ride a little higher to keep out debris.  They offer no padding between your foot and the ground, and provide a remarkable feeling of connectedness to the world you’re running in.

Your toes are individually pocketed, which allows your foot to completely bend, flex, grip and push off of every detail of every surface it touches.  You will know instantly whether your form is in need of improvement.  Without the padding of your ineffective, expensive shoes, your foot will provide you with instant feedback.  It will tell you whether or not you are running and impacting the way you should be.

There are multiple models of Fivefingers available for selection as well as a few knock-off brands.  Although we often sacrifice brand name for price, the original Vibram Fivefingers have earned a reputation worthy of our endorsement.  Do not skimp here.

The shoes are also available in women’s sizes:  Vibram Fivefingers KSO (women)

Nike Free Trainer

If old habits really die hard for you, and you just can’t shake the idea of wearing an actual shoe, then we think the Nike Free will fit your bill.  Unfortunately, there are a few caveats.  You’re going to have to pay the price that the major shoe manufacturers have milked out of the shoe industry.  They’re not cheap.

But they are an effective alternative.  Although they don’t replicate the ideal barefoot experience, they are an order of magnitude better than the standard foot-fare.  They still encourage proper barefoot and minimalistic running principles on the whole.

The Nike Free comes in a few different models, from 1.0 to 5.0 and up.  These numbers correspond to the thickness of the padding and cushion on the heel.  We believe that less is often better, and being minimalistic and effective is one of the RefuGym mantras.  If you can stomach it, go for the 1.0.  They are stylish and at least marginally effective at improving your running form.

The Takeaway

You can’t run effectively if you’re running wrong.  This is why barefoot and minimalistic running principles are so important.  Lots of major manufacturers tell you that you can fix what nature never broke, by funneling money to their pockets.  Minimalistic running has been in and out of the mainstream, and unfortunately still has a faddish cloud surrounding it.  But try it for yourself and see the difference.

Always remember to listen to your body as you transition into new training methodologies.

If it hurts stop and rest.  Adjust your form if needed.  Read up on your POSE Method literature, pick up some Vibram  Fivefingers or Nike Frees and practice effectively.

We will cover treadmills and running alternatives in other articles.

In the meantime, stay free and enjoy your run!

The Perfect Speed Rope… And Why You Need It

Jumping rope seems like such an archaic exercise these days.  The boring act of jumping rope is turned upside-down when you start using the perfect speed rope in your workouts.  Without it, it’s just jumping in place.

At least with running, you can see some sights, right?  Like everything in fitness — and in life, really — it all depends on what you put into it.  In the business of sticking it to the globo-gym masters, refugees like us are committed to getting bang for our buck.  This means increased work performance and power output for less money and less complexity.

Jumping rope fits this bill perfectly.  The perfect speed rope will ideally cost you only a small amount and it will provide you with a potential for exertion that you wouldn’t believe until you tried it.

Why Jump Rope

We’re not talking about your grandpa’s ol’ “skip rope in the afternoons before bingo” game here.  We’re talking about high intensity speed roping.  Think double unders, triple unders and crossovers.  These are seemingly basic movements that produce outstanding results.

The coordination required for double and triple-unders is often underestimated, even by seasoned speed-ropers.  The power output involved in consistently forcing your body to remain airborne for 1/4 second at a time, dozens of times in a minute is tremendous.  You’ll be gassed before you can say “dear god this is amazing.”

The Perfect Speed Rope Features

Handles

In shopping for the perfect speed rope, there are a few considerations.  The weight of the handles is important.  You can go for broke and get some handles that weight a couple ounces, which will add a little resistance to your workout and really make things tough.  Or if speed and reps is your motivation, lighter handles will probably be best.

Double and triple unders are things you will need to master after you get consistently good at fast singles.  Our best recommendation is to get a rhythm.  Something like “1-2-3 singles” followed by an attempt at a double.  Rinse and repeat until you can start stringing them together.  Pros can do dozens and dozens of double unders.  It just involves the rope passing under your feet two times with each jump.

Triple-unders?  Think double-unders, but add a rep!  That’s right… you should be airborne while the rope passes around your entire body 3 times before hitting the deck.  That means EXPLOSIVE power, and EXPLOSIVE, COORDINATED synchronization and rotation of the hands, wrists and arms.  You can’t beat it.

Rope Construction

Once you decide on the weight of the handles, take a look at the construction of the rope itself.  We recommend a braided steel core/cable, surrounded by vinyl or polyvinyl.  These, in our opinion stand up to wear and tear the best.  If at all possible, practice on non-abrasive surfaces, like wood, tile, rubber, etc.  Concrete, asphalt and dirt will reduce the lifespan of your rope… especially when you consider that if you do 100 double-unders, the rope is whipping against the floor 200 times in a short amount of time.

Bearing Assembly

Lastly, along with the weight of the handles, you want to consider the construction of the bearing assembly.  Is the rope just tied on?  This is a NO-GO, because it will just tangle and twist.  Look for high quality ball bearing construction of the rope/handle link.  This will provide a smooth whip and really help you along as you progress.

We really like the Dragonshous Speed Jump Rope, which you can get on Amazon.  It costs a little more than our ideal rope, but you get the benefit of aluminum handles.  The handles are still lightweight, and they will be more resistant to breakage if you happen to drop them, throw them or accidentally step on or trip up at high speed.  They’re definitely not mission-critical, but they are a nice addtion.

Our preferred speed rope is the WODWear Ultra Fast Speed Rope.  This rope is perfect.  The cable is perfectly weighted for high speed jumping, the handles are incredibly lightweight, and the ball bearings make it for a smooth whip every time.  Expect some serious whip and speed out of this thing… once you get going fast enough it will be hard to distinguish the sounds of your individual reps… it’s that fast!  It fits our budget specs as well, which means when you need to replace it (and you will, some day, just like every rope), it won’t break the bank.

Both of these ropes are fully adjustable to your preferred height.  You’ll know what height works best when you find it, but our general rule is that if you step in the middle of the rope and pull the handles up to your sides, they should just about reach your armpits.  Adjust as needed.Speed Rope Height Adjustment

The End Effect

With the perfect speed rope in your arsenal, you can add a ton of variety to your workouts.  You can do Tabatas as part of a HIIT workout, work strictly on coordination, use it as a warmup or cool-down, or couple it with other strength work to keep your body guessing.

As a side note: we really like Rogue equipment.  The quality of their speed ropes is terrific.  We strive to recommend products that we feel are the most effective gear for “refugees.”  If we can recommend a cheaper, equally effective product for achieving peak physical fitness and performance, then that is what we will do.  Our goal is for you to get fit, free yourself from the globo-gym masters, and build your own RefuGym using the best gear for the best price.

Like our recommendation?  Hate it?

What is your favorite rope and why?

Concept2 Model D Indoor Rowing Machine Review

The quintessential cardio machine.  This Concept2 Model D Indoor Rowing Machine Review will illustrate why the Concept2 Model D belongs in every RefuGym, hands down.

For a long time, globo-gym prisoners have convinced themselves that cardio means running.  It’s dreaded.  No one likes it.  Progress is slow.  You feel tired, and unless you stick with it for a long time, and specialize (the enemy of fitness), you likely won’t see progression.

Introducing the Concept2 Indoor Rower

The Concept2 Model D changed everything.

It was the first piece of equipment, other than our awesome StudBar Pull-up Bar, to make it into our first home RefuGym.  After only 2 months of off-and-on training with the Concept2 Model D, incorporating it into various workouts, but rarely doing it solo, we noticed real, tangible improvements in overall fitness.  The gains we made in speed on the rower directly carried over to our run times.  Overall metabolic conditioning improved, which translated to improved fitness, functionality and speed across a wide number of exercises.

Rowing machines are by nature lower impact than running.  The Model D takes this a step further with its weighted flywheel, which allows you to vary resistance from 1 to 10.  We recommend a setting right in the middle, around 5, to simulate more of an actual professional rowing boat.  If you really want to push yourself, then setting it to 10 is more akin to a non-streamlined row-boat, rather than a racing canoe.

No matter what you set it to, though, you will never run out of ways to adjust your routine.  And this is really the best part.  When you are rowing on an indoor rower, there is no routine.  You get constantly varied fitness… every time you row!

Concept2 Model D Indoor Rowing Machine Review vs. Model E

The Concept 2 Model D is the predecessor to the Model E, but we here at the RefuGym don’t believe in paying premiums for the sake of premiums.  Everything the Model E can do, functionally, the Model D can do as well, and for a better price point.  Dollar for dollar, you cannot buy a better piece of equipment for your home RefuGym.

The machine itself is built with the highest of quality.  In Afghanistan and Iraq, Marines and Special Forces have used these for months outdoors.  After a simple wipe-down to remove larger grains of sand, they are back at it.  We have seen them used first-hand on the front lines to train and prepare American military men and women for the rigors of combat.  The parts are easily replaced if they do wear out, but in over 15 years, we have not seen it!

The Model D comes with lots of different modes.  The performance monitor allows you to create and save workouts from multiple profiles — it tracks calories, meters, watts… you name it.  You can monitor your progress from workout to workout, compare your workouts to others online, and customize the entire experience to exactly what you need.

Types of Workouts

Our favorite is a 5K Time Trial.  It’s short enough to not feel as long as a marathon, but still feels like you just sprinted one anyway.

There are multiple places to buy the Model D, but being the cost-savvy people that refugees are, we recommend Amazon.  Concept2 will still back their product, and you will get it for a little bit cheaper.  Don’t be scared by the price… this machine is worth it.

If you could buy no other machine for your RefuGym, this is the one we would recommend.

We’ll have more to say about the Concept2 in future articles, but for now all we’ll say is “GET IT!!”

The Model D has our highest recommendation, in both effectiveness as a tool in your RefuGym, and quality of manufacture.  Few exercises stress the body with the same resistance, flexibility/mobility and cardiovascular challenge than a well-built rowing machine.  It’s not a substitute for the occasional run, but after a period of time on the rower, you’ll wonder why you hadn’t started it sooner.

Let us know what you think of it!

Yukon Fitness GHD Review – An Essential Home Gym Machine

Functionally, the core muscles are the most important component of the human body.  They keep us upright as we get from point A to B.  They help us lift, they help us sit, they help us push and pull.  This Yukon Fitness GHD review will discuss why the Yukon Fitness GHD is one of the ultimate core conditioners.

Going Hard Core

The core muscles, contrary to popular belief, are more than your six-pack abs.  Those globo-gym goofballs with washboard abs and zero core strength may be nice to look at, but they aren’t ready to be refugees yet.  If you’re part of the RefuGym movement, you know that there’s more to being fit, functional and fast than looking pretty in a mirror.

Of course, that comes with the territory as an added perk to being a globo-gym refugee.

To get a strong core is simple: lift heavy things, frequently, and train your body as a whole.  If you’re here, you already know that isolation exercises are for the birds.  To train your core as a whole requires targeting while not targeting.  This means we can target our core muscles without isolating them.

Rise of the Machines

While the RefuGym doesn’t always speak too highly about “machines,” (because SkyNet is a real threat), there are a select few tools that every globo-gym refugee should have in their toolbox.  One of these is a glute & hamstring developer.

Sometimes referred to as a hyperextension bench, or “Roman Chair,” these simplistic gadgets help us engage our entire anterior and posterior chains, using dynamic, multi-muscular movements.

Unfortunately, the globo-gym big-brothers (GGBB) want us to keep coming back to their overpriced gyms, and so the majority of these machines are priced for royalty.  As a refugee, you are not royalty… nor do you want to be.  This is why the only hyperextension/glute-ham developer that we at the RefuGym endorse is the Yukon Fitness Hyperextension Glute/Ham Developer (aka Yukon GHD).

As one of the first tools to adorn the RefuGym, other than our much adored Concept2 Model D Indoor Ergometer (aka the “OH MY GOD THIS IS THE GREATEST INVENTION EVER!” Machine), the Yukon GHD gets our bodies working more than almost any other tool.

Smoking the Competition

Ignore the overpriced York, Rogue and other GHD’s that are targeted to large, non-refugee gyms, and cater to a clientele that wants to pay to get fit (rather than WORK to get fit).  The Yukon GHD is priced much cheaper than much of its competition, but maintains all of the same functionality.

When we first started working with a GHD, we thought about what features were really necessary.  We compared some of the high-end machines to the Yukon entry, and found no real discernable difference between functionality as it would relate to price point.  Don’t pay money just for a brand name… buy what you need to be functional, fit and fast.

The Yukon Fitness GHD fits this bill perfectly.

The machine assembles quickly.  The welds are solid, and the parts are heavy gauge steel, as per the Yukon spec site.  Importantly, Yukon is still a trusted brand in the fitness equipment world.  It’s not a knock-off like several of the cheaper products, and so it carries with it the reliability of a higher-class manufacturer with the price point of a bargain brand.

Yukon Fitness GHD Review: A Machine That Says “I work out”

We at RefuGym have used the Yukon GHD for 10 years and have only great things to say about it.  It is the focal point of many of our workouts and the original RefuGym has an entire corner dedicated to it.

Some of the exercises you can do on a quality Glute/Ham Developer are:

  • Hip-extensions
  • Back-extensions
  • Combo Hip-Back extensions
  • Hyper-extension sit-ups
  • Weighted hypers
  • Medicine ball toss & catch

The Yukon GHD is adjustable to fit various body types and sizes.  It can accommodate anyone from a fully-fledged refugee to a fledgling escapist.

When you are building your own RefuGym, we strongly recommend a quality glute & ham developer like the one made by Yukon Fitness.  It shouldn’t be the only machine you own, or your only fitness tool.  But it’s easily one of the most effective builders of core strength in your RefuGym arsenal… and for good reason.

Check it out and let us know what you think of it!