Category - Guides

Travel WOD – Workout on the Road or on Vacation

You’ve taken the first step to fitness freedom by ending your membership to your local globo-gym. You’ve read our post on how to start your own gym at home or in your garage. Just when you think everything is going smooth, life throws a wrench into the works. This wrench can come in a lot of different forms, from family emergencies, to vacations, to business trips. The one consistency is that it removes you from your home gym and forces you to find a way to get an effective workout on the road. This is where the travel WOD (workout of the day) comes in. Read on for tips and pointers on how to get the most bang for your buck while on the road.

A travel WOD can range anywhere from simple to complex. As we’ve shown in some of our posts on programming, there is a lot you can do with zero equipment. From high intensity interval training using bodyweight exercises, to pull-up ladders using a decent mounted pull-up bar.

How to keep your workouts effective when on the road

When you’re forced to leave most of your equipment behind, it can become easy to fall into complacency. Often times in the absence of our barbell and bumper plates we can find ourselves leaning on what we’re most comfortable with. Many an athlete have gotten caught in this trap. They end up defaulting to long, boring runs on treadmills in the rec-centers of hotels. This is a fitness death trap!

If you end up on the road, there are a few basic tools you can fall back on to keep your travel WOD workouts as effective as they were at home.

Build a Travel WOD Go-Bag

A Go-Bag is a simple, portable collection of tools you can use on the road when you need to fit in a travel WOD. Think of it as your emergency gym kit. We recommend filling a small sport or duffel bag with some combination of the following items:

  • Gymnastic Rings

    A good set of gymnastic rings are a life saver. Find any surface that you can toss the straps over and you’ve got a whole body workout at your fingertips. If you can’t find the height to do pull-ups, you can always drop the rings lower and throw in some inverted rows or push-ups for a smokin’ whole body workout.
    Rings will allow you to do a ton of different pulling exercises on surfaces that would otherwise be unusable. Think tree branches, girders, rafters, or other structural members.

  • TRX Suspension Trainer

    We love the versatility and simplicity of gymnastic rings. They’re perfect for a home gym. But sometimes you need to accessorize, and this is where the TRX Suspension Trainer system comes in handy. It has a couple perks that you won’t get with rings. The TRX system makes mounting to a wider variety of objects a little bit easier.
    Want to mount to a door? No problem with the TRX. With rings? Not so simple. The TRX system caters to a wider variety of exercises. Although it comes with a more hefty price tag, we feel it reflects the versatility well and is worth every penny. The TRX is a great, compact addition to your Go-Bag.

  • Push-Up Bars

    These are a cheap, easy to transport way of getting more from a common bodyweight exercise. We would normally recommend full-sized parallettes for your home gym, like these on Amazon. But since portability is important here, the smaller push-up bars offer similar (but not exact) function.

  • Speed Rope Jump Rope

    This is a no-brainer. A high quality speed rope will keep you off the treadmills and ellipticals, and will get you way more out of your workout. A speed rope can be used on its own or as a part of a circuit during your travel WOD. They are perfect for warmups, cool downs and everything in between. Want to get smoked? Use your speed rope for HIIT or Tabatas.

  • Cross Training Shoes and Lifting Shoes

    It’s not necessary that you have both pairs of shoes. Most cross training shoes designed for functional fitness training will be ok for lifting. If your’e on the road, you’re not quite as likely to find decent lifting equipment anyway, such as a barbell and bumper plates. For this reason lifting shoes are a nice thing to have, but probably not critical gear for your Go-Bag. A good pair of cross training shoes should go with you if possible, though.

  • Wrist Wraps or Hand Protectors

    Not essential, but nice to have. If you’re on the road, you don’t want to worry about hand injuries, especially if one of your go-to exercises is going to be pull-ups. We really like WODies.

  • Recovery and Foam Rolling

    We have a short guide on this subject and believe in it strongly. If you do nothing else while on the road, use it as a time when you can take recovery seriously. Spend some time rolling and caring for your body. When you get back home your body will thank you for it. TriggerPoint makes our preferred foam rolling and recovery gear.

  • Protein and Shaker Bottle

    A lot of this topic comes down to personal preference. Every person’s nutritional needs may be different but it’s safe to say that when you’re on the road, getting proper nutrition may be difficult. Keep your protein requirements in mind as you build your Go-Bag, and pick up a cheap, economical shaker bottle to go with it.

  • The actual Go-Bag itself

    We really like the Everest gym bag with wet pocket. It has room for everything we’ve mentioned in this list, and a few special features that make it very convenient. The wet pocket makes it so you can store dirty/sweaty clothes separate from the rest of your gear. There is also a separate compartment that you can put your shoes in. The bag is going to come down to your personal preference, really. We suggest not spending more than you need to on features that you don’t necessarily need; a lot of the high speed “tactical” bags have bells and whistles that may sound great on paper but don’t add a lot of functionality.

Workouts you can do using your Go-Bag

Your Go-Bag will probably evolve over time, and there’s nothing wrong with that. You may not want to include everything from our list. If you have a TRX system, for example, you can probably skip out on the rings and push-up bars, since the TRX can be an effective substitute for both in a pinch.

The aim should be to find the most effective use of your bodyweight, because on the road that is likely all you will have to work with.

Here is a great video, featuring Rich Froning on some crossfit travel WODs you can do on the road with no gear other than your Go-Bag. Feel free to substitute and mix and match as you see fit. Just remember that complacency is the enemy of progress. Get out of your comfort zone!

Are bodyweight workouts effective?

Worried that bodyweight workouts aren’t effective enough? Tell that to the Bar Brothers, who have perfected the art of the pull-up. For a great fitness program featuring just a stationary pull-up bar, we recommend you check out our post on the Bar Brothers program. You might not be able to utilize it in a hotel room, but you can effectively turn any place with a pull-up bar into your travel gym.

The key is variation and intensity. Varying things up and keeping things interesting will keep you f rom getting bored and complacent. You’ll be more likely to stay on track with your fitness goals.

Use these workouts as a base of ideas for creating and implementing your own travel WOD plan for when you’re on the road.  The list is by no means meant to be comprehensive.

Running WODs

  • 4 Rounds for Time:
    • Run 400m
    • 50 Air Squats (or 20 double-unders)
  • 4 Rounds For Time:
    • Sprint 200m
    • 15 Air Squats
    • 10 Push Ups
    • 5 Walking Lunges (each leg)
  • 4 Rounds For Time:
    • Sprint 200m
    • 20 Burpees
  • 4 Rounds for Time:
    • Run 800m
    • Rest the amount of time it took you to run
  • 10 Rounds:
    • Sprint 100m
    • Rest 1:00
  • 10 Rounds for Time:
    • Sprint 100m
    • Walk 100m
  • 4 Rounds for Time:
    • Run 200m
    • 10 Air Squats
    • 5 Walking Lunges each leg
  • Run 1 Mile for Time:
    • Every 1:00 stop the timer and do 5 burpees

Bodyweight WODs

  • 20 Rounds for Time:
    • 5 Push-Ups
    • 5 Air Squats
    • 5 Sit-Ups
  • Every Minute Until Failure:
    • 1:00 – Do 1 Push-Up
    • 2:00 – Do 2 Push-ups
    • 3:00 – Do 3 Push-ups
    • 10:00 – Do 10 Push-ups
    • Keep going until you can’t do as many push-ups in that minute (i.e. at 20:00 you are only able to do 19 push-ups in that minute)
  • 5 Rounds:
    • 21-15-9:
      • Air Squats
      • Push-Ups
  • 5 Rounds:
    • 5 Hand Stand Push-Ups
    • 20 Sit-Ups
    • 20 Air Squats
  • Hold a Handstand against a wall for a total of 5:00. Rest as needed.
  • For Time:
    • 100 Burpees
  • Tabata Air Squats:
    • 8 Rounds:
      • Squat for 20 seconds
      • Rest for 10 seconds
  • Tabata Push-Ups:
    • 8 Rounds:
      • Push-Ups for 20 seconds
      • Rest for 10 seconds
  • 10 Rounds:
    • 10 Air Squats
    • 10 Burpees

Rings, TRX and Pull-Up Bar WODs

  • Hold an L-sit on the Rings, TRX, or Parallettes for a total of 5:00.  Rest as needed.
  • 5 Rounds for Time:
    • 5 Muscle-Ups (Rings)
    • 10 Push-ups
    • 15 Squats
  • As Many Rounds in 20 Minutes:
    • 5 Pull-Ups
    • 1o Push-Ups
    • 15 Squats
  • Lower the Rings or TRX to a few inches above the ground:
    • 50 full range of motion push-ups, resting only at the top
  • 5 Rounds for Time:
    • 20 Pull-Ups
    • 20 Push-Ups
  • 5 Rounds:
    • 2 Bar Muscle-Ups
    • 4 Pull-Ups
    • 10 Second Hold Chin over Bar
    • 20 Squats

Jump Rope WODs

  • 10 Rounds for Time:
    • 20 Double-Unders
    • 20 Squats
    • 20 Broad Jumps
  • 5 Rounds for Time:
    • 25 Double-Unders
    • 15 Burpees
  • 10 Rounds for Time:
    • 10 Push-Ups
    • 10 Air Squats
    • 10 Double Unders
  • 50-40-30-20-10:
    • Double-Unders
    • Push-Ups
    • Squats
  • 100 Double Unders for Time
  • 10 Rounds:
    • 20 Double-Unders
    • 10 Squats
  • 5 Rounds for Time:
    • 20 Push-Ups
    • 30 Sit-Ups
    • 40 Squats
    • 50 Double-Unders

Conclusion

The combinations and variations of the above workouts are limitless. We recommend you go into each road trip with a plan, or at least a vague list of what workouts you’ll be equipped for. Trying to come up with things on a whim will probably land you in the trap we mentioned above: doing something you’re comfortable with.

Building a decent travel WOD Go-Bag will be a great investment in yourself and in your own personal fitness. Using our tips of what to pack, and suggestions on possible workouts is a great place to start.

 

Have recommendations for an addition to the Go-Bag? Have a favorite road warrior or travel WOD workout? Let us know in the comments!

 

 

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!

Concept2 Rower Workouts for Your Home Gym

You can’t beat the Concept2 Indoor Rowing Machine for a home fitness cardio workout like no other.  Concept2 rower workouts simulate open water rowing in a professional row boat.  It features what we call “bomb-proof” construction, an adjustable damper (what many call a difficulty setting), a sophisticated electronic performance monitor, and above all else:  a low impact, dynamic, whole body cardiovascular/metabolic workout you can do from home.

Concept2 rower workouts provide the athlete with a variety of options, from long-slow-distance to High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT).  You can get a high intensity workout from running, but it won’t tax your entire body the way a Concept2 Rower workout will.  You can get a high intensity, whole body workout from swimming, but it won’t provide the resistance and explosive power that a Concept2 Rower workout will.

For all intents and purposes, the Concept2 Rower can’t be beat for a home cardiovascular routine.

The Concept2 is one of our Home Gym Essentials.  It is one of the most expensive pieces of equipment you will buy for your RefuGym, but it is worth every penny.  Combined with a StudBar Pull-Up Bar, a good economical Wright Barbell and Wright Bumper Plates, you will have an incredibly dynamic home gym or garage gym, ready to provide a ton of workouts.

There are two main models of the Concept2 Rower, the Model D and the Model E.  We recommend the Model D for your Concept2 rower workouts from home because the Model E tends to be catered to a higher end clientele, interested in more advanced performance monitoring.  Other differences between the E and D are mostly cosmetic and non-essential, and do not specifically improve the function or efficacy of the rower appreciably.  Get the Model D if you’re working out from home or from your garage.

Finally you can cancel your gym membership, workout from home, and be able to say you’ve got your own garage gym!

The below list is a running log of some of our favorite Concept2 Rower Workouts that you can do from home.  If you have a Performance Monitor hooked up to your rower, you can gauge how well you did, and how you’re improving over time.

Concept2 Rower Workouts

Long Slow Distance

  • Row 5K for Time
    • Aim for a 2:00/500m pace
    • Try to keep your strokes per minute between 25 and 30
    • Damper Setting: 5
  • Row 10K for Time
    • Aim for a 2:10/500m pace
    • Try to keep your strokes per minute between 24 and 28
    • Damper Setting: 5

Medium Intensity

  • 1K Intervals:
    • Row 1K
      • Aim for a 1:55/500m pace
      • Try to keep your strokes per minute between 24-28
      • Damper Setting: 5
    • REST for the amount of time it took you to row your first 1K
    • Row 1K
    • Repeat for a total of 5K
  • 500m Intervals:
    • Row 500m
      • Aim for a 1:50/500m pace
      • Try to keep your strokes per minute between 24 and 27
      • Damper Setting: 5
    • Rest for 3 minutes
    • Repeat for a total of 2.5K

High Intensity

  • 500m Sprints:
    • Row 500m
      • Aim for less than 1:50/500m pace
      • Try to keep your strokes per minute between 24 and 27
      • Damper Setting: 5
    • Rest for 1:00
    • Repeat 4 times
  • 250m Sprints:
    • Row 250m
      • Aim for less than 1:50/500m pace
      • Try to keep your strokes per minute between 24 and 26
      • Damper Setting: 5
    • Rest for 20 seconds
    • Repeat 6 times

Keep Things Interesting

The variations on distance:rest are infinite.  We have found that sticking to 5K, 1K, 500m and 250m offers the best results; from there it is all about adjusting the speed at which you row, the stroke pace and the rest time.  Keeping the stroke rate lower than 30 is beneficial because it forces you to use more explosive strength from your legs, rather than just increasing the number of strokes to travel the same distance.  Your goal is to travel as much distance as possible using as few strokes as possible.

If you’re not interested in intervals (but why wouldn’t you be?!), you can always just sit down and start rowing.  The Performance Monitor on the rower will automatically start up and begin tracking your distance.  There’s nothing wrong with the occasional longer distance row at a slower pace; in fact it can be somewhat meditative in its own right.

If you really want a twist, there is a game built into the performance monitor as well, called the Fish Game.  You are a fish, and your goal is to eat smaller fish, while avoiding bigger fish.  Rowing faster causes your fish to swim higher, while resting or rowing slower causes your fish to sink.  You will have to speed up and slow down rapidly in order to dodge various fish, and catch others.  It’s a fun game and it is a good way to vary things up, but it is not the best for structured programming where you’re looking to improve in very specific areas.

Got a Concept2 rower workout you like?  Want to brag about your time?  Let us know in the comments below!

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!

Essential Garage Gym Equipment: Outfitting Your RefuGym (Part 1)

Rubber Bumper Plates Guide

Before we started living it up in our garage, we were draining our pay checks on gym memberships that we rarely used.  Even when we did go, we rarely used our memberships effectively.  The globo-gym industry is programmatically designed to keep people fat, lazy and nearly dead.  It is inconvenient to go; it is crowded when you get there; there are too many machines to know what to do with.  Ultimately a gym membership is ineffective.  If you’re here, it’s because you escaped and want to know what essential garage gym equipment you need to create your personal RefuGym.

You’ve realized that you can reach peak fitness and functionality without paying for a membership somewhere.  Outfitting your personal RefuGym with some basic essential garage gym equipment is a cost-effective way to achieve your potential without any of the red tape that comes with a gym membership.

Essential Garage Gym Equipment

Too often beginners get stuck, not knowing what kind of equipment to get, or what kinds of workouts to program, and they end up right back where they started — on the treadmill, staring at a tv.

This basic guide consists of our personal recommendations on where to begin your journey to fitness independence.  Where applicable, we will include links to some of the essential garage gym equipment and products we recommend.

You can lose weight, get healthy, and be more functionally fit without spending an arm and a leg on equipment.  BUT, we will be the first to admit that to get truly amazing results, there are a certain few key pieces of essential garage gym equipment you should outfit your RefuGym with.  Without equipment it’s just an empty room.  You can still get a workout though.

Here are our recommendations for your starter essential garage gym equipment.  You can achieve world class fitness at home hopefully for under $1,000.  This equipment will pay for itself in a year if your gym membership is $85.  Don’t let the overall cost scare you.  Some of this can be bought as you go.  But all of it is essential garage gym equipment!

Pull-Up Bar

StudBar Mounted Pull-Up Bar

There are almost no upper body functional movements as effective as a full range of motion (kipping OR dead hang) pull-up.  Partial repetitions with limited range of motion may get you toned muscles that look pretty, but they won’t get you a workout.  Why kipping pull-ups?

A kipping pull-up is not designed to strictly build upper body strength.  It’s designed to build overall strength, coordination, flexibility and fitness.  With a kipping pull-up, you will naturally move the same weight (your body) the same distance (above the bar and back down) in less time.  It won’t be an arm workout strictly, but if you convert the exercise to work, you can’t ignore the simple fact that this creates more energy expenditure!

This is why we strongly recommend a mounted pull-up bar.  Something that can withstand some serious swinging, kipping, momentum and weight.  Isolation exercises have no place in the RefuGym, so your pull-up needs to be bombproof.

The most dynamic, versatile and effective pull-up bar that we have found for the right price is the StudBar Pull-Up Bar.  It mounts easily to ceiling joists or wall studs for rock-solid performance.  It is adjustable to different heights as well.  Once it’s up, it’s not moving.  Period.

We have loaded our StudBar with over 250 pounds and it has not budged.  We feel the roof will come down before the bar does!  You could skimp and get a simple door-mounted bar, but good luck adding any appreciable weight or kipping on it.  The StudBar allows you to mount other items to it, like gymnastic rings, TRX systems, and so on.  If you can only buy one thing for your personal RefuGym, this should be it.

Olympic Barbell

Wright Equipment 20kg Olympic Barbell

We didn’t want you to skimp on the pull-up bar, because refugees should value efficacy and functionality over price.  Your next purchase should be a quality barbell and weights, and should follow the same methodology.  The types of lifts and exercises refugees do involves a lot of reps.  You want your barbell and plates to be up to it.

There are tons (pun intended) of manufacturers for these products and most are absolute garbage.  If you can afford a nice Pendlay or Eleiko bar, by all means go for it.  But as a refugee, our guess is you want the best bang for your buck.  You want to be functional, fast and fit… not broke.

For this reason we like Wright Equipment.  They were a pioneer in the rubber plate industry as functional fitness began to grip America.  Their products are manufactured in America, and they have an iron clad warranty on their products (not that you’d ever need it).

Although we want you to be budget conscious, we still want you to have quality equipment in your RefuGym.  Wright Rubber and Wright Equipment fit the bill perfectly.  It might sound expensive now, and that’s ok… buy it as you are able to.

The Wright Equipment olympic bar we like is able to take a serious pounding.  The collars are smooth, and it has strategically placed knurling on the bar to aid with grip for various lifts.  If you’re just getting started with olympic lifts and weightlifting in general, this is a great starter bar.  If you’re a seasoned pro, this will still fit the bill!

The barbell is a critical part of the RefuGym and you’ll be glad you got it!

Rubber Weights

Wright Equipment 260lb Rubber Plate Set

What good is a barbell without weights?  That’s actually not a great question, because the Wright Equipment barbell we mentioned above is actually 20kg (about 45 pounds) by itself, and is useful “unloaded” for a ton of different exercises!

But when you’r ready to start adding weight, you will definitely want rubber plates.  No, it’s not to be obnoxious and throw the bar around the room while grunting like an ape.  It’s because rubber plates offer you the peace of mind that if you need to bail out on a lift, you can… safely!

Be advised, just because bumper plates are rubber doesn’t mean they’re soft.  Don’t lift these on tile, fancy flooring, or anywhere where things you love might break!  If you’re a refugee in a RefuGym, we doubt you’re lifting on anything that nice anyway!

The best way to get into olympic and powerlifting is to start with rubber plates.  This kit includes two 10 pounds plates that distance the bar perfectly from the ground so that you can practice all of the motions without having to load a ton of weight to start.

The price is scary up front, but just like the barbell, these are mission-critical, and we wouldn’t recommend them otherwise!  They have a spot in every RefuGym, along with your barbell.  Many of the rubber plate manufacturers use the same suppliers and materials, so don’t be concerned that you’re getting less quality here.  Wright Equipment makes some of the best gear we’ve ever used.

Take a Breath

If you’ve made it this far you’ve already got one hell of a RefuGym going.  You’ve got equipment to do some of the most essential functional movements:

  • Pull-ups (Kipping, Dead Hang, Wide Grip, Narrow Grip, Reverse Grip)
  • Cleans (Power Cleans, Squat Cleans, Hanging Cleans)
  • Snatches (Power Snatches, Squat Snatches, Hanging Snatches)
  • Jerks (Push Jerks)
  • Deadlifts (Standard, Romanian)
  • Squats (High Bar Back Squats, Low Bar Back Squats, Front Squats, Overhead Squats)

Read up on our demo articles on how to perform each of these exercises and find out why they all have a place in the RefuGym.

Everything from here on out is a bonus.  The remaining gear will move you into a whole new realm of fitness and open a ton of doors.  We strongly recommend you add it to your arsenal as you are able to financially, but make no mistake, THIS STUFF WORKS!!

Stay tuned for Part II of How to Outfit Your RefuGym!