Thursday, August 2, 2012

No Chalk at Your Gym? No Problem.

I am now in the dying days of two weeks off. I asked Google to define "vacation" for me. Here is what it came up with.
va·ca·tion/vāˈkāSHən/
Noun:
An extended period of recreation, esp. one spent away from home or in traveling.
Bullshit. Here is my definition.
va·ca·tion/vāˈkāSHən/
Noun:
Two weeks of ass-busting work, devoid of anything enjoyable. Makes one want to return to work immediately.
Living out on The Ponderosa means that there is a lot of jobs that need to get done every summer, and many of these jobs get penciled in to my yearly summer "vacation" starting in late July.  One of these jobs is grooming the trails that meander through the bush on our property.  Armed with only a whipper-snipper, coveralls, and gloves, this monster job takes days to do.  Let things get too out of control and the trails become filled with wild chokecherry suckers, tall grass, and weeds of all descriptions.  Apparently, one weed new on the scene happens to be poison ivy.  It happens that I am pretty much hyper-allergic to poison ivy given a nasty, nasty encounter from years ago.  Only a minuscule amount will trigger blisters on my arms, and somehow a minuscule amount got past my coveralls and gloves and on to my skin near my wrists.
Not Me, But You Get The Idea
The weather turned to crap one day and gave me an all-to-rare respite from my yardly duties.  I decided to get some deadlifting in.  There was only one problem.  I had long thought that I had the grip strength of a Japanese schoolgirl, and I had long been using 1-Ton Hooks to beef up my grip.  Otherwise, any weight over three-hundred pounds would tend to slip out of my hands.
Used by Weak People Like Me
Now picture these tightly wrapped around a wrist with several poison ivy blisters on it.  Better yet, don't picture it.  It gets ugly pretty fast.

It was time to use all the power of my brain and find a way around this.  Normal people use chalk on their hands to dry them so that sweat doesn't cause the bar to slip from their grip.  But chalk is not allowed in my basement gym, because that shit gets everywhere.

So I decided to try wrapping the bar with a very light resistance band that had broken in half some time ago.  They are made of some kind of latex rubber, I think, that is very, very grippy.  I had used these broken bands before wrapped around my chinup bar to help me grip the bar for that exercise.  Don't start thinking that these bands are the really thick, really expensive EliteFTS bands that can hold hundreds of pounds.  Think more like stuff not much thicker than dishwashing gloves.  Here is what I've got...

... and here is what it looks like wrapped on one side of my bar.
I use an over-under grip and wrap the band in the opposite direction on the other side of the bar.  Note also how I start wrapping the band just after the knurling starts.  This lets me center my hold on the bar much better than if the knurling is totally covered.  Normally I grip the bar an inch or less outside from where the knurling starts.

So how does this work?  Exactly how well will have to wait for another post.  But let me say generally that it works exceptionally well.  What I thought was poor grip strength was really a combination of two issues:
  • no chalk that in turn makes the bar slippery from sweat.  The grippy nature of the latex rubber solves this completely.  The weight on the bar just seems to amplify the sticky grip that the rubber provides.
  • nasty cross-hatching on my cheap bar that tends to tear my hands up.  The rubber effectively pads the bar enough to keep the hold comfortable, even under very heavy loads.
I immediately noticed that I was able to lift heavier loads with this setup than when I used the lifting hooks.  Not quite sure why this is.  Maybe because a freer grip on the bar makes it easier to get my position exactly right when setting up.  Maybe because the hooks added thickness to the bar that made the general lift heavier.  Whatever the reason, I was suddenly making an extra 50 pounds when deadlifting off of blocks, and it felt awesome  to make these lifts without hooks or straps.  I'll never go back to the hooks: there is just no need to anymore.  My grip is no longer the limiting factor in my deadlift.

This is a nice solution for anybody looking for a substitute for chalk when lifting heavy stuff.  The bands are cheap, reusable, clean, take up zero space, and would be allowed in any gym.  Best of all, it is your grip doing all the work.  You get the full benefit of the exercise without the shame of using a crutch.

Now go be like Konstantinovs and make it look easy.
More Beast Than Man

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