Sunday, May 30, 2010

Jump rope notes: Buddy Lee replacement cords and cable rope

Replacing my Buddy Lee rope cord

I finally managed to snap the cord on my Buddy Lee rope. It took me about three years, but I finally wore through the cord. All things considered, that's not too bad. I chew through the cheap ropes when I get in a jump rope conditioning phase, though I guess I mostly break those ropes at the handles.

The snapped Buddy Lee cord

I was just going to buy a new cord. An attractive feature of my Aero Speed rope is that the cord is replaceable. And it's reasonably priced at $5. That's when I got the sticker shock of the shipping and handling charges. $15 for shipping and handling is a bit excessive. How expensive can it be to stuff a cord into an envelope and drop it in the mail? Just on principle, I refuse to buy something where the shipping and handling is three times the cost of the product, especially when that said product is a plastic cord. That's $20 for a new cord. For that price, I'm most of the way to buying a whole new jump rope (the Rope Master is $28).

Being the stingy bast... errr... I mean, frugal person that I am, I decided that there must be a Home Depot solution for my problem. I remember reading that someone had made their own jump rope from PVC pipe and laundry line. I checked out the laundry line, and lo and behold the inner diameter of the laundry line was close enough to the original cord to be workable.

Laundry line = jump rope replacement cord

The tough part about using the laundry line as a replacement cord is that the laundry line has wire running through the middle of the vinyl sheath. It takes a bit of jiggering, but you can get the screw tip of the jump rope handle swivel bearings to insert into the vinyl sheath just off center from the wire. After a bit of turning, you can attach the laundry line to the Aero Speed handles just like the original cord. Getting the cord attached to the swivel bearings is a bit of a hassle, but it's totally doable. You just make sure to measure the cord to the right length. I cut the cord too long and had to repeat the process of screwing the cord to the swivel bearings several times as I adjusted the cord length.

Replaced Aero Speed cord... now it's green!

How does it work? Actually, surprisingly well. I can get similar speed as I was getting with the original cord. It's a bit more tiring to turn the cord since it's a little heavier with the wire running down the center, but I consider that a bonus. The added mass also means I'm just as careful about wearing shoes with this cord. I do sometimes miss and catch the rope on the feet. The extra heft of the rope means those misses sting more now. The clothes line cord holds its shape a little better, so I seem to recover better when I occasionally miss slightly and snag the rope on my heel. The flip side to that is that the rope is a little less flexible than the original cord. You have to be a little more precise in your timing of crossing the rope since it's not quite as responsive as the original rope. Again, I consider this a bonus. My technique has to be a little cleaner when I cross the rope, so I'm paying more attention to my jump rope workouts.

Replacement cord test

Note on cable cord jump rope

I tried my buddy Kevin's cable speed rope this weekend. While I don't regret getting my Aero Speed, if I had to do it over again, I'd probably seriously consider a cable rope instead. I can actually get the cable rope turning faster, which provides a better cardio and foot speed workout. I nearly got a triple under with the cable rope, and I could still do all the rope crossing steps. The only downside to the cable rope is that it's a thin wire that moves really fast. If you miss, you're going to have red welts (so you learn quickly not to miss... :).

Friday, March 12, 2010

Weight training and bone density

Conventional wisdom tells us that weight training increases bone density (ex. here and here). The force of your muscles moving a load stresses the bones slightly and causes them to grow back stronger. That's a decidedly good thing, at least assuming that you don't do anything really (excuse the pun) bone-headed like lift weights you're not ready for or do exercises with terrible technique. Imagine my surprise when I catch this bit of news: "Weight-bearing exercise does not prevent increased bone turnover."

My response to that headline was bafflement. I thought there was going to be some crap study on how weight bearing exercise didn't do anything for your bone health. Turns out that it's a study about how jogging and walking don't mitigate the increased bone turnover that occurs during weight loss. Apparently, you have increased bone remodeling when you drop a lot of weight. This makes inherent sense: less weight = less load on the bones = less stimulation for bone growth. The thing that bothers me with the study is how "load-bearing" exercises are defined. I guess getting my ass up and walking around is technically putting a load on my bones. But it's as much of a load bearing exercise for a normal healthy person as is picking up a remote to change the channel on the idiot box. I'm not sure when "walking" and "light jogging" became considered "load-bearing" exercises. Have we became that sedentary that everyday activities have become tough exercise?

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Home Gym Essentials

Reading through a fitness mag (ok, I admit it, I flipped through my wife's issue of Shape), I came across an article about equipping a home gym. As expected, I found half the suggestions to be ludicrous. I was quite amused that the bigger budget home gyms had a treadmill and elliptical trainer--two pieces of equipment I think are completely unnecessary for a home gym. I was likewise amused at the suggestion of the perfect pushup device; rotating handles for pushups are overrated and not worth $30. But the article, as silly as it was, did get me thinking about what equipment I would put in my home gym.

I actually do go to the gym since it's free for me (one of the perks of being married to an academic), and I often workout outdoors. I do however recognize that it's still useful to have some equipment at home for working out. Here's what I came up with:


  1. Jump rope - a $5 speed rope is sufficient for a fabulous cardio workout that will work your legs, core, and arms. If you want to splurge, you can get a $40 Buddy Lee Aero Speed.
  2. Gymnastics rings or suspension trainer - I'm a big fan of bodyweight resistance training. A TRX trainer is a pretty versatile piece of training equipment that you can use to hit basically every part of your body. You can also go the DIY route if you don't want to spring the cash to buy the commercial product. Gymnastics rings (like Elite Rings or Xtreme Rings) are similarly fantastic total upper body workout.
  3. Resistance bands or tubing - Elastic bands and tubing are really versatile and just as challenging as weights once you get bands/tubes thick enough. I have trouble even opening my 2.25" inch band. As an added bonus, they take up far less space than regular weights.
  4. Pull up bar - You could technically get by with just some rings or a suspension trainer, but if you opt not to get one of those, you need at least something to pull yourself up on. There are plenty of DIY solutions for this, though commercial products are certainly a viable option.
  5. Foam roller - Keeping your soft tissue healthy is an important part of your training! Tennis balls, lacrosse balls, rolling pins, wood dowels are also acceptable substitutes and complements to the foam roller for maintaining your soft tissue health.

Nice to have

  1. Dumbbells - Weights with handles. They're basic, can be used in many exercises, and can usually be picked up used for pretty cheap. If you want to go fancy, you can even get adjustable weight dumbbells.
  2. Kettlebells - Once you know what you're doing, kettlebells are a great training tool for strength and conditioning. I wouldn't prioritize getting bells like some of the kettlebell fanboys, but they are admittedly versatile and worthy of adding to your fitness gear collection.
  3. Medicine balls - Do twists, slams, throws, or just use them as a weight.
  4. Sledgehammer - Just go the hardware store and pick up a sledgehammer. Find an old tire. Swing at the tire for rounds and intervals until tired. You'll be thoroughly de-stressed and be building a physique with explosive power. Pair the sledgehammer swings (anterior chain) with kettlebell swings (posterior chain), and you have a pretty complete strength and conditioning workout.
  5. Swiss ball (or stability/physio/body/fitness ball) - This isn't a strictly necessary piece of equipment, but it's cheap enough and versatile enough to make it worthwhile. Sometimes you just need to make an exercise slightly unstable to improve your strength levels.
  6. Sandbags, Bulgarian bag (or other odd object weight) - You can easily make these yourself. The non-rigid nature of the bags adds a stability challenge and makes for an effective workout.

Only if you have room and/or discretionary funds

  1. Erg / Rowing machine - Rowing is a great cardio workout that hits the upper and lower body. The machines can be a bit pricey, but can be worth it if you're dead set on working out primarily at home.
  2. Barbell with weights - Again, weights and a handle are pretty basic, but simplicity trumps fancy training in my opinion. I prioritize dumbbells over the barbell since I think dumbbells are more versatile overall.
  3. Power/Squat Rack - If you want to be seriously strong, you'll need to train your legs and squat. You'll probably want some measure of safety when holding heavy weights on your shoulders. As an added bonus, you normally get a pull up bar in a rack. Personally, I prefer going to the gym for the squat racks.
  4. Bench - I like a padded elevated surface for certain exercises. Dragon flags with my shoulders on a hard surface are no fun.
  5. Heavy Bag - Getting my heart rate up while training full body mechanics and hitting something is incredibly fun. I'm always in a better mood after yelling obscenities and pounding the bag. Ok, scratch the yelling obscenities part, but I do feel better from hitting the bag.

I realize my list is highly biased to my own training. I'm partial to bodyweight training, resistance strength training, and interval cardio training. I also really like exercises which I believe have good functional carryover to other activities, which means my equipment choices favor compound and stabilization movements.

I intentionally left the typical cardio machines off the list (treadmill, elliptical, bike), because I think they just aren't necessary. The treadmill and elliptical in particular I don't like. They're expensive to buy decent ones, and have serious shortcomings that preclude them from being regular training tools in my view. Treadmills move your foot back for you and basically give your hamstrings and glutes a free pass during your running. This leads to an imbalance between the quads and hamstrings/glutes. That's a recipe for future knee pain if you do the treadmill all the time. Elliptical trainers tend to put the pelvis in posterior tilt, which is not a postural habit you want ingrained. Modern sedentary life (i.e. sitting desk jobs, sitting in cars, couch lounging, etc) already puts a lot of us in posterior pelvic tilt. Reinforcing that posture during your regular cardio workout is not doing your spine a favor.

I also left off the typical "universal" weight machine you see in a lot of home gyms. They are far too expensive and generally provide sucky versions of all the exercises at each of the stations. Quite frankly, you're better off with either dumbbells and a bench, or a pull up bar and just open floor space.

Anyhow, that's my take on equipping a home gym. I'm sure I left some things off the list, but I think the list is a good launching point.