Realities Created, Maintained and Destroyed, WHILE-U-WAIT!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Bowling Ball On A Stick

And other fun ways to get a workout.

Some time ago Mo'in asked about my workout routine, well, appearances aside, I didn't forget. The question was:

"At your convenience, could you elaborate on what your experience has shown to you as serious exercise? I am admittedly highly critical of much of modern exercise advice. In the last few years, I have embraced a very different, and far more intense, form of exercising popular in many combat athletic circles."
OK, well first, I want to be clear about goals, which will determine what "serious" is for each of us. For me, first and foremost its health, above all else. So if an exercise doesn't promote my overall health I just drop it and never look back.

Second is general fitness, which is, for me, the ability to "move in the world". That would mean walk, run, jump, swing, climb, lift, throw, etc. with ease.

Third is sport specific fitness. I want to be as fit as possible for the activities that I love. This would be martial arts, specifically Silat and full contact stick fighting, biking, running, XC skiing, snowshoeing and walking.

Everything I do fits into this hierarchy. If something might be good for martial arts, but does not contribute to my overall health, or takes away from it, (and a lot of exercise sure does give you short term benefit at the expense of long term health) I stay away from whatever that is.

The keystone of my practice is sustained aerobic exercise. I know that these days a lot of "fitness gurus" look down on this, but my glucose meter doesn't lie. Nothing keeps me at proper blood glucose levels like sustained (an hour or more, I like a lot more) work in the "aerobic zone". It also keeps me as healthy (or healthier to tell the truth) as most 30 year olds here in the US.

I use a simple test to make sure I'm working in the aerobic zone. If I am working hard enough that I can't sing, but can still talk, then I'm right where I want to be. I also use a heart rate monitor, but this test works just fine as an overall indicator.

I'm pretty convinced that the human body craves aerobic work. I certainly seem to thrive when I get enough and suffer for it when I don't. Running and biking are the two things I do to get most of my aerobic work in. During good weather I usually manage around 100 + miles a week on my bike and 20-30 miles running.

But we also need to work the muscles against resistance.

For this I use a combination of bodyweight exercise, strange devices, and weighted objects.

One think I am not interested in is "muscular hypertrophy", that is to say "bulking up" or having "massive muscles", as the ads in the back of the comic books offer. These days I am right around 175 at 6'2" and 12 % body fat. which is just about where I want to be. (I'm shooting for 10% body fat at the same weight, it should take me no more than 2 months to get there) For me, lean is healthy, so I' don't lift really heavy weight (in boring mechanical linear repetition) to "bulk up".

Most of the bodyweight stuff I do is either yoga, drawn from the Zurkhaneh of Iran, or taken from Scott Sonnon. If you're looking for good bodyweight based programs, check out Scott's material, it's second to none.

Then there's weights of one sort or another.

Clubbells are one of my very favorites. I have used them since Scott first made them available and consider them essential for every thinking person's gym.

I also like sandbags. You can pay a premium for the commercially made ones, or you can make your own for next to nothing.

I keep an eye out at yard sales for duffles and stuff sacks I cam pick up for cheap, then fill them with sand myself. in the photo above you see 50, 30 and 20 lb bags, which together cost me around US $10 to make.

At some point I'll do a post on how to make your own modular sandbags, ones that you can change the weight of in seconds, for next to nothing. But for now.....

One of my very favorite home made toys is the Bowling ball on a stick.

This is just a modern cheap version of the Indian Gada, or mace. This tool has been used by Indian yogis, wrestlers and warriors for centuries, perhaps even millennia, for overall strength and endurance. The one you see here is made from a bowling ball I picked up at Goodwill for a couple bucks and a broken hoe handle. It weighs just 17 lbs, but don't let that fool you, moving it around is a challenge. If I want a greater challenge, I use the 35 lb gada with the 4 foot shaft you see in the photo of my equipment.

One thing to keep in mind, a gada is not a clubbell. If you try to use them interchangeably you will hurt yourself. The gada has its own rules of use and it's own exercises.

Here are a couple.

The first is the most common single exercise done with a gada. Here in the States its known as the "Gama cast", after The Great Gama, one of India's most famous wrestlers.

And then we have a curl and flag. The eccentric nature of the weight really forces recruitment of the core stabilizer muscles in movements like this one.

Then we come to strange devices. I use several, enough that I will have to devote a separate post to them one day. let me just tell you about three of them here.

I am lucky enough to be friends with Vince Brown out in the Bay area. Vince, besides being a great coach and instructor, is something of a mad genus when it comes to home made torture devices exercise equipment.

This is a little something that Vince whipped up in his lab, brought to me by my friend Carey the last time she came out to visit.

It's a simple pulley and strap device with all manner of uses, here are just two, both for working core strength.

The first moves from the upper body.

and the second moves from the lower.

This is a lot harder than it looks.

Ten of these and you will have found all sorts of muscles you didn't even know you had.

You may remember that a while back I wrote about using a strap and a tree as exercise equipment, well I am still quite happy with that simple device.

I've found many different things to do with a simple strap, you are limited only by your imagination and sense of adventure.

Another toy I love playing with is the "power rope". One of my favorite exercises involves a lighter rope used to work both speed and endurance for the upper body.

Again, you can spend a lot of money on ropes, but with a little hunting at yard sales and salvage yards you can outfit yourself for very little (hint: used fire hose is great for a heavy power rope).

I also use bands and tubing of all sorts, and large rocks and heavy tree branches, but I think I'll save that for another time.


ROCKLAND said...

Mushtaq! you are a madman! Great post! Nice shirt. Excellent exercise.
Keep these workout installments coming.

Mo'in said...

Dear Mushtaq,

Thank you very much for sharing this with us! I too find Scott Sonnon's work quite amazing, having come upon his work after researching into Russian martial arts and zurkhaneh.

Your ideas and equipment are inspiring to me. Just last night, I purchased some inexpensive piping which I'm using to create things along the lines of some of your pictured devices.

Thank you again!

Kindest wishes,


steve-vh said...

You should start a Youtube Channel with some sort of Katchy Kewl name like Zenkahuna or Coach Tara (but yours would be kewler I bet)

Mushtaq Ali said...

Do let me know how your projects work out, pictures would be great :-)


To quote Marx "I'd never join a club that would have me as a member."

Steve Perry said...


(And for those who didn't get the joke, he's not quoting Karl Marx, but Groucho ...)

Mushtaq Ali said...

The only Marx worth quoting :-)

Irfan Ali said...


How to plan your weekly training so that you have time to hit your MA, aerobic work, and strength training?



Anonymous said...


All of that cheap, homemade equipment really appeals to my frugal, Scottish sensibility. Thanks for the ideas!

"Bowling ball on a stick"....LOVE IT!

steve-vh said...

Talking with Cole last night, we really need to get him some of the sandbags made up. He wants to get stronger for wrestling.