Stuff We Like
Consumer Reports for Bodybuilders
by John Koenig and Chris Shugart
There are literally thousands of bodybuilding tools on the market today. These include exercise gadgets, athletic training devices, books, videos, and supplements. They run the gamut from complete garbage to products you shouldn't live without. It's probably no surprise to you that most of these toys and tools fall into the recycle bin category.
Therefore, we've decided to act as a sort of bodybuilding Consumer Reports and review all the various stuff aimed at the typical Testosterone consumer. Don't worry, though, we won't waste your time writing about the infomercial crap you see advertised late at night on cable. Chances are if "Paunch" from C.H.I.P.S. is pushing an ab-training contraption on the USA Network at 2 AM, it's not going to be reviewed here. You also won't see any reviews of videos like Denise Austin's "Super Ten Minute Tummy Flattening Workout For New Mommies!" Nope, unless Denise gets implants and starts doing her videos naked, it just ain't gonna happen.
Instead we'll focus on the more serious side of training devices and information sources. That doesn't always mean we'll give the product a glowing review, but we won't waste the space reviewing something that you and everyone else already knows sucks.
Oh yeah, and just to let you know, many magazines feature a "New Products" or "Hot Stuff" section similar to this one. Want to know a secret? Many of those columns are bought and paid for by the manufacturers. Either that or the magazine doesn't allow negative reviews of the products because that might threaten its advertising revenues. In other words, these "columns" are just more cleverly concealed advertising. Well, we aren't going to play that game here. If something sucks, we'll let you know.
Each product will be rated on a scale from 1 to 10, with 10 being the best. At the end of the article, we'll tell you where the items can be purchased.
EZ-grips are plastic handles that you attach to barbells or dumbbells to make the gripping surface fatter. Fat grip training has been around for a long time and is often recommended by guys like Charles Poliquin and Ian King. Training with fat grip equipment can help you build your forearms, improve your grip strength, and provide new growth-producing stimuli.
Before EZ-grips came along, most people just wrapped a towel around the bar. Others shelled out big bucks for fat-handled barbells and dumbbells. With EZ-grips you just snap them onto bars, dumbbells, or cable machine handles and go to work. So far, they've fit just about everything I've tried them on, except a few pieces of Hammer Strength equipment.
The first thing you'll notice is that your poundages go down. Despite the name, EZ-Grips make every exercise harder to perform. Your forearms will get a huge pump even if you're just doing a traditional barbell curl. Despite the fact that the exercises are harder, the grips make lifting more comfortable as they provide more surface area. EZ-Grips put so much extra tension on the forearms, I found I often had to remove them halfway through my workout. My grip strength was so shot, I had a hard time holding on to the equipment! This improved as I became stronger, of course.
To really test these things out, I first performed a strict maximal curl without them. (My max curling poundages have been stuck for a while.) For the next six weeks, I attached the EZ-Grips to whatever I could, even using them for chin-ups and rope handle tricep exercises. At the end of the six-week period, I expected a slight increase in my maximal curl (although I had been training mainly for hypertrophy using 8 to 12 reps per exercise.) To my surprise, I had added 10 pounds to my max curl! That's quite a jump considering how long I've been training. And my partner experienced a five pound increase in his max curl.
The ultimate test of any piece of equipment, for me at least, is to see how many of my friends will go out and buy their own. So far, several have done just that, with a couple of them ordering a pair after using mine for just one workout.
EZ-Grips also help people with carpal tunnel syndrome lift with more comfort according to the literature. Since I don't have that problem, I can't really vouch for that claim. The grips are available in a wide variety of colors, although one distributor told me to get black because for some reason the colored models tend to break easier. EZ-Grips also come with straps to go across the back of your hand, but I found these unnecessary and threw them away. In short, EZ-Grips are a worthwhile addition to your collection of training tools. You can pick up a pair for about $40.
Rating: 9 — CS
Blood and Guts — The Video
Released in 1996 (at the Mr. Olympia contest in Chicago, in fact, where this copy was purchased), Blood and Guts remains the standard-setter for bodybuilding training films. Sure, the Gold's Gym footage of Arnold in Pumping Iron is wonderful, but there's so little of it in the movie, we're all left wanting more. By the time Testosterone readers have completed viewing this hour-long feature, they'll be packing their gym bags and rushing to the gym.
This video is all about Dorian Yates, who is known for his legendary, grueling workouts. Be prepared to sweat just watching this! Much has been made of his "Heavy Duty" training style, but this is no Mentzerian one-set-per-exercise routine. And by no means is this some pretty-boy stylized photo shoot that just happens to include some weights lying around. No, this is Dorian in workout rags weighing in at a full 300 pounds, training in his Temple Gym in England with no chrome in sight.
What he's done here is have an entire week of workouts filmed from beginning to end. You see every set of every exercise, working the entire body. No question is left unanswered. Dorian says very little to the audience, but he and his training partner Leroy have a great deal to say to each other during the sets; this is true mano-a-mano working out.
Watching the tremendous weights employed by Yates, it's not surprising that he started encountering some injuries a couple of years after this was filmed, eventually putting him out of the competitive game. Big kudos to Dorian and his film crew for making sure all the plates on the bar are visible during the exercise; this way we can truly appreciate the mass he's moving. When I'm watching the big guy leg press and his knees are locking out backwards, through the wraps, with way more than a thousand pounds on the machine, I find myself gritting my teeth and squirming in my chair!
Blood and Guts is the single most impressive bodybuilding training video of all time; it's all workout, nothing more. No explanations, no dietary advice, just Dorian Yates working his ass off to a degree that probably puts many of us to shame.
Rating: 10 — JK
I introduced T-mag readers to Pavel Tsatsouline in an article called The Evolution of Ab Training. In that article, I told you about the Janda sit-up, which is, according to Pavel, the ultimate ab exercise. The idea is to get a partner to hold your legs behind the calves and apply resistance (pulling up) as you pull against his hands and sit up. This is supposed to totally isolate the abs and remove the hip flexors from the movement. At the time I wrote the article, Pavel was working on a training device to help you perform a Janda sit-up without a partner. Now that device is available. It's made by Parrillo and it's called the Pavelizer.
Pavel says that if you can knock out five reps in perfect form (glutes tight, slow tempo up and down) then you are indeed a real man, "even if you're a woman." The device comes with stretchy bungee cords to assist you, but I wasn't about to use them, no sir! Well, I got five reps, barely, and felt the results exquisitely the next day. After several months of use, I can knock out ten reps and because of this, Pavel has pronounced me a true comrade worthy of wearing my testicles.
I like the Pavelizer, but I have a few criticisms. First off, the home model I tried out (which braces under a door) weighs 21 pounds. The plate loaded, free standing model designed for gyms weighs in at 31 pounds, empty. That's okay, really, because these things are almost solid metal; no cheap plastic here. The bad news is I found some of the welding to be a little shoddy. It's solid, just a little messy. The device to which the assistance cords attach is simply a little metal ring welded onto the top. It works fine; it just reminded me of something my father would have built out in the garage.
I don't use the assistance cords, but my wife does. She thinks they're a little long and doesn't even use the plastic yellow handles. Instead, she has to grab further down the cords to get in the proper position. I noticed that when Pavel demonstrates the device, he even holds the handles towards the rear. In my opinion, the handles need to be redesigned.
The home version of the Pavelizer runs about $120. The free standing version will cost you $160. Did my buddies run out and buy one? No, the cost scared them away. However, they do borrow mine and everyone likes training with it. We use it every Sunday after our boxing workout.
Rating: 7 — CS
Bob Hoffman and the Manly Culture of York Barbell
by John Fair
Now we're getting into real meaty stuff that Testosterone readers over the age of 40 will especially appreciate (and so will all those with an interest in the history of this crazy world of weightlifting and bodybuilding). If you grew up with Strength and Health magazine in your life, then you know all about Bob Hoffman and York Barbell. Joe Weider's primary competitor for decades, they went head to head in the early years of the supplement game, in the production of weights and exercise machines, and in the publishing biz, of course.
Hoffman concentrated on Olympic weightlifting and powerlifting to a lesser extent, more or less leaving bodybuilding wide open for Joe to move in. Legends such as John Grimek, Terry Todd, Bob Bednarski, Tommy Kono, Harold Poole, even Dan Lurie, plus dozens of other weightlifters, bodybuilders and well known people in the strength game come to life in the pages of this absolutely fascinating book.
You'll learn about the maneuvering that took place in the weight world of the 1930s and 40s; about the world-wide domination the "York Gang" had in weightlifting in the '50s and '60s; about the introduction of steroids into this country via theYork weightlifters in the 50s, how rampant their use in York became in the '60s, and a huge amount about the marketing of supplements. To my amazement, it was quickly apparent that today's hucksters have nothing on 'ol Bob Hoffman; in fact, I think some of them studied his business history so they'd know how to run their own companies, or at least how to write their advertising copy!
There are too few serious studies of the seminal figures in the weightlifting and bodybuilding worlds. Author Fair has turned up a large number of people to interview, conducted a whopping amount of research, and put it all together into an entertaining history of this man and his company, which reached into all areas of the weight game for many decades.
Rating: 7 — JK
No, we're not talking about one of those super-de-duper colonic enemas here. Colon Cleanse is a psyllium fiber supplement. Why should bodybuilders and athletes care about a fiber supplement? Well, if you've ever tried a low carb diet you'll know. Low carb means low fiber and low fiber means you may find yourself sitting on the toilet trying to pass what feels like a bowling ball. In other words, low carb diets usually lead to constipation, if you're not careful.
Most people who use a low carb approach like the Atkins diet, the T-Dawg, the Anabolic Diet, or the Fat Fast simply pick up some Metamucil at the grocery store. That's fine, but keep in mind Metamucil contains carbs and calories, which come primarily from it's second ingredient, maltodextrin. I don't know about you, but I hate having to "lose" five grams of carbs and 20 calories to a serving of this stuff.
Colon Cleanse is simply 100% pure psyllium husk. It has no calories, no carbs, no sugar, no nothing. This makes it easy to use with any diet. The only problem is this stuff tastes and feels like you're drinking lawn clippings — which, of course, you kinda' are. You mix it in water not to dissolve it, but to temporarily suspend it so you can suck it down. Still, it works great. Colon Cleanse is made by Health Plus and cost about $7 for 48 serving, which makes it dirt cheap, even by college student standards.
Rating: 9 — CS
Beyond Crunches — The Video
This is an ab training video by Pavel Tsatsouline that compliments his book by the same title. Training videos can be a more effective medium than a book to show you how to perform certain exercises. On the other hand, they usually cost twice as much as a VHS copy of your favorite Schwarzenegger movie at a tenth of the quality and a third of the length. Are they worth the cost? If you learn something that can improve your training then yes, they're worth it. That being said, Pavel's ab video is worth the $30 fee. In fact, after watching it I realized I had been performing his "full contact twists" incorrectly, although I had seen pictures of this oblique exercise before.
If you're going to buy the Pavelizer device reviewed above, then the video is very helpful. About 10 minutes of the 37 minute video involves Pavel demonstrating how to progress from the most basic to the most difficult variations of the Pavelizer sit-up. Of course, if you're not interested in the Pavelizer, it might piss you off that a fourth of the video is dedicated to its use. (I really think retailers should include the video for free with purchase of the device.)
The video is otherwise filled with interesting ab exercises and even a few martial arts style breathing techniques I found quite useful. Pavel's deadpan humor is a little tough to get used to, but once he painlessly demonstrates things like the deadly Dragon Flag exercise, he immediately garners your attention and respect.
Rating: 7 — CS
Stuff We Don't Like
Since T-mag has received a lot of questions about the following gadgets, we thought we'd review them just for the fun of it.
The Torso Toner by TerraStar
Two immediate red flags: One, the word "tone" is used. That's the first sign this is aimed at the lazy housewife market. Two, it's being hawked by Denise "I'll put my name on anything for a buck" Austin, the most annoying human being ever to suck air. It's hard to believe that this company is trying to bring back the old "ab wheel" device, which looks like a lawn mower wheel with some handles sticking though it. Don't get me wrong; I actually like these ab wheels and use mine once every few weeks for variety. The problem is that many of the newer devices are just poor, overpriced substitutes, the Torso Toner being one of them.
It's dubbed "the greatest portable exercise equipment ever invented." Sadly, it's just like the old ab wheel, except that it has two little tires and an assisted recoil mechanism that helps you come up from the bottom position. In other words, it makes the exercise easy, i.e. ineffective! What next, hollow plastic weight plates? I can hear Denise now, "All the benefits of real weightlifting, only without all the heavy lifting and uncomfortable resistance!" Maybe we better not give them any ideas. This piece of shit costs $50. My old fashioned ab wheel ran $6 at the local sporting goods store.
There's another device like this on the market called the Torso Track being pushed by Suzanne "I got a face lift and liposuction, now I'm a diet and exercise expert" Somers. This is an even bigger piece of shit that will cost you $250 smackers. Guaranteed to bring $5 at your next garage sale!
In the next installment of Stuff, we'll be looking at the Meridian performance training shoes, deadlifting shoes, the Tanita bodyfat scale, and many more gadgets, books and videos.
And, if there's anything you'd like us to review, send in your suggestions.
Where to Buy
To get a pair of EZ-Grips, contact Ivanko at Ivanko.com for ordering info.
The Blood and Guts video is available for $39.95 plus $4 shipping from Dorian Yates Promotions, c/o Bev Francis' Golds Gym, 235-C Robbins Lane, Syosset, NY 11791.
The Pavelizer can be purchased from DragonDoor.com.
Muscletown USA will run you $23.50 and you can pick it up at PSU.edu/psupress.
To purchase Colon Cleanse, contact Health Plus by calling 1-800-822-6225 or just stop by the local health food store and tell the cute chick behind the counter you're plugged up.
The Beyond Crunches video is also available at DragonDoor.com.
© 1998 — 2009 Testosterone, LLC. All Rights Reserved.