Stuff We Like
Consumer Reports for Bodybuilders
by Chris Shugart and John Koenig
Ever read one of those other bodybuilding magazines and wonder why the exercise gear they review is so lame? We'll tell you why. In most cases, these aren't real product review columns! That's right, they're ads!
Here's how it works. A maker of exercise gadgets spends big bucks advertising its products in the magazine. As part of the deal, the magazine agrees to spotlight the gadget in its so-called "product review" column. It's a sham! Of course, the gadget gets a glowing review; after all, the magazine wouldn't want to lose its advertising revenue by telling the truth!
Well, here at Testosterone, we don't play that game. And since we don't accept outside advertising here at the website, we're free to tell it like it is without having to worry about da man telling us what to think about a product. Below, each product will be rated on a scale from 1 to 10, with 10 being the best.
T-mag readers were first introduced to clubbells when I interviewed Coach Scott Sonnon, the International Martial Arts Hall of Famer who invented, or should I say, resurrected them. Clubs are perhaps the first implement ever used for resistance training, predating the dumbbell, barbell, and even the nauseatingly overhyped kettlebell.
Although various flavors of club training can be traced back to strongman competitions in Persia and ancient Egypt, it didn't hit big in America until 1862 with implements known as Indian Clubs. Now Coach Sonnon is resurrecting, modernizing and greatly improving this type of training (dubbed Circular Strength Training or CST) with the latest version of the exercise club—the clubbell.
Although Coach Sonnon has written entire books to explain circular strength, I'll attempt to sum it up in a few sentences. Most weighted exercises occur in one plane of movement, whereas most action on the playing field occurs in all three planes. Circular training comprises "tri-planar" movements which develop rotary and angular strength.
This is said to enhance injury prevention, multiply force production abilities, increase stability, promote recovery, increase joint flexibility, strengthen the range of motion, stimulate neuromuscular patterns, increase joint stabilization and tendon strength, and make your pecker grow three inches. (Okay, okay, I made that last one up.) The best tool to develop circular strength is, of course, the clubbell.
Clubbells are made from steel and covered with a black urethane rubber coating, creating what's probably the meanest looking piece of strength training equipment ever built. They're available in weights ranging from five to forty-five pounds. I tested a pair of 15's for this review.
When my clubbells arrived, I thought they'd sent me the wrong pair. No way did they only weigh fifteen pounds each! So I put them on a scale and sure enough, they weighed only fifteen pounds each. That's when I knew I was in for it. The displaced center of gravity and fat grip turns fifteen lousy pounds into a real challenge. Sonnon once told me that a workout with fifteen pound clubbells can bring a 400-pound bench presser to his knees. I was beginning to see what he meant.
After reviewing the book and video, I hauled my clubs outside to test them out. I performed a variety of swings, cleans, jerks, snatches and presses, and soon realized I could no longer breathe or feel my arms. I also accidentally killed two cats and put a hole in the side of the house.
Okay, not really, but the clubbells did give me a hell of a workout. My grip was so fried I could hardly close my hand! I was sucking air too, as most clubbell movements are the epitome of full body, compound exercises. The next morning I was sore in some odd places so I knew this type of training was hitting me in a new way.
I plan to use the clubbells for GPP workouts, to warm up before my regular lifting, and as an adjunct to my martial arts training. I believe clubbells target many missing elements of standard resistance training and can help "fill in the blanks" for combat athletes. They're a lot of fun too, especially if you like to kill cats.
Clubbells start at $75 each and go up to $140 for the "bruiser class" 45-pound model, although at this early stage of my clubbell training, I can't imagine what I'd do with a club that heavy! For more info or to make an order, click here.
As for educational material, I reviewed the Clubbell Training for Circular Strength book and video. I suggest you pick up at least one of these if you buy a pair of clubbells. The 230-page book is very detailed and covers everything from the history of club training to advanced sport-specific programs. It contains many black and white photos and describes the exercises pretty well. The editor could've used an extra cup of coffee at times, but the info is good. The book runs $25.
The 56-minute video is bare-bones basic but very helpful. Sonnon demonstrates all the major movements and shows you how to put them together into combination routines. He really makes it look easy and you don't realize how athletic he is until you try the exercises yourself. The video is about $40. If you can only afford one, I'd go for the video. Full motion demonstrations of the exercises are tough to beat. Both the book and vid are available at Clubbell.tv.
Video: 8 CS
Although this is a "weighted" rope, don't mistake it for one of those 15-pound monster ropes popular back in the 80's. The BOA is precision weighted for faster rope speed and is only a little heavier than a standard leather rope.
Basically, the rope is thinner at the handles and in the center, but thicker on the sides. This side weighting is supposed to allow for better control and faster speeds. Does it? Yeah, it does! Not only is it fast and smooth, the weighted sides make it easier to learn slaloms, shuffles, and other patterns of movement.
Along with the weighted sides, the BOA uses sweat-absorbing foam handles and anti-friction ball bearings. It's as smooth as butta. So far, this is the best rope I've used. Highly recommended.
Rating: 9 CS
Whether your goal is to lose fat or gain muscle, using a tape measure is a valuable way to monitor your progress. The problem is, the results can be manipulated by holding the tape tighter or looser. The MyoTape solves that problem by using a vinyl tape which retracts to a consistent, snug fit. There's no way to cheat with it.
This device is also easy to use one-handed to measure your arms, no partner required. The MyoTape contains 60 inches of tape so you can use it on every body part. (Insert your own penis joke here.) This is a very handy little device that only costs $10. I dig it.
Since it's made by the same people who make the BOA rope above, they'll cut you a deal on it if you buy both. For more info, check out the AccuFitness site.
Rating: 10 CS
Most, if not all of the exercise routines described in T-mag give specific recommendations for rest periods. However, short of counting "Mississippis" in your head or wearing an alarm clock wrapped around your neck with a big gold chain like some rappers from the early nineties, it's damn hard to be accurate.
Enter the EAI T-7 Digital Timer. This baby has a big digital readout, has a four-digit display, and counts backwards anywhere from one second to 99 minutes. It's also got a magnet on the back so you can slap it on the metal surface of a power rack or machine. When you finish your set, you just punch the oversized start button and let it count down. When time's up, it makes a relatively loud beeping sound. Just make sure you don't slap it on a machine, activate it, and walk away because people will think you're a terrorist who's just planted some C-4 explosive.
Best of all, the T-7 only costs a paltry 15 bucks. I ordered three of them just in case one or two get crunched by 100-pound dumbbells.
You can order the EAI digital timer, or any one of a number of pricier models, from Stopwatches USA.
Rating: 10 — CS
Dave Tate, Louie Simmons and the Westside Barbell gang have written and talked for years about the benefits of benching and squatting using Jump Stretch bands. I finally decided to test them out for myself.
The green Jump Stretch bands proved to be much easier to set-up than I anticipated. If you have dumbbells of at least 100 pounds in your gym, loop the band around one of them on the floor, stack another big 'bell on that one, and run both ends of the band up to the bar, whether you're squatting or benching. Use the frame of the cage or bench for direction and stress addition. Tension on the band can be increased by rolling it around the dumbbells. Of course, you can use buckets of sand, bags of cement, foundation block, or anything else handy that's heavy.
In practice, I found Jump Stretch bands work fine. Jump Stretch produces different strength bands (in different colors) and they're easy to utilize. I doubt anyone will have problems making them work the way they're supposed to, and I can't imagine tearing or breaking a set. These puppies are damn strong and stretch evenly and steadily without any sticking points.
The Big N Strong Bungee Cords are just that: bungee cords of different lengths and tensions. Some have chains and hooks attached, but they all work together. Basic set-up instructions are available on the website, but even without them it's easy to figure it all out.
I love the Bungee Cords. There's more flexibility for changing the resistance. Adding and subtracting cords at different points, thus altering the attached lengths of the cords, changes the tension. These changes are easy to make, especially when working with several lifters at one time. The Bungee Cords went through a heck of a lot of punishment and came through with flying colors, never snapping, never un-attaching, and never losing their resistance.
Both the Jump Stretch bands and the Big N Strong Bungee Cords work as advertised. If you train alone or with a partner sharing comparable strength levels, either the Jump Stretch or Bungee Cords will work fine, but if you're a coach or work with more than one or two other people in the gym, I strongly recommend you lean towards the Bungee Cords for their adaptability.
Jump Stretch 7
Big N Strong Bungee Cords: 8 JK
Strongman is a fascinating video documentary, unlike any I've seen, and I have a pretty big library of bodybuilding and strongman tapes. Hugo Girard is a Canadian World's Strongest Man competitor, but this isn't a biography or a training video. Rather, it's as much about passion, about life, about why we do the things we do, as it is about lifting heavy objects.
Girard talks about his love of life and about how important passion and anticipation are. Passion keeps one alive, he strongly believes. Girard has felt this love for heavy lifting since he was twelve and first saw the World's Strongest Man competition on television and told his mother that's what he was going to become.
We see and hear Hugo training in his workout compound and watch him compete, but the best portions of the videotape are when he's talking. I found myself engrossed in his thoughts and belief systems. To hear a professional strongman talk about the pain zone, about how there's more to life than being big and strong, to look at the things in life which make you happy rather than those making you unhappy, well, it's different and interesting.
If attitude makes as much of a difference in heavy lifting as most of us think, Hugo Girard is way ahead of the game. Strongman is a fascinating film. The video runs about $27 and can be ordered from www.topoftheworldfilms.com.
Rating: 9 JK
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