Todays post brought to you by Craig Mallet from aware relaxed connected.
“Manipulation is an extremely important skill that is often looked down upon or not totally embraced by the community working with bodyweight such as dancers, martial artists. Mostly this is because lifting is often associated with the extremely narrow view of the practice of body building. Not that I’m putting body builders down; in fact they tend to be much more capable of manipulating outside objects then my martial arts brethren, and most body builders I know are typically strong as an ox when it comes to lifting most things.
There are, however, a few elements missing from a body builder’s practice when it comes to lifting. The simple reason for this is that despite appearances, they are not actually specialising in manipulation. What they specialise in is making the body appear a certain way. This means, and please excuse the broad generalisation that I’m making, that they are generally not interesting in partaking in exercises that do not yield aesthetic results.
So what’s missing and who do we look to as a role model in the manipulation arena? I’ll tackle the first half of the question, and get on to the second half a bit later in the article.
The most important element missing from a typical lifting workout is practice of different gripping patterns. There is a very good reason that bars for lifting are as round and thick as they are: they allow the hand the strongest gripping position. The problem comes from only training one position, and unfortunately, most things that require manipulation do not have handles specifically designed for the strongest human hand shape. Check out what happens when all of a sudden the ideal grip isn’t available:
You can instantly see that although the objects weigh the same, its much more difficult to manipulate the object without handles designed for human hands. You might have seen this [insert hyperlink: http://www.fatgripz.com.au/] kind of thing that attempts to emulate this a little, but it is still far from adequate as gripping round objects is only one of almost an infinite variety of gripping patterns.
Size, shape and the material that an object is made of is also incredibly important. A lounge chair may only weigh 20 or 30 kilograms, but can be very difficult to lift due to its awkward size and shape. Some of the strongest guys I’ve ever met were tradesman (especially brick layers and scaffolders) and furniture removalists, who spend their entire day lifting large awkwardly shaped items. This kind of practical lifting is much more important for strength development than the artificial lifting practiced in most gyms.
On top of lifting, we also have other categories of manipulation that are often forgotten, but in my experience typically more practical. We have carrying, pushing, pulling, throwing and catching, all of which in my experience tend to appear more in day to day life than single heavy lifts where you pick something up for a second and put it straight back down again. It’s more likely that you have to lift something and then carry it some reasonable amount of distance and then put it down again. Push starting cars has been a reasonably regular occurrence, and pushing and pulling large tables around happens in my work place almost daily.
Last year in my spring retreat I was forced to carry all the gear for the camp for over 500 metres. Coolers, tables, barbecues, and boxes full of food were part of the stash I was required to move, all items that are super easy to lift on the spot on my own or with a friend, but were incredibly difficult to carry for such a long distance. Since spring last year, I’ve helped 3 people move house, loaded a boat with food and drinks and pushed a car for a couple hundred metres. None of this required the ability to do a single lift of ultra heavy items, but all of it involved carrying, pushing or pulling items for reasonably long distances.
So it would seem that if you’re not interested in body building, but are interested in strength built through manipulation, that typical gym routines aren’t the best place to look, as they only cover a small fraction of the required skill set. The best place to find practitioners of manipulation that covers all of these categories is the strongman competitions. These guys lift, carry, push, pull and throw all manner of large, awkwardly shaped items, from logs, tyres, stones and kegs to the super ridiculous pulling or pushing of semi trucks and planes. I’ve even seen a strongman competition that involved throwing a washing machine for distance!
This video alone should give you some good ideas for manipulation practise. If you don’t have access to large tyres, you can always improvise. Logs can be purchased from hardware stores reasonably cheaply, or you can just go find one in the wilderness. Carrying buckets or jerry cans of water for distance is a great challenge too; the sloshing water adds an extra element of stabilisation. Even if you have no equipment available, you can always lift other people. Fireman carries are good fun or if you have 3 people you can have some carry the feet and someone carry the upper body for distance.
While we’re on the topic of manipulation of other people, wrestling and dancing are both fantastic practises containing large amounts of controlled manipulation. In wrestling there are drills that cover pushing, pulling, lifting and/or throwing a resisting partner. The dance world is typically geared towards cooperative manipulation, rather than resistive, focusing on lifts, carries, or pushes and pulls that assist the partner perform a particular feat of movement.
Finally, I’d just like to reiterate that typical gym lifting practises are not bad; they just simply don’t cover the entire spectrum of manipulation. In fact, if you haven’t done any manipulation before, I would highly recommend checking out an olympic lifting class and a kettlebell class before you get into complex manipulation, as it will teach you how to use your body properly in a controlled environment and avoid injury. In fact the only thing I would recommend you keep away from is pin loaded machines, which from my perspective are only really useful for a very small portion of rehabilitation cases.”