The coolest thing about the Internet in my opinion is the ability to meet people from all over the globe. Over the past 3 years I’ve become friends with a sharp personal trainer from Bulgaria, Yavor Marichkov. Yavor runs a blog called Relative Strength Advantage. My favorite part of his site are his video tutorials. His little gym is popping up all over Youtube and making a big impact. If you are cruising Youtube and run across a gym with a black & white checkered floor, then stop and check it out…most likely it is Yavor’s gym. Every video that comes out of that gym is pure gold. This is why I believe it is one of the best gyms pound-for-pound.
[Believe it or not, I was going to put up a picture of an amazing looking Bulgarian beach. When you think Eastern Europe you don't think beaches, but Bulgaria has some parts that look like California. I decided with this picture of a painted on Bulgarian flag instead.]
Tales from an Eastern European Gym
-by Yavor Marichkov
I was skinny-fat, weak and completely lacking in athletic skills as a child. I was more interested in books I guess. Sometime before high school I noticed that I didn’t completely suck at basketball. My strategy was to wait for a pass in the opponent’s field. So when high school came, I joined the basketball team and through sheer stubbornness and lots of one-on-one with the basketball rim in my neighborhood, I managed to land a spot on the varsity team in my junior and senior years. That, along with my teenage growth spurt, fixed the fat part, but I was still weak as a kitten.
Me, The Muscle Mags and the Gym
Some of my class mates started working out and got very quick results and this inspired me to join a gym. I read a book or two and even bought fitness magazines, but following the routines from the fitness rags stopped working after a few months. It was later that I found out these newbie gains were due to the stress of introducing exercise in my life, and not thanks to the worthless routines in the magazines.
Hitting a Plateau and Discovering Strength Training
So after no longer being able to progress in the gym, I started looking for a solution. I asked around about protein shakes, high-carb diets, etc – desperately looking for a solution. It was then that I was introduced by one of my mentors to the concept of strength training. In just two months I blew through my strength plateau. My pull-ups increased from 5 to 12. I was ecstatic.
[Here's an advanced version of the pull-up: the sternum pull-up. It is done by pulling up explosively and finishing by moving the elbows back and touching the bar to your chest. This is a great way to build the overlooked mid-back muscles as well as to work up towards a muscle up.]
How I Became a Personal Trainer
I became fascinated with bio-mechanics – the highly efficient way the body works when aligned and used properly. Fun fact – most babies when they start walking, have perfect biomechanics – they do movements (for example when bending to pick a toy) like lunges, squats, dead lifts and over head presses with perfect technique. A bunch of friends, mentored by the same guy who introduced strength training to me, started a personal training studio where they showed people how to really get results in the gym. I started hanging out there, helping out, spotting, A few years later I became a part of the team
The Best Gym in Bulgaria
The cool thing abut the gym is that it is based on free weights, complex movements and perfect bio-mechanical technique. The gym also introduced the concept of personal training to Bulgaria. We use the same principles with regular people as well as with professional athletes. Here are some of the exercises I’ve mastered as well as a few advanced moves demonstrated by pro athletes and trainers in our gym:
[Mastering the muscle-ups will give you a fantastic upper body. In fact, you could do a complete workout with just a bar for muscle ups. At to this bodyweight circuits, sprints, jump rope or a pick-up basketball game and you are all set.]
The Muscle-Up Is A Technical Move
What you do is hang from the bar and let your body swing forward. At the top of the swing you explosively pull yourself up. At the moment your upper arms become parallel to the ground, you kick with your knees up. All of a sudden you will find yourself on top of the bar. Check out the post on the muscle-up, if you need further tips for this move.
[The great thing about handstand pushups is that they will emphasize your shoulders. After only a few weeks you will dramatically improve your proportions – the shoulder to waist ratio.]
How To Master The Handstand Push-Up
First, get comfortable in a handstand against a wall. Start by facing the wall. Get on all fours and place your palms 1-2 feet away from the wall. Lift up your hips and carefully kick up with one leg so you end up against the wall. Next, place a bunch of books on the floor. Start doing handstand pushups and let your head lightly touch the top of the books. When it gets easier, remove a book or two. After some time, depending on your initial strength, you will be doing full handstand push-ups. If you get stuck, try alternating high-medium-low reps every 2-4 weeks. Check out the handstand pushups tutorial if you need further help.
Full Contact Twist
[I learned about the full contact twist from Pavel Tsatsouline’s book Bulletproof Abs. In our gym however we use a modified, strength based variation of this move. It is a full body rotational exercise, great for core strength and overall upper body and full body strength. It’s only drawback is that the silly instructors in your gym might not allow you to place a bar in the corner and practice it.]
The Keys to the Full Contact Twist
Here’s how to do the full contact twist (link to tutorial), starting from the ground up. First note that your trailing leg should rotate – just like a punch in boxing. Second, flex your leading leg. The body works in kinetic chains that run diagonally throughout the body.
What is a Kinetic Chain?
So a kinetic chain – meaning muscles working in cooperation – runs from your left leg, through your obliques and stomach muscles all the way to your right arm and vice versa. So when you want to twist a heavy barbell from left to right, you flex your left leg, your stomach and rotate toward the right side. The final tip is to stay in the hollow position. This is a gymnastic term which means to tuck in your pelvis and ever so slightly hunch forward and flex the abs. This ensures maximum power coming from the abs.
A Few More Full Body Strength Moves
Here are a few more moves we do at our gym. They are a bit more advanced but all have in common the principles of integrating the whole body and using kinetic chains – muscles working together in a sequence – that are as long as possible.
[The Dragon Flag was popularized by Bruce Lee, the Rocky movies and Pavel Tsatsouline’s books: a fantastic core stabilizer The way we perform it at the gym is with the body as rigid as possible.]
Mastering the Dragon Flag
There are two steps towards mastering the move. You need to learn to flex all the muscles of the front of the body – so legs, hip flexors and abs work together. The actual movement in the dragon flag is done predominantly with your lats – so you pull your whole body with the armpit muscles.
Elevated Renegade Rows
[Rusty already introduced the Renegade Row as a great way to get strong stomach muscles. Here we take the exercise further – the elevation forces you to stabilize a bigger percentage of your body weight.]
32kg Elevated Renegade Rows… By a Girl?
There’s no magic in this move. Maria, the cute and strong girl in the video uses the principle of flexing the kinetic chain from the supporting arm to the opposite supporting leg and all the way in between.
One Arm Evil Wheel
[The evil wheel also works by forcing us to stabilize the muscles of the front of the body in the hollow position. Here Nino, front man of an underground electronic band, Taekwondo and Capoeira master and a former trainer at our gym is doing the exercise one armed – to show off! He does push off slightly with his knees on the way up, but even doing the negative, descending part of the move is hard enough!]
—–End of Guest Post—–
Note: Make sure and head on over to Yavor’s site and ask him any questions you have on these moves. He is extremely helpful and answers just about every question submitted on his site.
[I decided to throw in a beach photo after all. This is a little beach town in Bulgaria on the Black Sea Coast called Primorsko. Looks just as nice as many of the bigger well-known beach resort cities in the world.]