I just wrote a post about “superhero” workouts, mentioning Anthony Arvanitakis’s Superhero Bodyweight Workout which I did last year. I plan to do it again this year, and this post is about a handful of specific issues I had with the plan last year, and how I’m planning to rejigger things to deal with them this year.

There were a few exercises that I couldn’t quite do—not because I lacked strength or endurance, but just because there was a skill component that I couldn’t master quickly enough to go full-power through the 8-week training program. Here are the specific exercises I identified as ones I had trouble with:

  • Prone angels with weights: I’d never done this exercise, and found it quite challenging. Now though, I’ve spent the winter doing it without weights as part of my morning exercises, and I’ve just in the past couple of weeks started adding in weights. I think I’ve got this one sorted.
  • Superhero (i.e. one-armed) planks: Similarly, I’d just never done one-armed planks, so I needed to develop a bit more core strength for anti-rotation to be able to 30-second holds on each side. (This one I haven’t been practicing all winter, but I’ve just now checked and managed 20-second holds on each side. I’m sure I can get to 30 seconds in short order.)
  • Pike push-ups: Another novel exercise for me, where most of the issue was just not knowing how to do it. I started doing it about once a week along about mid-winter, and I think I can do it okay now (although I should probably get Jackie to do a video of me doing it so I can look and make sure I’m doing it right). 
  • Jumping lunges: This one I can’t do at all. For some reason, lunges were just not one of the moves I learned as a child. (Maybe my Phys Ed teacher thought they were bad for your knees or something.) Anyway, I’ve been trying to learn how to do lunges literally for years now, and have just barely gotten to where I can sort of do a wobbly lunge. I tried last week to do a jumping lunge (where you drop into a lunge and then jump into the air and switch your legs around so that you land in a lunge position with the opposite feet forward and back). It wasn’t as bad as a near-death experience, but it was not a success either. Fortunately, this exercise is always offered as an alternative to uphill sprints (preferred), box jumps, or burpees, so I can just pick one of those.

Besides those specific exercises, there are two other issues I had trouble with last time:

  1. Supersets of pull ups and inverted rows. There’s a logistical complexity here because (if you’re doing them with rings) you have to adjust the ring height very quickly. (Otherwise it won’t be a superset, but just two regular sets.) I’m trying to come up with a plan to address that either by getting more practiced at quickly adjusting the ring height, or else by finding a workout location with a bar at either pull-up or inverted-row height (so I can just set up my rings at the right height for the other exercise and switch between stations).
  2. Pyramids (both dip/push up and pull up/row). The first few times I do a pyramid (or ladder) workout, I find it pretty easy to misjudge where I’m going to reach failure, and the exercise is more effective if you don’t unexpectedly hit failure halfway through an early set—something that happened to me several times. This year before I start I want to do enough sets of these to get a good sense of what the right rep count is going to be, so that I know what I need to do to hit failure only during the last set.

Last year I started in late May (when Anthony released his latest version for the program and led the program). That was fine, but this year I think I’d like to start earlier in the spring—just as soon as we get reliably nice-enough weather for me to have some confidence I can put my rings up nearly every day.

It’s an eight-week program, so it would be nice to start around the first or second week of April. Then I’ll have my superhero body by the beginning of June.

Where I’m starting from

There are two, or maybe three, genres of “superhero” workout. There’s the aesthetic workout plan, which aims to make you look like a superhero, and then there’s the practical workout plan, which aims to enable you to function like a superhero.

Photo by Jackie Brewer

The latter category is not at all common, because everybody knows it’s impossible—superheros are fictional characters—but The Bioneer still comes up with these sorts of plans because he’s all about producing a highly functional mind and body, and even if actual superhero-level performance is impossible, it’s still something he wants to strive toward. I respect that.

The former category can be divided into two parts, which is why I say “maybe three” genres. Most of the category is filled with workout plans supposedly followed by this or that actor getting into shape to look like a superhero for a role in a movie—except most of those are not actually a plan at all, just a single workout that some celebrity trainer came up with that includes some elements of what the actor did to produce the aesthetics that were wanted for the film. (Some years ago, Nerd Fitness wrote a great takedown of these sorts of “plans,” pointing out that what you really needed to do was choose your parents well to get the genes that would enable the physique you want, and then have a job that provided both lots of free time (for exercising) and lots of money (for hiring trainers, chefs, etc.).)

What I prefer, and what I found a specific useful instance of, is an actual workout plan (not just an individual workout) for producing the physique of a superhero, while allowing for your body type, and starting with your current physique: Anthony Arvanitakis’s Superhero Bodyweight Workout.

I followed that workout plan last year, and am planning to do it again this year (although then I’ll proceed directly to a Bioneer-style superfunctional workout plan). My success last year was limited by a few specific issues, and my next post is about my plan for addressing them this year.

I did an experiment a couple of days ago: I tested a combined workout that doubled up two pairs of exercises that I’d been doing separately. Up to now I’ve been doing four sessions each week: two where I do pull ups & pushups, and then two where I do dips & inverted rows. (Together with a leg exercise and a core exercise each workout.)

That was working very well, but it meant 4 upper-body strength sessions each week, which is a lot. Throw in a couple of lower-body strength sessions as well (such as hill sprints or kettlebell swings), plus a rest day, and I didn’t have a day to do anything else. This sort of volume has been well for me so far, but I think I may have reached a limit, and would benefit from a cycle of deeper recovery than just a week of lighter workouts: Except for “de-load” weeks in mid-March and mid-June, I’ve been averaging close to 5 workouts a week since the end of January. I’m thinking I want to take it down a notch.

With that in mind, I’ve been thinking about how I want to structure my training through the fall and winter. One obvious change was to go from four days of upper-body strength training per week to just three. The problem was that I didn’t see an easy way to evenly cover the range of pushing and pulling exercises at a reasonable volume with just three workouts a week, except by doing both pairs in each workout.

Hence my experiment, in which I did just that.

It was not a complete success. I managed to crank my way through the workout, but it was very long and tough. I don’t think I could keep it up three times a week for months.

Happily, while describing my difficulties to my friend Chuck, I had a brainstorm: I could do threes workouts per week—two of them just like what I’ve been doing (one with pull-ups & push-ups, and then another with inverted rows & dips), and then do just one combined workout. That keeps my workouts even, as far as covering all four exercises twice each week, without being quite so overwhelming as trying to do the combined workout three times a week.

With just three upper-body strength workouts per week, I have four days for other stuff, and I can mix and match as I choose. I can do the hill sprints that Anthony Arvanitakis recommends, or I can do kettlebell swings. (Either of those makes a good HIIT workout.) I can go for a run. I can go for a hike. I can do my animal moves. In particular, I can do two rest days, if that seems like a good idea. (Which I think it probably does. At least my Oura ring thinks so.)

This all got started back in February, when I figured out that I was lacking in consistency. (Previously I’d imagined that the problem was a lack of intensity.) Targeting 5 workouts a week has meant that, even when I miss one, I get in more than when I was targeting 3 workouts a week—even if I didn‘t miss one.

I don’t want to give up the consistency, I just want to take the volume down a notch. Hence the struggle. But I think now I’ve got a plan.

Since spring I’ve been using some workout plans put together by Anthony Arvanitakis. For eight weeks from late May to early July I did his Superhero Bodyweight Workout, and since then I’ve been following along with bodyweight workouts he’s been sharing for the summer.

One limitation that I’ve had all this time is that I haven’t been able to do the hill or stair sprint workouts that he suggests, due to a lingering foot injury. After repeatedly resting my sore foot until it was nearly all better, and then trying to get back into running, only to have my foot start hurting again, I finally took a full month off. That was enough for my foot to finally feel entirely better, so last week I went for a 3-mile run as a test. My foot didn’t hurt during the run, but was sore again that evening and the next day.

I took another week off from running, and then today decided to try a different tack: Those hill-sprint workouts.

Three things about this make it make sense to me:

  1. Hill sprints are lower impact than running on flat ground (because the ground is higher for each next step, so your foot doesn’t fall as far).
  2. The total mileage is much less (today’s workout was just 0.5 miles).
  3. My running gait is better when I’m sprinting.

Putting those things together makes me think that maybe hill sprints will let me run at least a little without aggravating my foot injury.

Another thing I’m doing is extending my warmup quite a bit. I did my full dynamic stretching routine before heading to the workout location. Once I got there I scrupulously followed the prescribed warmup routine, jogging up the hill at 50%, 60%, 70% and 80% intensity (I actually did 5 preliminary jogs up the hill, at gradually increasing intensity). After each of the last two warmup jogs I did a set of 12 straight-elbow push ups (what I call rhomboid pushups) as preparation for the pushup part of the workout.

The main workout then was 4 sets of sprinting up the hill at 90% intensity, walking down, and then doing as many pushups as I could do with perfect form (I did 10, 10, 8 and 8 pushups).

I also did something I’ve always resisted in the past: I drove to my hill. (This being central Illinois, hills are few and far between. My hill is at Colbert Park.) Usually I don’t like to drive somewhere to get exercise—why not walk or run and thereby get more exercise? But with my sore foot, that much extra running would definitely aggravate the injury. Even walking that far might be an issue.

One thing I need to be careful of is to be sure to get in my full wrist warmup. I’m pretty good about that ahead of a rings workout, but perhaps wasn’t as scrupulous as I should have been this time. But the pushups put enough stress on the wrists that it’s good to get them fully warmed up even before the rhomboid pushups.

I’m pretty pleased with my workout. My foot (really my ankle) is a bit tender this evening. We’ll see how it feels tomorrow. On the schedule I’m (tentatively) following, I’ll be doing hill sprints again Monday. If my foot is completely pain-free at least several days ahead of that, I’ll proceed with that plan.

I’ve been following a new workout plan by Anthony Arvanitakis (the latest iteration of his Superhero Workout), and one of the points that he makes is the importance of warming up. (“If you don’t have time to warm up, you don’t have time to work out.”)

Warming up is important, but as he’s made clear elsewhere, it’s actually the second step in the pre-workout process.

The first part is checking in.

Checking in

You want to check in with your body, but even before that, you want to check in with the venue.

I don’t have a good history with this step, which is a big part of the reason I’m writing this post: I’m documenting what I think I ought to be doing as part of the “warming up, but first checking in” procedure, in the hope that it’ll help me remember to do it.

Check in with the venue

Look around to see who else is there. Is anybody doing anything that might interfere with your workout?

Yesterday the folks mowing the lawn arrived in the courtyard where I’d set up my rings just as I was just starting my workout, and I ended up needing to take my rings down and move elsewhere. That was okay—but if I’d done a better job of checking in with the venue in advance, maybe I’d have been able to find a spot where I could have finished my workout without having to move.

Is there anybody doing anything that you might interfere with as you do your workout? I would have been in the way of the lawn mowing people. Other times I’ve gone someplace where people were setting up to do a family reunion picnic or something similar, and I’d have been in the way.

Especially in these times, there are other things to think about in terms of other people. Is there any chance that police or security guards might take issue with what you’re doing? Any chance that the people you interact with might themselves be malefactors of some sort? Best to avoid them, if you can.

I tend to do my workouts fairly early in the morning, but long enough after dawn that I don’t tend to have to worry much about such things. That doesn’t mean they can be entirely ignored.

Besides other people, look at the space itself. This is especially important for parkour, where you need to look for all kinds of hazards.

If you’re going to do parkour vaults, but also plyometrics, make sure the thing you’re going to put weight on is strong enough. Make sure it won’t tip over, or collapse under your weight, and also make sure that your planned activity won’t damage it.

Make sure that the zone where you’re going to land is free of any slipping or tripping hazards (water, ice, grease, sand). Is there anything that might roll? Is there anything with a point or a sharp edge?

Is there enough room for you to safely execute whatever move you have planned?

Check in with yourself

This can be before your worm-up, or combined with it. The key is to pay attention.

Are your tendons, ligaments, and joints free of pain? Do you have access to your entire normal range of motion? Does anything catch or click or grind as you begin to move? Are your muscles sore from recent workouts?

Are you focused? Are you confident that you know whether you can go all-out, or need to limit yourself in some way to stay safe?

None of these things would necessarily make you abandon a workout, but (depending on the extent to which they ease up as you begin your warm up), they might prompt you to modify your planned workout.

Anthony has a warm-up video here:

As I say, I’m not especially good at this. I tend to arrive at the venue with a workout in mind, and immediately jump into it.

I’ve gotten a bit better at getting my warm-up in. I have too many body parts (wrists and feet especially, but also ankles, shoulders, hips, and knees) that act up if I try to stress them before they’re warmed up. I’ve learned not to skip this part.

My qi gong practice does a very good job of warming up most of these parts. I also go ahead and do Anthony’s warm up routine as well (very similar exercises), and then throw in specific activities that I know I need in particular due to my own movement and injury history. (I use some wrist warm-ups from my long-ago aikido practice, for example. I use a ball to mobilize the joints in my feet.)

As I say, I’ve about gotten the warm-up part under control. It’s the check-in process that I’m particularly prone to skimp on. Hopefully, writing this post will remind me not to forget this part of a workout.

Looking over Anthony’s older videos, I came upon this one, which talks about a procedure for doing a check-in procedure ahead of the warming up:

It’s pretty good.