A couple of weeks ago I made a change in my personal fitness training, aka my workout: I purchased The Bullworker.
Now, this is not a new piece of exercise equipment. The Bullworker (originally called “The Tensolator”) has been around since 1962, and was invented by Gert F. Kölbel. My dad bought one when I was a kid, back in the 70s. It was a neat piece of equipment, even then. Since then I’d long thought it had gone out of business, because I’d literally never heard of it again. Then I became heavily immersed in the “Gym Culture” of weightlifting (among other things, e.g., martial arts, running swimming, biking, et cetera x 2). I’d always performed good form at the expense of heavier weight in the gym, because I’d learned from others’ mistakes. I was free from serious injuries until my fifties. Then last year (2020) amid the Stay-at-Home orders, I thought about what version of home exercise equipment I should get and bought an updated version of some equipment I’d used when I was still employed and traveling a lot, called Bodylastics. These worked extremely well, and I used them a lot while traveling and during the initial COVID crisis, but I have to admit that they are a bit, well, funky. For one thing I never really liked how they worked for leg routines (it seems many such pieces of home equipment have this issue). There’s also a lot of fiddling around with the handles, straps, and tubes, even when you lay everything out before working out. They were not ideal, but certainly functional, give great results, and definitely worth using…however…
It was late last year that I’d discovered that The Bullworker still existed!
So, I did some research into the equipment and isometric exercise. It turns out that isometric training has apparently made, and is continuing to make, quite the comeback. Here is a list of 20 reasons isometrics is a really good way to go (the link is from the Bullworker site). Many of those reasons are why, now, at my age, I’m gravitating toward isometrics rather than isotonics. Most of what I now read about isometrics praises it as the exercise program to perform, but, yes, there are still a few places citing the same issues (keep reading). In the long run, however, there really is no one perfect work out program. You have to find what best fits you and your needs.
As far back as I can remember, and until just a few years ago, isometric training had been touted as not the best form of exercise, because the strength built was only good at the angle-of-performed isometric contraction. I thought, gee, that sucks—if’n it’s somewhat strange sounding. I’d wondered if that was really true. When I used the Bullworker as a kid I’d never had any issue with my fitness…granted I also performed high school training for all the sports I’d been in, not to mention all my very physical chores around our mini-farm/homestead, which involved animals and clearing brush, digging ditches, chopping wood, and moving rocks and logs and snow. Lots of rocks and logs and snow. And hefting 80-pound feed backs up a steep hill. Over my shoulders. I just never noticed any issues.
For the next 40-plus years I became a gym rat and got stronger and even a bit bigger, though never gained the sized I’d envisioned for myself (have you met Arnold?), but strength, yeah, I could build that, and I ended up entering only one powerlifting competition, when I was in college. Initially I didn’t place (took the unmedalled fourth place). But some days later I was quietly notified that the guy who had taken third had been disqualified (don’t remember why) and I had now taken third place…um, out of three! Anyway, a day late and a buck short. I’d never taken steroids, which I now know usually plays a role in pretty much most bodybuilding. I just never had the genetics and burned off all my calories waaay too quickly. Ask anyone. I was largely a beanpole most of early life, but a strong beanpole.
Then, I hit my 50s.
I continued pushing the fitness limits, but did so smartly—or so I thought.
I continued to use strict form. But at fifty-seven, I surprisingly, if gracefully, imparted upon myself a wicked partial-thickness tear in my left subscapularis while doing dumbbell bench presses with 95-pound dumbbells. The weight wasn’t hard at the time, and it certainly wasn’t the heaviest set of dumbbells I’d ever pressed, but there it was, after a lifetime of trying to do everything right…I got nailed. The tear occurred over a weekend (or should I say a “weakened”), literally without my knowledge. You read that correctly. All weekend long I had no idea what had happened…or was to happen. No pain, no limited movement, nothing. Not a single indication of anything. Then I came into the gym on that Monday, went to lift my 65 pounders to warm up—and, whack: KNIFE JAB!
I probably actually tore the muscle that moment I did my warmups.
Long story short, since then I’ve had three fitness-related surgeries.
Do you know how ironic that sounds?
I currently have a strained knee issue that so far isn’t yet a problem, but does get aggravated when I do gym legwork (specifically, quad work). No other inherent knee problems have shown up, but I’m erring on the conservative side and looking to further modify my fitness routines. Isometrics are great for strengthening tendons and ligaments without stressing them (if done correctly), and I seem to need that (or should is say “knee’d” that…).
All this has therefore prompted me to reconsider my current fitness tactics. The Bullworker seems far better for one’s joints, and apparently really is the muscle training we should all have been doing all along, according to my research. I mean, I still have my paper copies of the Charles Atlas isometrics training system he called “Dynamic Tension,” and look at how he turned out without lifting iron (if that’s really true…). Heck, I didn’t even know Chuck (may I call you, “Chuck,” Mr. Atlas?) was still in business after all these years, until just now, writing this post. So, if you really can’t afford $200 for the Bullworker, give the Charles Atlas course a try. But the point is Charles Atlas got big and strong just by pitting his own strength against himself, so there has to be something to this whole isometrics thing that is being largely ignored and downplayed because it isn’t “bright and shiny,” sell sexy sports gear, or make money with ongoing memberships.
Anyway, I’m seriously considering giving up the gym-rat existence–or sparsely using it. I thought I could continue the gnarly exercises at the gym well into advanced age—just do them properly and with strict form, a little less weight—but as it turns out you really can’t. Or maybe it’s just my genetics. You have to adapt to age and lifestyle changes, and at sixty, retired, and given my previous issues, I have to be smarter than the iron I used to push around. Someone coming into weightlifting later in life might be able to do so to some degree, but someone like me, who’s been lifting weights since I was maybe fourteen years old, has apparently worn out his body (in those terms) and needs to take the multiply delivered hints.
And I’m good with that! It’s called adapt or die (aka “getting hurt”)!
Sure, I’ll miss the comradery and all, but I have to stop causing these stupid little issues from popping up. Take it from me: you can do everything right…but after a while Life does catch up with you. One way or the other. Even my eighty-four-year-old dad told me just the other week, when I told him about the rediscovered Bullworker, that he now realized that he wished he hadn’t worked out as gnarly he had way back. It’s rare that older gym rats don’t have injuries—and if they say they’ve never had any, well, more power to them, but I’d call “shenanigans” just the same. If you see a much older dude working out like a beast, chances are they hadn’t done it since they were a teenager or they’re hiding things (from my experience). And I have to say that since my surgery, I’ve seen many people at the gym (and have been working out for years) also getting surgeries. I know only know one guy who’s eighty-eight, a retired doctor, with two hips replaced, who’s still hitting the weights, but as in machines, not free weights. Next time I see him, I should ask him when he started working out.
So, if the Bullworker really can deliver on all its promises, I’m in.
I’m also so busy now that spending 1.5 to 2 hours a workout at the gym takes up far more time than I wanna give anymore. As I do the two sets Bullworker workout, it takes about 40 – 50 minutes depending on what exercises I do…but I still have my daily preventative physical therapy (PT) to do before that, for other structural issues that had manifested because of age and genetics. All added up I’m still doing an hour-plus of PT and working out every morning, but my new workouts are far easier on my body. My tendons and ligaments, which do get stronger through isometric training, but not as much through isotonic training.
As I did my research into isometrics I also found that when the fitness craze and gyms exploded onto the scene in the 1980s, it’d stomped the hell out of any other form of fitness that wasn’t a moneymaker, and I’ve seen more than a few come and go…but isometrics really does appear to holding its own these days. It continues to maintain that it is the best form of muscle and strength building out there. And it isn’t limited to “performed angles of mechanics” anymore, as had been earlier claimed, through a modification of its exercise protocols. The Bullworker incorporates some isotonic exercises this time around, to help cover that argument, and I think also hitting similar exercises from different angles, which has a gestalt “full angle of exercise” effect. Check out this fascinating article.
So, what I am doing is jumping head-first into the new Bullworker training program to see where it takes me and see if it’s all it claims to be, because believe me when I say, I’ll miss the gym and don’t really want to forever leave the gym…but I’m open to innovation, results, and not hurting myself with stupid little issues anymore. My lifting results have never been what I’d striven for, anyway, so this might be the perfect format for older-and-wiser me. And if I need to I can return to the gym to do lighter, isotonic workouts, which you can incorporate into your isometric training if not performed to exhaustion, then I will.
As it currently stands, I’ve been working the Bullworker for two weeks. I’m working on developing my own routine, which I’ll post soon, and I’m working on it with the help of Bullworker’s Joe Myaki and Chrisman Hughes. They have both been extremely helpful. As I performed the Bullworker exercises, I found areas not specifically covered in the training manual sent with the equipment. Maybe it is covered in their blog posts and videos, but I just don’t have time to check all that out, so feel free to check them out.
I’ll also say that in comparing the 70’s version of the Bullworker with current version, the best single innovation is the addition of extra springs to better adjust your workouts. Swapping them out is a breeze. The next best addition to the equipment is the addition of the isotonic reps in addition to the seven-second single rep, which used to be all the 70’s Bullworker gave you.
Thanks for stopping by, and give isometrics exercise a try! If you’re a “sit down artist,” like a writer, you’ll need to get up off your ass and move around anyway, and this can all be done far easier than heading to gym, so you can get back to your keyboard!
Gym Closed? Used Bodylastics!
Total Hip Replacement Surgery Links
Knee and THR Surgeries—An Update
Total Hip Replacement – Four Months
Total hip replacement surgery, October 23, 2019
What A Spazz, November 24, 2019
Total Hip Replacement Update 8 1/2 Weeks, December 21, 2019
Shoulder Surgery Posts Links
Shoulder Surgery, August 29, 2018
Post Shoulder Surgery, 2018
Knee Surgery Post Links
Knee Surgery – Meniscus Flap Tear