Training One Rep at a Time

by Jack Arnow on December 1, 2015

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Jack Arnow: One Rep at a Time

Several months ago, inspired and guided by Paul Wade’s Explosive Calisthenics, I started training for the “suicide jump.” From a standing position with a stick between my outstretched hands in front of my thighs, the goal is to jump over the stick which ends up behind my thighs.

Most of my best friends advised me not to train for the “suicide jump,” as they assumed injury was extremely likely for a 72 year old. There was much truth to their assertions, but I decided to train anyway. I thought the joy of training was worth the risks. It was!

I trained extremely carefully, discovering ways to make the training even safer, advancing one small step at a time. I really didn’t think I would succeed in reaching the master step, but that was a blessing in disguise. It allowed me to focus on each rep in each step with no distractions at all, improving technique, listening to my body, and trusting my intuition.

As a result, I loved the training. It was so much fun because I wasn’t overly attached to the outcome. To my surprise, after a few months, I jumped over a long straw, not a stick. Then a while after that I jumped over a rubber flex bar. Just recently I jumped over an actual stick!

The funny thing is that I thought I already had learned to train this way, focusing on the present, but in retrospect I wasn’t. This was particularly evident in my training for one arm chin-ups over the last several years. Even though I should have known better, I’ve been too aggressive in my pursuit to regain this amazing feat of strength. I’ve lived and learned a lot over the years, but certain lessons need to be continually revisited.

Recently I applied my lessons from training the “suicide jump” to training the one arm chin. I began varying my workouts based on how each rep felt. I will end or continue my workout based on my immediate feeling, not on a predetermined idea. I test new ideas cautiously to see if they help. I’ve learned once again that joyful creative training makes you stronger.

On September 20th 2015 I finally did a flat footed righty one arm chin, but continue training towards a full dead hanging one arm chin. The future is never really certain, in life, or in exercise goals, so enjoy and focus on the present.

Jack Arnow Flatfooted righty chinup

Having clear goals is important, but listening to your body in the immediate present is essential to make better training decisions, and especially to reduce the chance and severity of injury. Constantly strive to improve your technique. One small advance follows one small advance, eventually leading to clear gain, but there will inevitably be setbacks along the way, so be patient with yourself. Others may help you with particular training ideas or suggestions, but test these things carefully in your practice because we are all unique in one way or another.

Regardless of your exercise achievements, be proud of them because your hard work made them happen. If others inspire you, or you inspire others, that is fantastic. Most likely both things are happening. Most importantly, try not to make the mistake of thinking you are better than someone else because you can do something they can’t. You know the difficulties and obstacles that you had to overcome, but probably don’t know theirs. And they most certainly can do many things that you can’t.

Have fun and practice one rep at a time.

***

A student of calisthenics legend Jasper Benincasa, Jack Arnow has been practicing calisthenics for over 60 years. He can be reached by email at jackarnow1@gmail.com.

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  • Jonathan F.V.

    Great reminder, Jack. Thanks a lot for that, I also tend to make the same mistake. And that jump over the stick looked easy!

    • jack arnow

      It was easy when I took the photo above, but then I started to fail more often. I had started to train for a backwards suicide jump. I thought that the 2 were different and my brain was getting confused. I’m still not sure, but I stopped training the backward jump. This morning for the first time, I did 10 consecutive suicide jumps, smiled, and stopped training. It made my day!

      • Jonathan F.V.

        That’s great! I made all my students try it where I work on Tuesday night. Was a lot of fun. I’m sure you’ll get it backwards, too.

  • “Jack be nimble, Jack be quick: Jack jump over the walking stick!”

    I’ve got a lot of admiration for your approach Jack. One rep at a time. How simple is that? (Not easy though, eh Coach?). I like to think I listen to my body, but the voices nag me too. I’m lazy & I know it. So sometimes I’m thinking “that’s enough. Don’t push to hard at this.” Whilst another voice is shouting “Is that all? Do another one. Round it up to the nearest hundred.”

    I’ve come round to accepting a phrase said to me by Tony Henshaw, a tug of war world champion who I trained with for a while. “If you think you’re training enough, you’re not.” There’s always a little more that could be done. I’m in for the long haul & hope to be practicing my exercises as long as I can move. When I can’t move I’ll do more isometrics.

    Here’s to you Jack, thanks for providing some inspiration sharing that enthusiasm.

    • jack arnow

      You said it best above Dan. Train for the long haul.

  • Pierrick

    an article full of good sense
    +1

    • jack arnow

      Thanks

  • Calvin Harris II

    Great article. Wisdom and great advice,

  • Paolo

    He looks like THAT at 72? Man I wished I looked like him NOW, daaayum.

    • jack arnow

      Thanks!

  • This is my favorite post from Jack yet! He’s super inspirational in real life, and it’s great to see him just keep going–because of a smart approach. That jump is just awesome too! Great stuff!!!

    • jack arnow

      It was your great article on training that led me to the PCC. And your interview of me was great too!

      • Thanks a ton, Jack! 🙂 That was such a fun interview to do – we’ll have to catch up again soon.

        • jack arnow

          It may have been fun, but you turned incoherent words into clear ideas. Thanks again!

  • John Du Cane

    Very inspiring article indeed, Jack! Thank you so much…

    • jack arnow

      Thanks John. The PCC has great ideas and people. I’ve been inspired and learned much from the PCC.

  • Eoin Kenny

    How do you look so good at 72 Jack?

    • jack arnow

      Thanks for the kind words

  • Matt Schifferle

    There’s a lot of life experience in this quick post, thanks so much for sharing it with us Jack!

    Warren Buffet once said that humans only learn from their mistakes, but I can tell you’re learning by a more positive approach.

    • jack arnow

      Thanks Matt. I try to learn from both mistakes and successes.

  • Mattias

    Great reading! I like to have a long term perspective and would also like to practice suicude jumps when I am 72. But I think I’ll start a little sooner…

    • jack arnow

      Thanks. Starting sooner sounds like a good idea!

  • jack arnow

    If you want to make a comment please put it here on this PCC site. If you want to contact me, my email is at the end of this article. I have trouble with facebook, and don’t look at it very much. I’ve started to decline friend requests, but don’t take it personally. I prefer email to facebook. I THOUGHT I REPLIED TO EVERY COMMENT MADE BELOW THIS COMMENT, but I don’t see those replies now?? Any ideas why?

  • Johnathan Cei

    Thanks Jack for sharing your approach. I’m a newbie in calisthenics and I’m 47, and your achievements are so inspiring. Really: it’s never too late!

    • jack arnow

      Thanks for your comment.

  • Sam

    “If others inspire you, or you inspire others, that is fantastic. “. Well Jack, you always inspire me. True legend.

    • jack arnow

      I’m glad to inspire you and others, but those who know me best see my weaknesses and faults too. I didn’t put all of them in the blog 🙂 for lack of space. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that “legends” are people you don’t know very well.

  • Mohammed

    “…try not to make the mistake of thinking you are better
    than someone else because you can do something they can’t. You know the
    difficulties and obstacles that you had to overcome, but probably don’t
    know theirs.”

    It can be easy to feel pride like this; sometimes, it’s an instinctive feeling but that does not make it right. Humility is very important.

    Since I’ve started to take it easy in my training and stopped stressing about reaching the next progression, I do seem to get more satisfaction out of my training sessions. I feel like I am getting more out of less!

    I want to be like you when I get to your age (and beyond!); doing (one-arm) pull-ups and pushups and pistols and leg raises and bridges and handstands and all those things.

    Thank you for the reminders and lessons!

    • jack arnow

      Thanks for the kind words. I agree with you that you can get “more out of less.” Less can increase your focus and awareness. More may ruin your focus or worse. Less or more is often an important but very difficult decision to make. You can experiment on yourself, cautiously, to test what works for you.

  • Laura Woodruff

    I would like some helpful advice and hints about working out when you have lymphedema in the legs.
    I work out am very dedicated to this. My legs swell at the bottom from my knees down, in working out this decreases the swelling tremendously but not all the way….so what is it that can be done for someone who works out faithfully everyday?
    My weight is mostly in my legs …. Any help would be greatly appreciated…

    • jack arnow

      Sorry, don’t know how to help you.

  • Swiss_Olympic

    This is some GREAT advice!

    • jack arnow

      Thanks.

  • Les Gross

    About six months ago, I set a goal for myself: to do at least 1 naked pistol squat on each leg by 2016. At that time I was working on self assisted pistols, so in my mind, I was on the cusp of achieving my goal, or so I thought.

    I have an issue in my right hip that prevents my knee from maintaining the proper alignment with my body in order to keep my balance and reach full depth. As I descend, my right knee turns outward as in a regular two legged squat- if I forcefully keep it in line with my body I get pretty gnarly stabbing pain in the hip joint and can only go down to just parallel. It isn’t simply a flexibility issue- I’ve been working on improving mobility for 2 years now to absolutely no avail. The issue is my hip structure itself. So I’ve failed my goal, and I may NEVER reach it, ever, so I’m currently still working self assisted pistols, and since I can do full pistols with a counterweight, I’ll move to those in the coming months.

    It taught me to be more humble, and appreciate what I CAN do. I’m taking it 1 rep at a time, and still striving for the goal, but I’m doing it carefully. I really don’t want to get surgery, and my hips work fine otherwise, so I’m gonna go as far as I can, then improvise ways to work within my limits to continue building strength.

    • jack arnow

      Sounds great!

    • Hi Les. I’ve had a few injury issues over the years. I’ve never done a proper pistol on land ,but I do them regularly in the shallow water of the swimming pool. Might be worth trying out as the water can support some of your weight, you can slow it right down. I’ve done 10 in a row holding 10kg in knee high water, but on land it just doesn’t feel right. Similarly I’ve never done a muscle up on land, but I do the movement onto the pool side regularly from the deep end. I’ve even done it one armed. Maybe the pool could help you too?

  • RobbyTaylor

    Hey Jack! Good to see this writeup. I trust you’re doing well!

    • jack arnow

      Yes Robby, I’m enjoying myself. I hope you are too.

  • An honor to have a true LEGEND in the history of calisthenics as part of the PCC/SCC community!

    Jack, we love you, man. You inspire so many good people, as you can see from these comments. Thank you for the bottom of my heart for writing this.

    • jack arnow

      Hi Paul, Thanks for the very kind words. Many may not know that I trained very narrowly most of my life, and still do. But your training ideas and writing style have inspired me to broaden my training, and I love it. As I said in my article above, training the “suicide jump” was your influence. Two days ago I started training “the superman,” once again from “Explosive Calisthenics,” I promised myself I wouldn’t tell anyone, probably because failure is certainly possible, and in general my age is showing more and more. But I just changed my mind because I wanted to share an important lesson: “It is good to take risks, as long as the penalty for failure is not too great.” Currently, even step 1 of the training is challenging for me, but I am enjoying training for “new for me” things. This small broadening in my training started a few years ago when I first met Al and Danny Kavadlo, both very nice and inspiring to me.

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