My Simple Secret to Doing More Chin ups

My Simple Secret to Doing More Chin ups

In the last few posts,  I’ve talked quite a bit about how I’ve lost weight (31 pounds as of today).  I’ve gone into some detail about the diet, but I haven’t really talked about the workouts much.  There’s a couple reasons, but the main two reasons are 1) workouts are complicated, and 2) 95% of your results will come from your diet.  There’s a reason fitness models say, “abs are created in the kitchen.”

I do plan on writing more about the workout in the future, but for today, I just wanted to give you some tips on how to do more chin ups (or pull ups if you desire).  When I started this journey 14 weeks ago, I could barely do 4 chin ups or 3 pull ups.  This Monday I did 5 chin ups with 40 lbs attached followed by a set of 6 chin ups with 25 pounds attached.  Today (Thursday, I did a set of 13 bodyweight chin ups).

Now I know for some people that may not sound very impressive, but I haven’t been able to do more than 8 pull ups or chin ups since I was 19.  And I certainly wasn’t as explosive as I am today.  So here’s how I did it.  You can use this method with either pull ups (palms away) or chin ups (palms toward you).  Personally I prefer neutral grip chin ups (palms facing each other).  For the rest of this article, I’ll just call them pull ups out of habit.

Some people will tell newbies that they need to be able to do 8 pull ups or 12 pull ups or even 20 pull ups before they start adding weight.  But I prefer to start adding weight as soon as you can do 4-6 pull ups.  I’ve never been good at doing lots of pull ups, and if I had waited until I could do 12 pull ups before adding weight, I’d probably still be doing 5 pounds.  Below is how I did it, and you can too…if you like.

Step 0: Be able to do at least 4 pull ups

If you can’t do at least four pull ups, then that’s your first step.  If you can’t do any pull ups, then follow this below video for a nice progression.  If you can do at least one pull up, then do several sets of as many as you can do with good form at least three days a week.

Step 1: Add 5 lbs

Once you can do a at least 4 good pull ups, it’s time to add some weight.  Get a dip belt.  Attach 5 pounds and do a set.  Wait at least 3 minutes, then do a second set bodyweight pull ups.  On your other two workout days just do one set of bodyweight pull ups.  So to recap: one set of weighted pull ups and 3 sets of bodyweight pull ups per week.

Note: I was doing this while on a fairly aggressive cut of 700-1000 calorie deficit per day.  If you’re eating at maintenance or bulking, you can do three sets on your weighted day or even to two days of weighted pull ups (I’d recommend at least 3 days recovery between weighted sets.)

Step 2: Adding reps

Keep doing the weight you added in Step 1 plus two sets of bodyweight pull ups on other days until you can do 6 weighted pull ups.  Here are some tips:

  • Focus on trying to make your upward movement as explosive as possible.
  • Try to keep your shoulder blades retracted (pull down and toward each other)
  • Don’t reach your neck for the bar.
  • Don’t struggle with half reps.  When you can’t complete the rep with good form, don’t do it at all.  If you really want to do another rep, jump up to the top and do a long negative (slow descent) or get an elastic band and do assisted pull ups.

Step 3: Add 5 more pounds

When you can complete six good, explosive pull ups, it’s time to add 5 more pounds.

  • If you can do 5 or more reps with the higher weight, then add 5 pounds again next week.
  • If you can only four reps with the higher weight, stay at that weight until you can get 6 reps and then add another 5 pounds.
  • If you can’t get four reps with the higher weight, drop the weight by 2.5 pounds the next week.

Keep doing your bodyweight pull ups for the second set and on your other two days.

Step 4: Add weight to your second set

When you get to the point where you’re doing pull ups with 10% of your bodyweight added, you can start adding weight to your second set.  So if you’re 180 pounds, when you get to 20 pounds, add 5 pounds to your 2nd set.  Generally speaking you should be able to get at least one more rep out of your 2nd set with lighter weight than your first heavy set.

Whenever your second set gets 2 good reps higher than your first set, add five more pounds to it.  Follow the same rules as step 3 (but with a higher rep count).

Step 5: Take videos of yourself doing weighted pull ups.

That’s pretty much it.  The video below is my second set of weighted pull ups this week with 25 pounds added.   You can see my weight progression in the table below.  Notice that even though my weight is going down, the total weight I’m lifting is going up.  (So my absolute strength and relative strength are both increasing.)

Date Weight Set 1 Wgt w/body Reps Set 2 Reps
2/23/2016 196 0 196 6 0 3
2/29/2016 195 0 195 6 band 5
3/7/2016 194 0 194 5 0 4
3/14/2016 195 15 210 4 5 4
3/18/2016 193 15 208 4 5 4
3/23/2016 192 15 207 5 5 5
3/28/2016 192 15 207 5 5 5
4/2/2016 190 20 210 4 5 5
4/11/2016 189 20 209 4 5 5
4/18/2016 188 20 208 6 5 6
4/25/2016 188 25 213 5 5 6
5/2/2016 186 30 216 5 10 7
5/9/2016 186 35 221 5 10 7
5/16/2017 187 40 227 4 15 6
5/23/2016 184 40 224 5 20 6
5/30/2016 185 40 225 5 25 6
6/6/2016 182 40 222 5 25 6

Frequently asked questions:

Man! I could NEVER do weighted pull ups!

It’s not really a questions, but that is exactly what I thought until I started doing it.  I’ve never been good at pull ups.  When I was in the Air Force Academy, the max I ever did was 13, and I assure you the last five were not nearly as explosive as the last five in my video at the top.  When you see someone doing pull ups with 70 pounds attached, you think, “there’s no way I can do that,” and you’re right.  You can’t do it…now.  But if you start with adding 5 pounds, increase your reps to 6, add five more pounds, rinse and repeat, you’ll be doing 45 pounds before you know it.

So what’s this simple secret you mentioned in the title?

Too subtle, eh?  The secret is adding 5 pounds.  As you get stronger, you’ll be able to do more pull ups with just bodyweight.

Does this work for weighted dips too?

Absolutely.  It actually works even better for weighted dips.  In the time it took me to go from 0 to 45 pounds for pull ups, I went from 10 pounds to 77.5 pounds for 6 reps for dips.  The only thing holding you back is not using a dip  belt.  Some gyms even have one you can borrow.  But if not, buy one on amazon.

Where did you learn how to do this?

Greg O’Gallagher from Kinobody is the person who made me believe I could do it, and I was following his Aggressive Fat Loss Program while implementing this plan.  Actually, I’m still on it.  When I get down to 175 pounds, I’ll re-evaluate my bodyfat and see where I want to go from there.

How I got unfat (or at least started the journey)

How I got unfat (or at least started the journey)

Greg O’Gallagher from Kinobody.com

You look pretty good.  What do you eat? — Jerry Seinfeld

Just skip to the end please

I lost 14 pounds on the Atkins diet and by intermittent fasting.  Then I found Kinobody and am now doing his Aggressive Fat Loss system.  It’s a combination of intermittent fasting and weight training.  No cardio beyond walking or recreational activities is required.

The journey to fatness.

It’s embarrassing to admit it, but the past few years have been a journey toward obesity.  I was a scrawny kid who could eat anything.  I graduated high school at a whopping 145 pounds.  Then I went to the Air Force Academy and went down to a downright skeletal 134 pounds in Basic Training.

pat-heyman-skeletal

A skeletal 134 pounds

By the time I graduated college I was 170 pounds.  But then I got a job as a lifeguard and beach attendant at the Breaker’s Hotel and Resort in Palm Beach, FL.  That took me down to 165 pounds of tanned, bleach-blonde muscle despite eating probably 5,000 calories a day.  Unfortunately, my high school weight and beach experience reinforced the notion that I could eat whatever I want and still be thin.

Pat on the Breaker's Beach

Bleach blonde, tan, and buff. 165 pounds despite eating probably 5,000 calories per day.

…and then I got old.  Everyone always said, “wait till you’re 40,” but it happened to me at 24.  I was able to stave off the weight gain by sheer physical activity—capoeira, karate, tai chi. ballroom dancing, Latin dancing.  And then I got married and got a real job.  It’s a lot harder to maintain that kind of lifestyle when you’re working full time and have a wife who wants to spend time with you.  I tipped the scales at a 185 pounds when I got married at 26.  A few years later I was 200.

To Insanity and.. Beyond!

Obviously, I need to start exercising again, but we had moved, and I didn’t know where to find a good dojo and dance studio, so I turned to Beach Body.  I started with Slim in 6 but all the lunges were too hard on my knees, so I switched to Power 90 (the much easier precursor to P90x).  From the, the Power Half Hour, and eventually P90X itself.  All of them work to some degree, but they take progressively more and more time.  P90X requires a whopping hour and half a day.  Six days a week.  It’s just not fun.  Then I tried the aptly named Insanity.  I lasted three sessions.  It really is insane, and not in a good way.  The human body is not meant to work in that particular way.  Anyway, my first son, Logan was born, and after 3 sleepless, exerciseless months. I figured I needed to workout again.  That’s when I found Rushfit, designed for and marketed by MMA fighter George “Rush” St Pierre.  I really liked the full body nature of the workouts and the relatively short time (30 minutes plus a 10 minute warm up).  It was nice to have kick boxing moves performed by actual martial artists…but my knees didn’t like strain, so I had to take it easy on certain days.  Still I was in overall good shape, although still over 200 pounds.  (Nothing scarier than an overweight, in shape, martial artist right?)

And then.  And then my second son, Corban was born, and the next thing you know I had only worked out twice in the last two years.  One workout a year isn’t too bad, I think.  Eventually, I tipped the pounds at a whopping 212 pounds!!!

pat-heyman-whale

Thar she blows!!!!

What’s love got to do with it?

Unfortunately, none of it really works, because exercising raises your appetite, and it’s too hard on a middle aging body to work out 6 days a week, and who has the time when you have two kids?   The key, of course, is changing your diet.  For years I had bought into the silliness that reducing carbohydrates and especially sugars will reduce insulin, which in turn makes it easier to lose weight.  I had believed this for years, but didn’t want to do it, because…because I love carbs, and I especially love sugar.  I love Coca Cola, and Cherry Pepsi, and cookies, and bread, and donuts, and cake (which is really just an icing delivery device).  In fact, I told my nursing students that I was living proof that the health belief model was false.  I believed in low carb diets, but I didn’t want to follow one…until I wanted family photos with the kids without me looking like a blimp.

My brother had lost 15 pounds or so in a month following the Atkins diet (a kind of low carb diet), and what he was doing seemed pretty reasonable, so I figured I’d try it…in a couple weeks.

How to lose 14 pounds in three weeks

Well, I started off by cheating.  I got the flu.  A bad flu.  With stomach symptoms.  To stop the symptoms I stopped eating.  Between the starvation and the fever, I lost 6 pounds in 5 days.  It would be a shame to waste that head start, so I went Atkins too.  The basic Atkins diet is eat high protein, high fat meals, with low carbohydrates.  The Atkins diet has “phases” where you vary the amount of carbohydrate.   Basically, in the “induction phase” you try to eat less than 20 grams of carbohydrate per day.  That turns out to be a lot harder than you might think.  The key is that during induction you eat as much as you want as long as it’s low carb.  This turns out to be a great diet for carnivores.  You typically stay in induction for 2-4 weeks.  After induction, you ease up on the carb restrictions but still stay low carb.  Once you make your weight goal, then you raise the carbs up to the point you start to gain weight again, and then reduce back to a stable weight.  That final stage very much resembles a Paleo diet.

I also started using “intermittent fasting,” which is a essentially, trying to do all your eating in an 8 hour window, and then not eating (fasting) for 16 hours.  For me, that means I try to be done eating around 8pm and then I don’t eat until around 11 or 12 the next day.  Since beginning using the low carb, intermittent fasting diet, I have lost 14 pounds in 3 weeks (including the 6 pounds from the flu).  I’m rarely “starving” although I do get quite hungry around 5pm.  Most of the days I only eat two meals (just because of convenience), although I do eat some snacks.  An important point with intermittent fasting is that you can choose your fasting window.  If you work out first thing in the morning, you probably don’t want to wait until noon to eat.  If you sleep in, you could delay until 4pm.  And feel free to break the routine for social life.  The key is to choose something that works for your schedule and your life.

What the heck do you eat?  That must be boring!

Low carb dieting does take some imagination, but really, you can have quite a lot.  Over the next few days, I’ll post some recipes, but here are some sample meals:

  • Cheeseburger (no bun)
  • Pulled pork with low carb barbeque sauce
  • Arugula steak salad
  • Chicken Alfredo over a bed of arugula
  • Eggs and bacon
  • Egg pucks (crustless mini quiches)
  • Baked chicken and spinach salad
  • Almond crusted tilapia (or any fish for that matter)
  • Pesto grilled salmon

And some sample snacks:

  • Beef jerky (or better yet, Biltong)
  • Uncured Turkey and a slice of cheese (with mustard and pickle if you like)
  • Parmesan Cheese Whisps (1 carb per serving; currently available at Costco)
  • Small handful of almonds (preferably flavored with something other than sugar)
  • Avocado chocolate pudding
  • Dark chocolate (do yourself a favor and buy some good stuff; life’s too short to eat crappy chocolate)

Generally speaking you can have as much meat, eggs, butter, bacon, and leafy green vegetables as you like.  You can eat some fruits and vegetables that are high carbohydrate in moderation.  For example a six inch section of cucumber has 6 carbs.  That’s more than a quarter of your allotment during induction phase, but if you only eat a two inch section, that’s only 2 carbs.

Isn’t Atkins really hard to follow?

Quite honestly, Atkins is a very easy diet once you get the right mindset.  You eat as much as you want, as long as it’s not carbohydrate.  It does take some effort, because we are surrounded by delicious smelling carbohydrates.  The last thing I eat every day are four large bittersweet chocolate chips; about 5 carbs.   The most important thing is not to hang around food you shouldn’t be eating when you’re hungry.

Unfortunately, the weightloss can be temporary.  It’s the total caloric intake that determines weight loss/gain.  Sometimes your appetite adjusts to the diet and you simply start eating more, or maybe you discover how to cheat with “paleo desserts.”  Other issues with the diet include that it can be constipating and can cause leg cramps.  Both of these issues can be dealt with by taking magnesium and potassium supplements.  You’ll also find that you need to drink a lot more water while on the Atkins diet.

But isn’t fat bad for you?

There isn’t enough space in this post to go over all the ways this myth is wrong.  Let’s just say, “no.”  Fat is not bad for you.  Now, there is a caveat, because today’s mass produced meat is not necessarily the healthiest, and sick animals often store toxins in their fat.  So, whenever possible, you should try to eat pastured meat from local farms.  For further reading, I’d suggest Dr Ravnskov’s Fat and Cholesterol are Good For You.

Insulin is the key, but what’s the question?

I had bought the lie that the real enemy is insulin.  In theory, high carbohydrate meals cause an increased insulin response to prevent high blood sugar.  Insulin tells your liver and muscle cells to pull in sugar and make glycogen out of it.  When your liver runs out of room to store glycogen, it starts making triglycerides from fatty acid (fat transport molecules).  Then it sends the triglycerides out through your blood where the insulin to tells fat cells to pull in them in and store them as body fat.  Meanwhile, the surge of insulin spurs a fall in blood sugar levels triggering a hunger reaction within a few hours, causing the cycle to repeat itself over and over.

Reducing carbs may help reduce the magnitude of insulin spikes and have an impact on appetite, but the key to weightloss is eating fewer calories, and that’s the beauty of a low carb diet. When you cut out all those glorious carbs…baked potatoes, cookies, French Fries, donuts…you also cut out an enormous amount of fats too, resulting in a gigantic calorie reduction.

How long are planning on keeping this madness up?

Actually, I’ve already stopped.  My goal is 175 pounds, but Atkins, although doable, isn’t always that fun. And carbs aren’t the real issue anyway.  The Kinobody approach is much more in line with my long term goals and overall eating philosophy.  I’ve decided to go Kinobody Aggressive Fat Loss program, which is designed to help you lose between a pound and a half to two pounds of fat per week while maintaining or even building muscle.

Kinobody Aggressive Fat Loss is a bit more complicated than Atkins, because you have to calculate your calorie deficit to achieve your desired weight, and then try to “hit your macros” which means eat the appropriate ratio of protein, fat, and carbohydrates each day (although in reality it’s fairly lenient as long as you eat enough protein to maintain your muscle).

Aggressive Fat Loss still uses intermittent fasting, which I like, and you can eat fun things like dessert every now and then as long as you adjust the rest of your diet.  The basic plan is to push your first meal of the day as far back as possible and then eat two meals, one large and one small.  The nice thing about the eating this way, is your large meal can be a feast!  Even Chipotle! (Although you’re supposed to order triple chicken to get enough protein.)  Once you’ve tracked everything for a week or two, you get the hang of things, and you don’t have to track as much.

But you’re not fat

I don’t know why people say this.  They’re obviously 1) blind, 2) lying, 3) trying to minimize/rationalize their own fat inertia.  Admitting you have a problem is the first step to recovery.  I’m fat…not because of lack of exercise…but because of my love of sugar.  I really think that in my case I was actually addicted to large amounts of carbohydrate (particularly sugar).  So I think going Atkins for a little while was a necessary step for me, because it allowed me to truly break the habit.  But eating low carb all the time can lead to low leptin levels (a hormone ) that in turn makes it harder to lose weight.

Are you allowed to work out while fasting?

Yup.  I had originally planned on mostly following the workout plan espoused by Martin Berkhan of LeanGains.com.  It’s essentially using heavy weights in compound movements.  The core movements are dead lifts, chin ups, squats, and bench press. You try to work out three times a week.  You do three sets of each exercise.  You try to do 2 – 3 sets with very heavy weight on the first set (~5 Reps Max).  Then drop the drop the weight 10% and try to do 5-7 reps for the next two sets.  Martin calls this a reverse pyramid.  That’s it.  No “cardio” other than recreational (e.g., riding a bike for fun, walking the dog, playing ultimate frisbee, etc.).  For those of you addicted to cardio, do yourself a favor and read Mark Sisson’s The Case Against Chronic Cardio.

Martin’s website is worth reading, although he hasn’t written their lately, his philosophy makes a lot of sense, and you certainly can’t argue with the results. (See video below. Warning: You might want to turn down your volume unless you really like Swedish heavy metal.)

What the Heck’s a Kinobody?

Greg O'Gallagher

That’s a Kinobody

Another person worth looking at is Greg from Kinobody.  He has a similar although somewhat different take from Martin.  The diet is very similar, but the workouts are geared toward generating a classic V shape (large shoulders/lats, thin waist).  I’ve got to say, that Greg is a content marketing Juggernaut.

He’s doing everything right in that department.  His YouTube channel has almost 400 videos on it ranging from him demonstrating exercises to talking philosophy.  He goes over various aspects of his diet, including video food diaries where he records everything he eats in a 24 hour period.  So he’s practically giving away his entire program for free to anyone who has enough time to watch all the videos.  He also has a website/blog and podcast.  He tons of before and after photos, including some of himself.  He has interviews with people who have used his program to achieve good results.  He’ll give you a free PDF guide in exchange for giving him your e-mail address (this strategy is called a lead magnet).  You then get an e-mail a couple times a week where he discusses aspects of his program and makes special offers.  All of his products come with a 60 day satisfaction guarantee. And he even as an affiliate program, and yes I signed up for it, and the links on this page are affiliate links.  (The affiliate program was cancelled about a week after I signed up for it, so my support for kinobody programs is untainted by monetary considerations.)   He’s a case study in how to market a digital product…and it works.  I bought his program.

If you’re looking to start an online business, you would do well to emulate what he’s doing.  But if you’re looking to get fit, you’d do well to emulate him there too.  Greg is an absolute beast.  As they would say at the Air Force Academy, “a physical animal.”  So with all the free content, why would you buy his product?  Maybe to thank him?  Maybe because you don’t have time to watch 400 videos to piece together the various systems?  Maybe because of the private Facebook group of people who encourage each other and share recipes? Probably because when you listen to someone and like what they say, you begin to trust and like them, and people buy from people they like.  I like Greg’s approach.  I like his philosophy.  I like that he shares his own struggles.

That’s it for it now

I’ll keep you posted over the next few weeks as to my progress.

Migrating from Drupal 6 to WordPress

It’s been long overdue.  I’ve been hating Drupal for several years now, but I had cobbled together my own podcasting/class platform using CCK and Views in Drupal, and it just seemed like to big a job to migrate.  But Drupal forced my hand by making there be no easy upgrade path to Drupal 7 (and now 8 is about to come out).

So I followed this handy guide from Another Cup of Coffee on migrating Drupal sites to WordPress.

Some challenges and things I learned:

  • Following the guide:
    • The guide has directional (curly) quotation marks in it, so you’ll have to fix the queries before running them.
    • Even if you want to have custom table prefixes, stick with wp_ for the migration, and then change the prefixes.  Otherwise, you’ll have to manually fix every single query.  Same with the database names.
  • Migrating the Drupal vocabulary was the hardest part.  In the end, it would have been easier to simply convert everything to a tag and then use the WordPress Plugin Term Management Tools to turn the individual terms I wanted back into categories.
    • As I did it, converting the vocabulary probably took four hours, while the rest of the migration took about 30 minutes.
    • When I finally got done, the categories were associated with the correct posts, and they were available to assign to new posts in the author screen, but you couldn’t see any of them in the Categories screen in the dashboard.
    • To solve the problem, I had to set the parent value of all the categories to 0, and then re-assign the parent relationships in the dashboard.
    • Term Management Tools is very inconspicuous.  The only way you’ll know it’s installed is if you click the bulk actions drop down in Tag or Categories in the Dashboard.  It will let you merge multiple terms together or convert from Tag to Category or Vice Versa.  It will also let you set the parent term.
  • WordPress and Nginx do NOT get along well when WordPress is installed in a directory. The main site will work just fine, but wp-admin will likely generate infinite redirect loops.  I installed it that way so that it would be alongside my Drupal installation for migration purposes.  Typing wp-admin/index.php should prevent the redirect loop.
  • If you upgrade WordPress and get a completely white, blank screen, you probably erased the default theme or didn’t install the new default theme.
  • The Fruitful theme is awesome.  Their demo website’s humor is also a nice touch.
  • By default, WordPress menus only let you add (static) pages, categories, links, and custom.  If you click the screen options at the top, it will let you add posts, tags, and formats.
    • Actually, if you’re thinking to yourself, “WordPress should be able to do…why isn’t that an option?  Look in the screen options at the top.  A lot of functionality is hidden by default (I guess so as not to overwhelm the casual user).
  • If you want to have a hierarchy of pages, using WordPress pages is much easier than trying to configure nesting categories. For example, if I want patheyman.com/nursing/patho-pharm-1/intro
    • create a page (not post) for nursing
    • then create a page for patho-pharm-1 and have its parent be nursing
    • then create a page for intro and have its parent be patho-pharm-1
    • You might need to preview or publish the page to get the path to “take”, but it will be vastly easier than getting subcategories to work right.
    • Another perk of using pages rather than posts for this job is that pages have an order attribute, so you can sort them.
    • The only downside to this technique is that your parent page won’t automatically link to the child pages, but there is a workaround for that.
    • Making nested drop down menus out parent/child pages is trivial.
    • You’ll probably want breadcrumbs for your pages too, and that can be accomplished by plugins or by modifying your template.
  • I put this move off way too long.  WordPress is just so much easier to maintain and post.

Free Dynamic DNS

What is Dynamic DNS and why do I need it?

DNS (Domain Name Server) is how the internet maps human style domain names (like google.com) to ip addresses. In the world of internet there are two types of IP address, static and dynamic. Static IP addresses don’t change, so it’s relatively easy to map domain names to the correct IP addresses. Dynamic IP addresses, on the other hand change from time to time. Most cable modem and DSL services provide dynamic IPs. That means that if you want host a file server on your home computer, or be able to access your files from work (or while on vacation), you’ll need some way to keep your IP address up to date in case your provider changes it.

This is the purpose (or one purpose) of Dynamic DNS providers such as dyndns.org or no-ip.com. You sign up for an account, choose a host/domain that you think you’ll remember, and then run a program on your computer or router that tells the service your current IP address. That way, no matter where you are me.ddns.net (or whatever you chose) will always point to your computer.

The problem is that DynDNS discontinued their free service and I could never seem to remember my No-IP hostname. Moreover, for a free account, in No-IP, you have to log in every month and tell them not to discontinue your service. Not too cumbersome, but still, can’t they just check user logs and only require that of dormant accounts?

So where do I get Dynamic DNS for free?

I thought there had to be a better way, enter Namecheap.com. In my Upgrade from Shared Hosting series, I suggested some benefits of separating your domain name registrar from your webhosting. I also suggested that you could even separate your DNS hosting from your Domain Name registrar. Namecheap.com happens to offer fairly competitive domain registration. They also offer free DNS hosting, so no matter, who you use as your domain registrar (even if it’s your webhost), you can still use Namecheap.com as your DNS host.

I did not know it until recently, but one of the features that Namecheap.com offers as part of their free DNS hosting is free Dynamic DNS. It is insanely easy to set up, and the best part is that the routers that I use have Namecheap.com already configured as a Dynamic DNS provider (meaning that you don’t have to run a program on your computer).

Describe this “easy” process

This only works if you’re using Namecheap as your DNS server. For this article, I’m assuming you already have it or have followed my directions here.

  1. Log in to Namecheap and choose “Your Domains/Products”. Then scroll down to “Free DNS” and choose Hosted Domains.
  2. Click on the domain name you want to use for Dynamic DNS.
  3. Choose a “host” for your dynamic DNS. So, if you want me.mydomain.com to go to your home computer, create an A record for “me” with a short TTL (time to live) and give it the ip address 127.0.0.1. (it doesn’t really matter, because it will be overwritten by your update client). Choose save changes.
  4. On the left hand side, under Advanced Options, choose Dynamic DNS.
  5. Choose enable, and then look at the directions. If you’re following me, you can ignore everything except the password. Copy down the password, and open a new browser window.
  6. Enter the Following URL into the Browser: https://dynamicdns.park-your-domain.com/update?host=[host_name]&domain=[domain.com]&password=[domain_password]/li>
  7. The [host_name] is the host you created the A record for above. The [domain.com] is your domain name. The [domain_password] is the ppassword you copied a second ago. So using my example above, the address would read https://dynamicdns.park-your-domain.com/update?host=me&domain=mydomain.com]&password=efg3234ksdfj234jfsdlk3/
  8. Hit enter and you’re done. Visiting that web address copies your current IP address into the A record you created in the first step. Now me.mydomain.com will point to the computer you used to enter the address above.
  9. You can read the official help files from Namecheap.com here.

Maintaining your Dynamic DNS

You need to have some way of updating your IP address. You could just bookmark the web address above and visit it once a day or once a week, but that’s not very automated or cool. You could set up a cron job to wget the address once a day (if you’re using Linux or Mac). Or you could install a DNS updater. But the easiest way is to configure your browser to do it for you.

The official Namecheap.com Dynamic DNS help files have directions for setting up a DD-WRT router. On my Asus router, after logging in, I went to WAN under Advanced settings (left hand side) and then chose DDNS from the options across the top of the page. Choose Namecheap from the server dropdown, and enter your information (host, domain name, password), hit save, and you’re done.

Free, simple, no brains Dynamic DNS. And the best part is you get to your own domain name instead of whatever leftovers DynDNS or No-IP happen to have available. Even if you don’t have a domain name, buying a domain from Namecheap (or other registrar) will cost you less than DynDNS’ least expensive option.

Choosing your first Japanese knife

Okay, so which knife should I get?

There are a bajillion possibilities, but I will concentrate on two classes of knives: gateway knives and step up knives in the gyuto style. The gateway knife is under $100 and will whet your appetite for Japanese knives. You could live quite happily with it forever, or you may want to get a better quality knife—the step up knife. Step up knives generally range from $200-$300, (you can go as high as $1000, but you’re no longer paying for cutting performance; you’re paying for art.). Note that many knife makers have several lines of knives at different price points with different steels and quality.

Gateway knives

This list is by no means exhaustive. It just lists a few of the more common recommendations.

  • Tojiro DP gyuto. Tojiro’s have a reputation for being a phenomenal value, having great steel, and being very sharp right out of the box. This makes the Tojiro an awesome gateway knife. (Apparently many Japanese knife makers do not pre-sharpen their knives so the buyer or retailer can customize the edge.) On Amazon with Prime shipping, you can get the 210mm (8.2 inch) for $62, the 240mm (9.4 inch) for $73, and the 270mm (10.6 inch) for $95. You could get the 210 and the 240 for the same price as a Wusthof Classic 8 inch chef knife at $135.The steel scores about a 60 on the Rockwell scale and has a VG-10 clad with a softer steel. The Tojiro DPs have large boxy handles, and in the past the fit and finish of the knives have supposedly been underwhelming.
    Update: The prices are now even more compelling: $50 for the 210mm, $58 for the 240mm, and $72 for the 270mm.
  • Fujiwara FKM gyuto. The Fujiwara’s are a monosteel that is just a little softer than the Tojiro, and has a repuatation for inconsistent fit and finish (sometimes better than the Tojiro, sometimes worse). The handles are supposed to be better. The softer steel is easier to sharpen, but the edge won’t last as long. Cost is $83 on Chef Knives to Go for the 240mm.
  • Richmond Artifex gyuto. Marc Richmond is the proprietor of Chef Knives to Go, and the Richmond is his house brand, meaning that he designed the knife, but it’s made by another company. The Artifex is the low-end of the Richmond line and the GT wa-gyuto can be had for ~$90 in 240mm. There is some controversy regarding the knives and the owner. Depending on who you listen to, the Artifex is either a great value, or so cheap because it’s—well, so cheap.
  • Gesshin Gyuto in 210mm. Slightly out of our target-under-$100 range, but undeniable quality. If Mark Richmond is controversial, Jonathan Broida is the exact opposite. Gesshin is Jon’s house brand, and this is as inexpensive as his line gets at $105.

Destination knives.

When it comes to destination knives, you have to decide whether you want to stick with a “do anything” knife or go for a more specialized knife. If you frequent the kitchen knife forums much, you’ll find talk of lasers which is a very thin, very light knife that cuts so easily, it might as well be a laser. The major downside of lasers is a propensity to bend in harder substances and their fragility.

First, for the “go to gyuto” I’ll just quote from boar_d_laze (BDL):

There are a lot of excellent “pro” knives in the next couple of price groups above the entry-levels — say, between $120 and $200. But, there’s also a lot more I’d like to know before making recommendations. Exactly how flexible is your budget for a chef’s knife and stones? Would you consider carbon (as opposed to stainless)? How about a semi-stainless tool steel (feel free to ask if you don’t know what that is)? Do you like very large or very small handles? Do you pinch grip? Claw? Cut and retreat? What’s your chopping style (German, French, push cut, don’t know)? Anything else you can tell me would help, too. “I don’t know” is a perfectly good answer.

In better than entry level stainless, I most often recommend Hiromoto G3, Kagayaki VG, MAC Pro, Masamoto VG, and Sakai Takayuki Grand Cheff… depending. In addition there are a lot of other great knives and several are bound to suit you…

The two knives I most often recommend for people more or less looking for the same things you are and with the same set of concerns [read the thread] are the MAC Pro and the Masamoto VG. The Kagayaki VG is more bang for the buck and uses a prestige alloy; but I don’t like its handle as much, nor the feel of its profile on the board, and there can be some issues with deburring.

The Masamoto has a profile as good as — and very much like — a Sabatier. In short, as good as it gets. There are some quality control issues, mostly centered around the handle, but these can be taken care of by the seller at time of purchase. You just have to make sure to tell them you want good F&F and a well-fitted handle before you give them your credit card number, and they’ll select a good one for you.

MACs are stiffer than any comparably thin gyuto and consequently feel more sturdier and more comfortable. The MAC Pro handle is the best I’ve ever used. F&F is typically very good — and if it’s not their warranty and U.S. support is almost in Henckels’ class. It’s the knife I recommend most often.

If you’re interested in a carbon steel gyuto, BDL raved about the Richmond Ultimatum Carbon wa-gyuto in 245mm for $199. Apparently it’s out of stock more than it’s in stock, so you may have to wait for it. Richmond also has a $99 Artifex 210mm Carbon Gyuto made from the same steel. As for the differences between the two knives other than the handle, 30mm of blade, and $100, you’ll have to ask Marc Richmond.

In BDL’s own words:

I’ve had a 52100 Ultimatum for not quite a year, and the more I use it the more I like it. In it’s own (and very different, robust) way, it’s as good as my Konosuke HDs [see below]. Last night I wanted to slice one (count them, one) tomato and was practically in tears because all I could find were my three Konos and a drawer full of Sabs [Sabatier]. Well maybe not tears, but my lower lip was trembling. It’s completely pushed the Sabs out of the rotation. It’s actually a lot like a Sab. Strong, agile, sweet-profile, comfortable, gets sharp, stays sharp, etc. But wa and a much better alloy. If you want to discuss it in more depth, of course we can.

Richmond’s expecting to get a lot in very soon; they don’t stay in stock long, but stay out of stock heap much plenty long. So if you’re thinking about jumping… Geronimo already…

If you’ve ever spent time with a carbon Sabatier chef’s knife, you have a very good idea of what to expect. The differences are that the Richmond has a wa-handle, weighs 3 ounces less, is balanced much further forward than a Sab, and is made of hugely better alloy.

Same sweet profile. Same lively feel on the board. Same indestructibility. Same versatility. Even more comfortable (although it took me awhile to get there). And there’s that alloy.

Takes a great edge, holds it a long time, can be steeled — but it won’t need it much. Fantastic feel on the stones. I’ve always been a carbon guy, 52100 is the best carbon I’ve ever used, and because of this knife it has become my favorite alloy. Which would matter a lot more if the differences between one really good alloy and another were significant, but they aren’t — not really.

I use my Ultimatum for everything; and that means things I wouldn’t dream of doing with the Kono, like trimming and portioning spareribs; and stupidly includes things I shouldn’t do, like splitting the occasional chicken. Bottom line: I’ve been abusing the knife for a year and haven’t hurt it yet.

The right face of the knife is convexed quite a bit. It should help keep food from sticking, but as a lefty it means nothing to me. On the other hand, my chopping action is a glide (which tends to knock stuff off) and I’m pretty conscientious about keeping the knife straight and moving it quickly, so I don’t have much of a problem with sticking anyway.

On the down side, the knife is a bit thick (but that’s the price you pay for anything that strong), and the blade came with some tool marks which were supposed to have been polished out by Richmond (the knife is made for them OEM by Lamson) but weren’t — although not much of a downside because fit and finish were otherwise very good to excellent. The cosmetics are mediocre.

The OOTB edge was adequate, 15*, minor convexing (probably incidental), 50/50 asymmetry, not much polish. I like my geometry much better, 12* flat bevel, 2:1 lefty, 8K finish. 8K is really too much, but I own the stone, so wotthehell. The ideal finish is probably somewhere in the 3K to 6K range. The asymmetry made a much larger positive difference than I’m used to mild asymmetry making — which may have something to do with the right-handed asymmetry of the blade’s grind, and/or may have been just enough to stop the knife from wedging. Whatever. I don’t know why it worked but it did. My advice to a left handed user is “you absolutely must,” and to a right handed user, “you should.”

It weighs 2 oz more than the Kono gyuto, 3 oz more than my 300mm Kono suji (which I use as a gyuto fairly frequently), and the Ultimatum not only feels quite a bit heavier than either Konosuke, but less neutrally balanced as well.

At the time I got the Ultimatum, I thought that I was beyond balance issues — but apparently having nothing but Konos and Sabs spoiled me. When I first started using it the knife felt awkward and heavy… with its balance point making it feel as heavy as one of my 10oz Sabs. Between that and the tool marks, I seriously considered sending it bacl. But after using it for a few hours, my grip adjusted a bit forward and I started to like the knife. After establishing my first edge, like turned to love; and although I never made a conscious effort, my grip kept evolving until the knife became an extension of my will; and it just keeps getting better and better.

Would I trade it for the Kono [see below] or vice versa? It’s not a decision I have to make, and am ecstatic not making it. If you’re asking me which would I recommend to someone buying one gyuto, the recommendation would be made on the basis of which class of knife — laser, robust, or something in between — would best suit. One size does not fit all. And in many cases, one size doesn’t even fit one.

Sharpening note: A well sharpened edge with lot of asymmetry — say 90/10 — will make the knife so sharp that it becomes difficult to handle. That is, unless you consciously hold it back it will fall through just about anything it touches. I prefer a more moderate asymmetry for its greater durability, and — it pains me to admit it — because I’m not as adaptable as I used to be, my skills are eroding and I don’t want a knife I have to think about.

And a review of the Konosuke HD2 ~$300

The Kono HD is a laser. The first thing to understand about a laser is that it’s a laser. You either want a laser or you don’t. They all have the same weaknesses, and most of them have the same strengths. While there are differences between the top stainless lasers as compared to one another, they are extremely subtle — if ever there were a “U Pickem,” this is it. And, the same is true about the the same thing about the top carbon lasers. There are minor differences in F&F and appearance, but the different identities of the various stainless alloys doesn’t mean anything in the way of performance; and I think all of the carbon lasers are made of the same alloy, White #2. If there’s one made of VS2, then same same.

The Kono HD2 (the “2” represents a minor upgrade to the alloy) is slightly apart from other lasers in that its semi-stainless alloys has the same pleasant feeling on the stones as a carbon laser while being nearly as stain resistant as any of the true stainless knives.

It’s extremely light because it’s a laser. Because it’s so light, it seems fairly well balanced. It gets ridiculously sharp, because it’s a laser. The edge seems to stay sharp even as it dulls, because it’s a laser. The knife should not be steeled because it’s a laser. It doesn’t wedge because it’s a laser. Food doesn’t stick to it because it’s a laser.

You need to be careful around bones, partly because it’s a laser and partly because that’s just how it is with alloys which are stronger than they are tough. It doesn’t stain easily because it’s HD. It has an extremely sweet feel on the stones, because it’s HD.

The profile is excellent, if not quite Sabatier.

Mine is a 270mm HD from the first production run and has a handle most people don’t like, but I like very much. I’ve never heard a complaint about the current handle, which is a well-done ho-wood octagon. You can get all sorts of semi-custom wa handles as extra cost upgrades if you want.

So there you have it. Generally speaking your first Japanese knife should be a gyuto. Future posts will include:

  • Primer on Japanese Knives
  • Choosing your first Japanese knife
  • Review of my first Japanese knife, the Tojiro DP 240mm gyuto
  • Sharpening process and tips
  • Waterstones
  • Vendors, Experts, and Forum Denizens