Archives For review

A thick, strong, muscular neck is like a mane made of muscle.

A big neck looks intimidating, at least to me.  If I see someone with a thick neck, automatically I think they’re involved in some sort of hard training…and that they’re probably strong.

Often the only muscle group that are visible when wearing everyday clothing is the neck. So why is it that most people seemed to be more concerned with their six pack abs, which are covered up by clothing (in public) most of the time, than their neck muscles which are usually visible?

These days, I don’t train for aesthetic reasons (that is, I don’t train for looks) with the exception of one body part: the neck.

Big muscles with a pencil neck just looks plain weird. Almost as weird as someone with a huge upper body and tiny legs. In my opinion, a pencil neck is just as bad as chicken legs.

Take a look at former NFL football player and former professional wrestler Bill Goldberg. On the left is how he normally looks. On the right, with the help of my horrendous photo editing skills, is how he would look if his neck were a little thinner:


Here's another example:

Which one looks more alpha to you?

This big-muscles-small-neck looks like a skinny person wearing a muscle suit.



From a functional standpoint, a strong neck has many benefits especially if you’re into martial arts such as boxing, Muay Thai, BJJ, wrestling, MMA, or contact sports like football or rugby. I used to do a bit of Muay Thai training, and regular neck training really helped when it came to clinching.

I haven’t experienced this myself, but apparently a strong neck will prevent injuries or concussions from blows to the head.

Unfortunately, the neck is a neglected body part by most people. Even for those who exercise for aesthetic reasons (bodybuilders), it’s not uncommon to see those who have huge, bulging muscles and a pencil neck, despite performing indirect neck work such as shrugs, rows and deadlifts.

So what’s the solution?

Direct neck training with a neck harness.

I’ve searched the internet for the best neck harness on the market. I wanted something durable so that it would last me many years. I also wanted something that was lightweight. I was living in Bangkok, Thailand at the time, walked to my gym in 35+ degree weather and did not want to be weighed down by heavy chains and leather.

I eventually came across a neck harness that was fit for demigods and created by the people who make equipment for the world’s strongest men:

The Ironmind Headstrap Fit for Hercules neck harness!



The Headstrap Fit For Hercules neck harness is light weight, and made by Ironmind, who makes lifting accessories and equipment for the folks at the World’s Strongest Man events.

Unlike most neck harnesses which are constructed of leather, this one is made from some sort of super strong proprietary materials. I emailed them to ask what the headstrap was made of, but they wouldn’t tell me! But apparently this material is able to hold 1 ton (that’s 2000lbs, or 907.185kg). I’m assuming it’s similar to their lifting straps which are made of nylon.

Here’s a close up look at the strap:


It also does not have a chain attached to the harness.

These lightweight, but super strong materials made it easy for me to carry around in my bag.

According to Ironmind’s website, this harness should fit heads with a 20-26” circumference. My head circumference is about 24” and it fits me just fine.

The headstrap is adjustable through the use of an adjustable buckle. It is secured by double passing the strap through this buckle.


The top portion of the harness (the section that goes over your head) is very comfortable. It has some thin, blue padding along the inside of the headstrap, as shown below:



The ends of the straps are cut at an angle. There’s also a plastic coating that lines the edge of the strap, making it easy to weave the strap through the buckle. I’m also assuming it’s there to prevent any sort of fraying of the strap over time.


I don’t know much about stitching or threads, but the stitching on this harness looks very strong.



A unique feature on the Headstrap for Hercules neck harness that I haven't seen on other neck harnesses is the blue aluminum plate.



According to the manual:

Simply thread the red webbing through the round hole on the right side of the frame, stand up and lever your head toward the left shoulder (working the muscles on the leftside of your neck). To work the muscles on the right side of your neck, thread the red webbing through the round hole on the left side of the frame and lever your head toward your right shoulder.

I’ve found leaving the red strap in the center slot and rotating the headstrap so that the adjustable opening is facing the side works fine. This allows me to train the sides of my neck without having to adjust the red webbing every time.

How I Use The Ironmind Neck Harness

I’m going to explain to you how I use the Ironmind neck harness. There are 2 ways that I’ve used this neck harness:

  1. Attaching Olympic plates, and
  2. Connecting the harness to some cable machine.

Before getting into this, I’d like to touch on the manual that comes with the neck harness.

In the instructions, it says:

For maximum comfort when training the front or back of your neck, we recommend that the label on the headstrap be on the same side as the muscles you are training (i.e., keep the label side of the headstrap on the back of your head when you are training the back of your neck, and reverse it for the front of your neck), but some people don’t notice any difference. Another way to view this recommendation is to position the adjustable opening on your headstrap on the same side of your head as the weights.

Personally I found it more comfortable and effective doing the opposite: that is to position the adjustable opening of the headstrap on the same side as the muscles I’m training (rather than the label side).


Wearing A Beanie Cap

I prefer to wear a beanie cap (or toque) when using a neck harness. It’s a little bit more comfortable than using the neck harness by itself. Also, the sweat from my head will be absorbed by the hat, and not the harness, meaning the harness will remain cleaner and odor free a lot longer, and I don’t have to wash the harness as often (actually, I don’t recall ever washing this harness Sick smile)


You can get cheap beanie caps at the dollar store around the fall and winter time. I’ve found that the tighter the hat, the better it is to use with the neck harness because it moves around a lot less compared to a loose cap.

Exercise While Standing

I also want to point out that I do all my neck exercises standing.

You’re using more muscles standing compared to sitting, and it’s more functional that way (at least in terms of clinching in martial arts).

Also, I’ve seen pictures and videos of people sitting and doing neck extensions, and it looks funny to me. It’s like they’re performing self fellatio or something.

Anyways, that being said, here’s how I use the Headstrap Fit For Hercules with plates, and cable machines!


Normally, you would undo the buckle of the red strap, weave the strap through the holes of the Olympic plate(s), and re-buckle the strap to secure the weight.

I have found this time consuming, having to undo, weave, and redo the buckle every time I changed the load. Another problem with doing this over and over again is that the plastic edge at the end of the red webbing will start to wear out:


The first thing I tried to make loading and unloading weights easier was looping the red strap into the holes of the Olympic plates (without unbuckling the buckle), and attaching 2 carabiners at the end of the red strap to prevent the plates from falling off.

It looks like this:

The problem with this is that the carabiner will wear out from rubbing against the metal plates.

The best solution I’ve figured out is to add a chain and carabiner.


Using a chain along with a carabiner makes adding and removing plates faster and easier. The length of the chain I am using is 30”, or 76.2cm. This allows me to weave the chain through multiple Olympic plates.

If you decide to go with chain and carabiner route, make sure you go with the ones that are designed for mountain climbers and able to hold thousands of pounds of force (it should have a kN rating), rather than a flimsy one with no specifications that you might get for free with a water bottle.

Now I can simply weave the chain in the holes of the Olympic plates, and secure it to the strap with a super strong carabiner. It’s quick and easy.

Some notes on using plates with the Ironmind neck harness:

Neck Extension

For this variation, I make sure the length of the red webbing along with the chains is long enough so that the Olympic plate does not ram up into my testicles while performing standing neck extensions with this harness.

Neck Flexion

I lay the plates on a bench first, sit down on the plates, place the headstrap over my head and then stand up.

Performing standing neck flexion with the Ironmind neck harness will make the black straps on either side rub against your shirt. Baby powder could be applied to make it glide easier, but I have not tried this myself. Because of the rubbing of the strap, it’s a good idea not to wear your favorite shirt with some design on the back, because it may rub off.

Neck Lateral Flexion

While doing this, the blue aluminum plate will glide up and down the side of your shoulder. I’ve found that I need to wear a t-shirt while doing this exercise. The aluminum plate tends to “stick” to sweaty skin, so I do not do any neck training topless or with a tank top.

I’ve also experienced with heavier weights during neck lateral flexion, is that it turns into an isometric exercise for my neck, and most of the flexion is coming at the waist. It’s almost like a side crunch.


I used to do neck training on one of these Freemotion functional cable machines:


They were great because I could adjust the height of the pulley (I set it low for neck extensions, and at around chin level for both neck flexion and lateral flexion), and the weight stack made it quick and easy to change the weight.

The other option is to use a low pulley.


I purchased the lat pull down attachment for my Amstaff power rack specifically for neck training.

It’s plate loaded, and a whole lot easier than attaching plates to the harness directly. However it’s not as convenient as a cable machine with a weight stack and pin-selectorized weights.

Compared to plates, I find that the tension on my neck using cables is continuous, and it felt harder to do at the same weight (at least on the pulley attached to my rack) compared to hanging plates off the harness alone.

Here’s a video of me demonstrating how I use the neck harness along with the low pulley:

Again, I find that at heavier weights, lateral neck flexion becomes more of an isometric exercise for the sides of my neck, and the movement is more of a side crunch with cables.



  • Comfortable
  • Light weight
  • No chains (unless you attach your own)
  • Super durable
  • Cures pencil necks


  • The adjustable buckle will gradually become loose, so you’ll need to re-tighten the neck harness from time to time.
  • Most expensive neck harness on the market. But you get what you pay for.
  • You may find that the top button on collared shirts will be difficult, if not impossible to button up.

In closing, whether you’re a martial artist, football player, training for strength or looks, you should be exercising your neck.

Don’t take my word for it; check out what other people have to say about the Ironmind Headstrap Fit For Hercules neck harness.

If you have any questions about the Ironmind “Headstrap Fit For Hercules” neck harness or neck training, just enter it in the comment box below.

The Amstaff TR023 is the Canadian version of the Force USA F-PC power rack with band attachments. I bought it from, but it's also available on

It’s inexpensive, almost perfect for my needs, but has some flaws.

Here’s my review:


I've debated about getting the Amstaff TR023 power rack or one of the Rogue Fitness power racks (such as the R3 or R4) for a long time, but finally decided on the Amstaff.

Rogue Fitness equipment is awesome, but I took a risk with a unknown brand.

Here's why:

  • It's cheaper (probably because it’s made in China)
  • Includes dip bars, whereas Rogue sells it as a separate attachment (Rogue Matador)
  • Includes monkey bars for chin ups & pull ups
  • The width of the Amstaff rack is wider (50.5” compared to 43”). I’ve found that I would have to be extra careful with racks that are too narrow. There’s been a few time where I would re-rack the bar from the squat, and almost catch my pinky in between the bar and J-hooks. Also, because the Amstaff rack is wide, I could perform wide stance squats inside the cage, allowing me to make use of the safety pins.
  • 2 pairs of J-hooks (compared to 1 pair for the Rogue R-3 and R-4)
  • 8 band pegs for band work (compared to 4 for the Rogue rack)
  • The stabilizer bar on the Amstaff rack is positioned so that you won't hit your foot/shins while you're setting up or racking the bar during the squat. The Rogue rack looks like it would be in the way if you squat.
  • Doesn't need to be bolted to the ground. I don’t have the tools to bolt a power rack onto the concrete floor, so this would be an additional cost. Also, if I decide to move my rack, it would be a pain to un-bolt, and re-bolt the rack elsewhere, along with having to repair the basement floor, which I do not know how to do.
  • The height of the rack is lower (the height of the Amstaff rack is 84”, or 7’. The Rogue power racks are 90”, or 7’6”). I was going to have my home gym in the garage, but after finding out that the garage floor was sloped, I decided to move it to the basement. The ceiling of my basement is too low to accommodate the height of the Rogue power racks

With these points in mind, I went with the Amstaff TR023 power rack.

Initial Impressions

I was pretty excited to get the power rack, since it’s a must-have piece of equipment for any home gym.

It arrived in separate boxes which was well packed.




Assembly was pretty easy. I was able to put it all together myself in about 2-3 hours.





The worst part about assembling the Amstaff TR023 power rack was the assembly manual. The pictures and text quality are clear, but the instructions looks like it was translated from Chinese to English. Check out the picture below to see what I mean:





Some Details

After I finished assembling the rack, the first thing I did was take my Olympic bar that I purchased from Kijiji (eBay’s version of Craigslist) and put it inside the rack.


Amstaff-TR023-widthNote: B&R bar is the top bar. The Kijiji bar is on the bottom.

Amstaff-TR023-width B&R-bar


The width of the Amstaff TR023 rack (50.5 inches) is wider than the shaft of my Olympic bar, which is 50 inches.

It turns out that the Olympic bar I had wasn’t even made to standard specifications. The spacing in between the collars for an Olympic bar should be 1310mm, or 51.57 inches in length. ( (So if you’re thinking of buying a used barbell from Craigslist, make sure take measurements first!)

At this point, I had a good reason to purchase a new barbell (I am now a proud owner of the B&R bar from Rogue Fitness, which fits inside the Amstaff TR023 power rack).

But now that I have a bar that can fit inside the rack, I can write a detailed and accurate review!

Using the Rack

Even though I have the B&R bar which fits inside this power rack, it appears to be too wide for my liking.

For the B&R bar, the spacing in between the collars is 51.57 inches. Since the Amstaff TR023 rack is 50.5 inches wide (NOTE: It’s listed as 51 inches, but I measured it to 50.5 inches), I only have 1.07 inches to work with!

That’s a little more than 1/2 inches of “wiggle room” on each side of the rack.

The good part about this is that it’s not difficult to center the bar with the rack. With power racks that I’ve used in the past, sometimes I would need to shift the bar 5-6” to get it centered. With the Amstaff rack, I only have to move the bar a fraction of an inch.

The bar part is that since I don’t have much space move from side to side, I have to be extra careful when taking the bar out of the rack, and putting the bar back onto the J-hooks.

When taking the bar off the J-hooks for a set of squats, sometimes I wobble out of the rack, moving the bar from side to side. With power racks that are more narrow, it is possible to do this without the 45lb plates hitting the side of the rack. With the Amstaff TR023, I need to walk straight back before setting up my stance for squats.

Also, because the cage is wide, the width of the safety pins are wide too. Meaning that my body needs to be centered with the rack when I squat, or else the collars would hit the safety pins once I descend to the bottom.

When placing the bar back onto the J-hooks, again, my body (and the bar) needs to be nearly centered with the rack or else I would hit the collars onto the J-hooks. This can be difficult after a heavy set of squats, when you’re out of breath, seeing stars and barely have enough strength to walk the bar forward.

Lastly, I was planning to do standing overhead presses inside of this power rack, but because of the width of the rack, sometimes I would hit the top of the rack with the 45lb plates.

Although it’s usable, the width of the rack forces me to be extra careful. Still, I would prefer a little wiggle room just in case.

Stuff I Like

Pin Holes


The hole spacing is about 1.5 inches apart. Other power racks I used in the past had hole spacing of 2-2.5 inches. This is awesome because I can adjust the height of the J-hooks for bench press & squats to the right height.

There are 42 pin holes from top to bottom. Although I won’t be using most of them, it’s nice to know I have that option.


The frame is 2.5”x2.5” and feels solid.

The blue and black colour (or "color" for you readers from the US and A) combination looks pretty cool!



There are 2 sets of J-hooks (total of 4). This makes it convenient because I can set a pair of J-hooks for squats, and another one for bench press, meaning I don’t need to take them off and put them back on ever time I change exercise.

And according to the product description, the J-hooks should be able to hold 1000lbs. I won’t be approaching that weight anytime soon, but it’s nice to know that these hooks will be able to accommodate any weight I can lift.

Monkey Bars


There are 2 bars that run parallel to each other, and another set of bars that are angled (See pictures below). I like the angled set of bars when doing pull ups & chin ups because it feels more natural, and isn’t painful on my elbows as straight bar pullups & chinups.

The knurling on the monkey bars aren’t as aggressive as I expected, since it’s covered in blue paint.




Although there isn’t a fat and skinny bar like the chin up attachment on the Rogue power racks, I’ve attached a pair of Fatgripz to mimic a thicker pullup bar.


I can purchase additional attachment for this power rack. They include lat pull down/low row combo, pec dec, and cable cross overs.

Dip Attachments



I’ve read somewhere that “dips are the squats for the chest”, so I wanted a power rack that included a dip attachment.

The dip attachment for the Amstaff power rack are sufficient.

There are 2 bars that attaches itself the same way as the J-hooks. When attached, the dip bars are parallel to each other.

The padded handles on the dip attachment comes off quite easily. I’m not sure what these handles are made of, but it doesn’t offer much in terms of padding. Also, it looks as though the dip bars are hollow.

I haven’t tried performing weighted dips on these yet, but they hold up quite well with my body weight of 190lb.

Band Pegs and Band Peg Holes




There are 8 band pegs with 8 spring collars to keep the pins in place on the rack.

18 pin holes on the bottom, and 15 on top.

I haven’t incorporated bands into my training (yet) and I don’t have any bands to test out the band pins. But it’s great to know I have a wide option of holes and 8 band pegs to work with once I do.

Stuff I Don't Like

Power Rack Width

(See above).

No Plate Storage

It doesn't have plate holders attached to the rack, but at this price point, it’s no surprise. That means I'm going need a weight tree. I ended up getting 2 CAP standard weight trees, which I review here.

No Numbered Pin Holes

The pin holes are not numbered! Other versions of this power rack (Force USA) has numbers on the side of the rack to show what pin hole you’re using, whereas the Amstaff TR023 has none. A bit of a pain when I’m trying to set the left & right J-hooks and safety pins at the same level. In the future I’ll probably end up buying a metallic marker and writing in the numbers myself.



The Amstaff TR023 power rack is almost perfect.

It’s half the price of a Rogue power rack, and has a TON of features. The only issue I have is the width of the rack. It may not be a problem with others, and I think I’ll probably get used to using a wide power rack over time.

The Amstaff TR023 is great value for money, even if this is not a well known brand.

Enter The Year of The Dragon

Enter The Year of The Dragon

Happy new year! And Enter 2012...which will be the year of the Dragon later this month! (January 23, 2012)

Most people make new years resolution around this time, setting goals they want to accomplish for the new year. For me, I'm going to start off by reviewing what I accomplished in 2011, and then set some goals that I want to hit in 2012:

One Word To Describe 2011


5 Greatest Things That Happened In The Past Year

  1. Started my blog, and documenting my training sessions online.
  2. Paid off all my debt!
  3. Stuck to a solid game plan to continually get stronger.
  4. Joined the 500/400/300/200 club (current personal bests: deadlifted 500.5lbs on June 24, 2011, squatted 440lbs on November 9, 2011, benched 319lbs on June 24, 2011, and overhead pressed 220lbs on November 9, 2011)
  5. Bought a home (now with a mortgage, I'm back in debt! Dammit) and created a home gym.

3 Great Lessons I've Learned From Last Year Are

  1. Clear goals that are burned in your mind, planning (or using an already proven plan), focused execution and constant review works!
    1. On a similar note, when you have a plan, all you need to do next is execute. In other words, you don't need to spend time in the moment deciding what to do in the moment, and in the future. If a problem arises, then that's when you need to put your thinking cap back on and make adjustments to your plan to steer you back towards your goals.
  2. Consistent, small progress will add up.
  3. "Habits" become "Normal" if you do it often enough.

If I Could Do Things Again Last Year, I Would Do These 3 Things Differently

  1. Start my blog earlier! I regret not blogging about my "Starting Strength" workouts earlier. I made some decent gains in a short period of time (around November 2010-March 2011).
  2. Blog more often.
  3. Read more books. I find that what I read, watch or listen to will influence how I think and how I behave.

Goals For 2012

  • Compete in powerlifting
  • Write more
  • Apply goal setting, planning, executing and reviewing to other aspects of my life.

One Word To Describe 2012