Monday, November 5, 2007

1-Arm Dumbbell Row: Don't Twist

When these get too heavy, the tendency is to build velocity at the bottom of the movement, by letting the working side's shoulder droop down, and then twisting. This is cheating. This is a lat exercise, not an oblique exercise. For the sake of not only your lat development but your spine, don't get into this habit. You may not be strong enough to hurt yourself doing this now, but when your tossing around 200 pounders, an explosive twist like this just isn't safe.

Keep your shoulders flat and strong. Let your lat feel the stretch, but resist it in your torso. Bring the weight up tight to your side. Rock.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Get Your ZZZs

What you do in the gym is important. Using good form, lifting with intensity, working a proper split--these things are all going to affect your progress.

But the gym isn't where you build strength. It's where you demand from your body, under duress of torture with strange instruments (Power cage? Not the power cage!), that it build strength. The strength building takes place outside the gym. I've read from several bodybuilders that they'd rather miss a workout than a meal.

So in the morning you do the perfect workout. You eat a proper post-workout meal and follow up on it throughout the day with nutritious food. Then you go to bed late and only get five hours of sleep. You just lost a lot of the progress you worked so hard throughout the day to attain.

Your muscles need recovery time, and the time they can be assured that you're not going to move and mess them up is when you're asleep. Muscle is built at night. You can do everything else right and plateau hard because you aren't giving your body time to do what you're asking of it. And beyond the loss of future muscle (that's like future crime. Ask Tom Cruise about it), you're counteracting numerous other benefits:

*Exercise makes you smarter. Lack of sleep makes you dumber.

*Being fit regulates insulin sensitivity. Lack of sleep causes a resistance to insulin (think type 2 diabetes).

*Exercise reduces stress. Lack of sleep increases it, and therefor cortisol, which reduces your immune system, increases fat, eats muscle, causes heart disease, and messes with your mental health.

You've already made time for exercise. Now you have to make time for a solid night of sleep. Where are you going to get the extra three hours from? I don't know. I just point out problems; I don't give solutions. That's too hard.

How to sleep soundly tonight--and wake up slimmer, happier, and healthier

Friday, November 2, 2007

Weekly Web Fitness: Ab Myths? Really? Still?

5 Myths Behind Building Great Abs
"Ab Myth #1: You Have to do Hundreds of Crunches to Get a 'Six-Pack'"

I just don't think this is true anymore. Does anybody really think, after reading years of headlines to the contrary, that hundreds of crunches is the path to a six-pack? Does anybody really think they will have a visible six-pack, despite 30% body fat, if they do enough crunches? No. No one does.

Ab Myth #1: That people are so dumb they still think you can attain a six-pack solely through hundreds of crunches.

"What you want to avoid is heavy, weight crunches. Remember the abs are still muscles; train them with weights and they will get bigger."

This is untrue for women, but even for men, the only place where your abs will noticeably protrude is at the top just under the ribs, which make your chest look bigger, not your belly. Larger abs will hold your guts (and I do mean internal organs) in better, making your resting appearance thinner. Another myth propagated by the fitness world. Sigh.

Women and Weight. No, Not the Kind You Worry About, the Kind You Pick Up. Or Should.
"Should women lift weights as part of their fitness program?

Great article by Kelly Mills. If you're not lifting, start.

Dancing their way to a fitness revolution
In the gym, that isn’t always the case, “because you have a lot of kids that are overweight, not motivated and they don’t always want to do a lot.”
But with DDR, all the kids were totally focused.

Traditionalists will decry the trend, saying things about fresh air, whippersnappers, and the zombifyin' effect of televisualgames. And that's the way they likes it!

I say whatever gets 'em moving.

Core Exercises That Really Work

Straight to the Bar twice in one post, you say? I just found it and totally love it.

Watch the video. I've done a lot of these core moves before, and they work. The problem is often getting to the point where you're strong enough to do them. I never expect to be able to do head-stand twists.

Ever notice how the guys you usually see doing these freak-strength moves are about five and half feet tall? My legs are almost that long. The good news for women is that these moves are much easier for shorter people. Some will be easier with a lower center of gravity, and some harder.

Experts Sound Off on Workout Grunting

"But, for some people, there was actually a small percentage increase when they grunted, in terms of the force produced," O'Connell said. For that reason, "I wouldn't be trying to tell people not to grunt," he said.

I don't scream or pound my chest, but I will grunt during my heavy deadlift pulls. I think that like screaming or listening to loud music, grunting causes a small amount of adrenaline to be released. It also just feels natural. Have you ever seen a spotting powerlifter slap another in the face to get him worked up for a big lift? Dude, that's hardcore.

Your Guide to the Glycemic Index

This is a good resources, a list of foods organized by ascending GI. Notice that pasta has a very decent number.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Fit Bloggers Aggregator

I stumbled across a neat page today, It's a cool way to find some fitness blogs that you otherwise might have missed. The owner, Kevin, has been so kind as to include Rice Home Fitness. It's a good fitness blog meta-resource, and as we all know--

Nothing on the 'netta
Is cooler than meta!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Rotator Cuff Exercises Exposed!

In a Friday link roundup awhile back, I posted a link to an article with some good tips for taking care of your rotator cuffs. So let me explain some of the exercises.

*External rotation (scarecrow)
Holding light weights in your hand, stand as if you're going to do a shoulder press, but stop when your upper arms are parallel with the ground. Leaving your elbow at a 90 degree angle, rotate at the shoulder until your forearms are also parallel with the ground, then lift back. Repeat.

Your rotator cuff is weak in this direction. Think of this as the opposite of throwing a ball. You can snap your arm forward with great speed. This exercise will help to provide some strength in the other direction.

*Lying external rotation
The shoulder is complicated, and I can't really tell you what specific muscles are benefited by doing this while laying on your side, but I've read it several places. Lay on your side with your upper arm running down your body, once again parallel with the floor, and maintaining the 90 degree angle in your elbow, lower the weight until your forearm is parallel with the ground as well. You can also do this standing, but with a cable machine, if you have access to a cable machine with a pulley that slides up and down a track. Place the pulley level to your elbow and perform the same motion.

*Cable laterals
Remember when I said that machines were good at some things that free weights aren't? One of those things is resistance throughout the range of motion. When doing dumbbell laterals, at the bottom of the movement there is no resistance to your delts. You can hold the dumbbells all day and your traps will get tired, and your hands, obviously, but not your delts. It's as you move them out and up, challenging gravity, that your delt will feel resistence.

That means if you've only been doing dumbbell laterals, there is a weak point in the bottom of your range. You can correct this by doing cable laterals. These will be tough, and the stack might not even allow for a low enough weight for you. If this is the case, take a light dumbbell and do laterals laying on your side. You only need to lift through about the first 20 degrees.

None of these exercises do you want to do low rep, and through no rep should you grunt and struggle as you might a squat or bench press. The fact that these target your rotator cuff means that pushing them too hard could easily cause injury.

Alright. I think I'm going to stop harping about the rotator cuff for awhile.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Calories In / Calories Out

The lifehacking community is composed largely of engineers, and engineers like elegant, simple solutions. The "eat less than you need" diet was very popular in this scene, and the comments to anything more complicated invariably include a few "it's as simple as calories in / calories out." But calories out isn't so easy to calculate. One person can gain weight on 2000 calories a day while another person is losing weight. This could happen even if each had the same base metabolism.

*Small meals often count for less
You can keep your metabolism high and your body in muscle-building, fat-burning mode by letting it know that you're always ready to cram a sandwich in your face every three hours. Your body doesn't want you to carry extra muscle. Extra muscle = extra necessary calories. Let your body know it's in no risk of starving. Eat something as soon as you wake up, and keep eating in three hour intervals, dividing your daily calories into five or six small meals.

*Low glycemic meals make less fat
Ignoring ketosis, this is how low-carb diets work. The good news is, you can just choose low-glycemic carbs and get a similar effect. 2000 calories of sugar a day would put fat on anyone. 2000 calories of a good mixture of protein, fat, and low glycemic carbs probably won't (depending on your size).

*Exercise will increase your metabolism
Not by as much as scientists once thought, but a healthy lifestyle is a cumulative effect. Fifty calories a day adds up. Most people gaining weight from aging are gaining a pound a year. That's 3500 calories. That's 10 calories a day.

*Just eating less won't make you healthy
Yeah, you could just not eat the 300 calories you used to lift weights and then jog, but for exercising you will get:
more muscle
stronger bones
better mood
stronger immune system
healthier heart
increased confidence

We aren't able to break most things in life down to a simple equation. Health is no exception. It's a complicated subject, so educate yourself. In this case, if you're smart about what and when you eat, you get to eat more. Sweet!

Friday, October 26, 2007

Weekly Web Fitness: I Still Feel Kinda Woozy

6 minutes of pain
Lisa, the Workout Mommy, challenges us to finish this routine by Gina Lombardi in the recommended 6 minutes. I was going strong, with 1 minute left to do V Crunches. I don't know if you've tried them, but V Crunches are really really hard. I took 6 minutes and 23 seconds, and I still feel a little sick. This probably wasn't the smartest thing to do the day before my second brutal full body workout of a new lifting cycle, but I have a really hard time passing up a challenge (don't consider that an invitation). Anyway, I think I'm going to keep trying this to better my time.

A note for anyone who passes through Lisa's page to the exercise description at MSNBC: mountain climbers don't require that you bring up one leg, put it back, set it back down, and then bring up the next, your legs cross each other, one going forward, one back, in a little hop. Kind of like running in place while supporting your weight on your hands.

What 26 Pounds of Fat Feels like
"Thursday of last week, he walked into my office carrying a huge hunk of metal (nothing unusual because I work in an automotive manufacturing plant) and said “Here hold this”. OMG it was heavy. Then he said “This is your weight loss trophy. It weighs 30lbs.”

Great accomplishment Brenda! For anyone trying to lose a lot of weight whose frustrated at having only lost 20 or 25 pounds, grab a 25 pound dumbbell and carry it around for a few minutes. Don't set it down. Then think about the fact that at one point not long ago you were lugging that weight around all the time. That helps put the smaller accomplishments in pursuit of the overall goal in perspective.

Lessons Learned From My Deadlifting Experience
It is as if they wanted me to be injured and unable to walk (thanks by the way), so they could somehow justify the use of bodyweight exercise over free weights.

Peoples, we all need to come together as fitness enthusiasts. Whether we lift dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells, bell peppers, just our bodies, or don't train except by playing our sport, accept that we can all learn something from each other.

By the way, if your back aches a little the next day from deadlift, it's not necessarily because you did it wrong, in the same way that if your chest aches the day after doing bench press you didn't necessarily do it wrong. A little pain sometimes means you're progressing. Your lower back actually contains muscles! And sometimes when you challenge those muscles, they'll ask you to stop for a day or two to add more strength. It's not as common in the lower back as in other groups, but don't freak out and automatically think you're crippling yourself because your lower back is a little stiff the day after DL.

If you don't have a preexisting back condition, unless you're on steroids or have freak strength, your body won't let you, using correct form, lift enough weight to hurt your back.

Related to earlier sentiment, Any physical activity is good activity

Get Motivated: You're Just Going to Feel Worse
Had I not run, I would have stayed on the couch and watched hours of TV while sinking deeper into feeling worse and worse.

Unless you've got a serious excuse, skipping your workout is going to leave you not only feeling the blah way you already feel (didn't get enough sleep, long day at work, lost arm to wood-chipper... well... that might be a good excuse), but guilty, too. It's just so hard, sometimes, to believe that your workout, the horrible torture that it is, will almost certainly make you feel better.

Illustrated BMI
Remember when I was angry at Yourself Fitness for calling me overweight due to my BMI? Here's a gallery showing what overweight people look like, including triathletes and a woman who just hiked up a mountain. Stupid BMI.

Take twenty
"The men first pedaled a stationary bike for 30 minutes, then took a break for 20 minutes, and then finished off their workout by pedaling for an additional 30 minutes. The researchers found that during this break, the body seems to redirect its excess energy into burning fat, as evidenced by the fact that the work/break/work test subjects had 3-times the amount of free fatty acids (compounds released when stored fat is used as energy) than men who did not take a break."

I just quoted 50% of that blog post. Teehee. Anyway, I post this because it validates my practice of leaving the gym, driving home, and doing my cardio there. Sweet!

Dang, I seriously scoured the web for you people this week.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

A Fire in the Belly

I woke up sore all over this morning. I like that. I feel bigger than I really am when I can feel my muscles. Too bad a mirror brings back reality. Anyway...

I've got this box of cards that I keep on my desk called "A Box of Thoughts on Creativity." Each card has a nice quote. This one applies to anything worth doing:

"And it will come to the question of how much fire you have in your belly."
-Oliver Wendell Holmes

You can have loads of tricks (or hacks, as they say on the intrawub), but sometimes things are just going to suck. Whether or not you can push through to reach your goals says something about you.

Or maybe it's about indigestion and I'm reading too much into it. Meh.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

New Cycle

Today, after a week of recuperation, I went back to the gym. I'm out of my low rep cycle, and started a full-body, twice-a-week, hypertrophy cycle. Today was-- difficult. My routine:

Chin ups (with an assortment of grips and a little extra weight)
Cable row, low and high
Dumbbell bench press
Incline press
Barbell overhead press
Step ups

I only made it through deadlift. I'm not used to the cardio aspect of this sort of lifting and rested too long between sets to avoid barfing! It may not look like a huge amount of volume, but remember that each is a big lift, and usually with a fresh muscle group. A full body workout is intense when you're used to a split, because each group has fresh muscle loaded with fuel, so though I got more and more tired, each exercise is staying at a high level instead of diminishing.

What I like about this cycle is that it's going to allow me to hit every muscle group twice a week, something I haven't done for awhile, and at the same time I'm not going to be spending six days a week in the gym. On days I'm not lifting, I'll be doing yoga and cardio. It should be fun. I hope that it's such a big system shock after getting to rest for 2-3 minutes between sets that I see some real progress, both in size and endurance.

I just have to look at it as a challenge instead of torture.

Anybody else doing a fun/crazy new cycle or looking forward to one?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Mixing In Low Rep

Low-rep lifting isn't for beginners. It can already be hard on the joints and connective tissue. Add to the mix improper form and a person who doesn't know his or her limit, and you're asking for an injury. So why should you even consider low-rep?

Well, for an experienced lifter, it will break through the toughest plateau. When nothing else has worked, mixing in a low-rep cycle will.

Muscle size and muscle strength aren't directly proportionate. There are the things you can't change, like how far from the joint your muscles attach (ie length of force arm), how long your limbs are (ie length of resistance arm), and your ratio of slow-twitch to fast and super-fast twitch muscle fiber (no ie here). All of these factors can cause two people with the same amount of muscle to have two very different levels of strength. But you can't change these things.

Another factor is the strength of your nervous sytem. A muscle fiber only knows on and off. It either contracts at maximum strength or not at all. To lift heavier things, you activate more muscle fibers, you do not activate the same number harder. But a person who doesn't ever train near their limit won't have the ability to activate as much muscle as a person who does.

Just like your cardio-vascular system and muscles, your nervous system needs to be pushed to develop. The more you train it to send out those big jolts of signal, the more muscle fiber you'll be able to recruit. Many power-lifters stay in the same weight class for years, but get stronger every year. Their form is getting better and more efficient, and they are training their nervous system to recruit more muscle fiber. How? By lifting low rep (I hope you guessed that).

Lifting in the bodybuilding rep range of 8-12 will also increase strength, but it is best for increasing size. Hypertrophy means the muscle fibers are larger, but not necessarily stronger in proportion. They have a lot of mitochondria for providing energy, and bigger muscles will be stronger, but the correlation is indirect. So why bother getting big muscles? Because each cycle will let you build on the next.

I just ended a low rep cycle. My gains slowed. I started to feel some aches and pains. On previous cycles it's been in my shoulders. This time it's in my right bicep. I need time to heal, to not push my muscle's contractile strength to the limit. I can do this by switching to hypertrophy range lifting.

My strength has gone way up in the last few months, so now I'll be able to move more weight to 10 reps. That means more muscle growth. When I feel that I've healed and grown as much as possible, I'll be able to take the larger muscles and, by lifting low rep again, use them for even more strength gains. By switching back and forth, and mixing in some other cycles to shock your body, you can gain constantly, though in one cycle it will mostly be in strength and the next in size.

I've heard everybody is a hard gainer. I sure am. I have to coax out every bit of strength and every ounce of size. Carefully cycling in low-rep helps, and if you've got the necessary years of experience in the gym you should consider it.