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.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Hitting the Inner Thigh with Sumo DL

The inner-thigh, or the hip adductors, are a socially interesting muscle group. They are only ever purposefully targeted by women. I don't really know why you'd want large inner-thighs, but if you do, I can tell you how to get them, and it's not with a Thigh Master.

Forget the isolation machines for building your legs. You can do three sets of leg-extensions, three sets of hamstring curls, three sets of hip adductors and three sets of hyper-extensions, or you can do three sets of sumo deadlift and then hit whatever you didn't feel burning bad enough (probably quads).

*Sumo deadlift demonstrated

I've heard that powerlifters who start out training in traditional deadlift and then switch to sumo stance are limited by their inner-thigh strength, and often have difficulty walking the day after training. Sounds fun, huh? Both styles of DL are acceptable in competition, and your body type determines which is most effective for you. However, if you are trying to target your hip adductors, regardless of build, you want to try sumo stance DLs.

Being very long legged, I can't bring a bar past my knees in traditional stance. Being very long legged, I'm also not a powerlifter. If, like me, all you want in life are inner-thighs that chaff together when you jog, get off the machine and as the rappers say, get low.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Weekly Web Fitness: None of the Environmental Articles

This week the blogosphere was all about the environment. I'm not covering any of that in this post. Not because I don't like planet Earth. It is, as The Tick said, where I keep my stuff. But I'm burnt out on hearing about it,and some of you probably are, too. So, instead a topic no ones bores of, heavy shoes:

These shoes are made for walking!
"Yet, the Muscletrainer is no shoe to be worn all day long. Each one weighs between 1 and 1.4 kg. And this weight is its strength. Walking in this shoe for 30 minutes, burns 300 cal more than what you would burn walking the same distance in the same time wearing ordinary shoes."

Using a metric converter I scientifically deduced that these shoes weigh something like 2 lbs each. This thing reads like an advertisement, so I'd like to read a study from a trusted source, but I googled them and couldn't find any mention anywhere. If the information is true, I'd suggest strapping on some ankle weights and saving your money.

Bigger Is Better, Except When It’s Not
This article mostly focuses on the benefits and drawbacks of height and muscularity in running, swimming, and rowing. I'll talk about kickboxing, since that's what I know.

Height is a huge advantage in boxing and kickboxing. Most successful fighters across the combat sport spectrum are tall with long arms. When no grappling is involved, reach almost always trumps strength, and even in mma stockiness is rarely an advantage (anybody see Tim Silvia fight Jeff Monson?), the contest being between the tall and muscular and the super-tall and lanky.

"That does not mean that parents should push their children into a sport based on their body type, exercise physiologists say. Most people who run or swim or do other sports, even competitively, do it because they love the sport, not because they are aiming for the Olympic Games. Many also choose a sport because they discover they are good at it."

This is a nice sentiment, but I'll point out that people usually like the sports they're good at.

BMI: "Freaking out about nothing"
Some insurance companies in the United States now use BMI to classify risk, and adjust their rates accordingly, which means that a person with a body mass index of 25 or 30 may pay more for health insurance than one with a BMI of 23. If a person is 5'6", the difference between a BMI of 23 and 25 is 7.5 pounds.
"A lot of people are just freaking out over absolutely nothing," she said, "when they're healthier than they think they are."

I hate the body mass index. It's ridiculous. If you're carrying a good amount of muscle, which is healthy for numerous reasons, your BMI will be worse than meaningless as an indicator of health, it will be absolutely false.

I'm currently trying out Yourself Fitness, a cool Xbox personal training program that, because it's not a prerecorded video, has endless permutations of 500 touted moves, from aerobics to step to strength training to yoga to pilates, and it tests you periodically and questions you to adjust the difficulty level. So far, I'm really impressed with it. Based on my high scores for core strength, it has given me some brutal exercises that have left my abs sore! I plan on giving you guys a full review of Yourself Fitness once I've spent some more time with it.

You can choose between several different goals. My focuses are flexibility and cardio. One thing that gave me a short flash of rage towards this otherwise delightful program is that because my height and weight place me as overweight according to the BMI, even though I rocked the strength tests, it suggested that my goal be weight loss. Grrrr.

5 Food Rules to Break

I don't talk too much about nutrition because I'm not a nutritionist but a personal trainer, so I feel more comfortable giving advice about something I'm certified to. Anyway, does anybody know what we're supposed to eat anymore? I'm really confused.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Enjoying the Fruits of Your Labor

Duders, I'm slacking today. For reasons mysterious and untold, I've just been sitting back and playing some videogames. I have this productivity compulsion that doesn't normally allow me to enjoy that.

I've been slacking this week in the gym. Really slacking, meaning not going. No weightlifting at all. I developed a pain in my bicep from weighted chins that told me that my low-rep cycle is over, and then I realized that I haven't taken a week off in a long time, at least half a year. So, though I feel guilty every day, I just do some cardio at home and I'm not lifting until next week, when I start a full-body insanity workout to shake things up.

So the topic of today is being able to enjoy your well-deserved treats. Mary Anne left a comment last Friday about exercise allowing her to eat what she wants guilt free, and I mostly agree with her. Can you do it? When you know that you've had a great week of both diet and exercise and you know you deserve a cheat, you might even be in a place where a cheat will physically help you, can you enjoy it, or do you feel guilty anyway? Can you enjoy time off from the gym that your body actually needs?

My obsessive nature gives me a hard time. That's normally a good thing, but not in the above mentioned circumstances.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Weight Loss Lifestyle

As a trainer, I try not to focus too much on weight loss, and by that I mean fat loss. If you've taken on a healthy lifestyle, meaning you're eating healthy food in an appropriate amount and getting good exercise, your ideal weight will find you. I think that looking too hard for it is what tends to turn people off, with diets instead of diet, and frantic short periods of exercise instead of a sustainable fit lifestyle.

Weight loss can be your focus and motivation, but it must be done sanely. Your diet will be more strict than if you were trying to maintain, but not so strict that you feel hungry all the time, almost ensuring that you'll quit. Also, you need to consume enough quality nutrition to allow your body to make those important gains from your hard work. It will pay off eventually, when your new muscle requires fuel on a daily basis. So how can you lose weight while also honoring a fit lifestyle?

Remember how yesterday I talked about intensity and how you have an iron barbarian inside you that eats 45 pound plates like pancakes with sweat and blood for syrup? Now I'm telling you to hold back a little, especially if you haven't dedicated yourself yet to a fit lifestyle.

"Contradiction is not a sign of falsity, nor the lack of contradiction a sign of truth."
Blaise Pascal

Using quotes makes me feel smart for finding things that other people were brilliant enough to say first.

*Don't starve yourself
Starving yourself is counter-productive on so many levels. It's going to come back, plus some, and you're going to be less fit and more frustrated than when you started.

*Exercise sanely
Riding a stationary bike until you puke isn't going to work as a lifestyle. You'll last a week, tops, and in that time you'll have associated exercise with horrible horrible torture. I promise you that exercising can be fun; don't ruin it for yourself.

This is the number one thing you can do to instantly cut calories. I don't know why there are so few healthy choices at fastfood joints and even in restaurants, but that's how it is. Make a menu, shop according to your menu, and eat at home. The food will be more healthy and you'll save money.

*Move every day
Don't go to the gym and give it 100% every day, you'll end up over trained, but get outside and go for a walk or play frisbee. Put in a yoga DVD. Get a wii (and pick up one for me while you're at it). Start an exercise habit. To start a habit, you need daily repetition. You can taper off once exercise is ingrained in your brain as an automatic good instead of a hassle.

*Tough through the initial month
It's going to be hard at the start. Power through it. You'll start to see strength gains. You'll start to have more energy. You'll start to feel the stress-relieving effects. You'll make it a habit. And once this happens, and you don't have to think about every decision to make the healthy choice, you'll have a healthy lifestyle.

10 Tips To Start A New Habit
21 days to a new habit

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Lifting with Intensity

You aren't in the gym to mess around. It was an act of incredible will to drag yourself out of the comfort of bed to go torture yourself, or you're dead tired after a long day of dealing with the demands of unrealistic project managers who have no idea how you do your job, just how you should do it. So are you going to just go through the motions? No, you want to squeeze every last drop of progress you can out of your workout. That means you're going to have to lift like you mean it.

Don't just go through the motions
There's a big difference between the last rep you can do, and the last rep the unstoppable iron barbarian inside you can do. If you've managed to unleash that monster, you're going to make progress. If, instead, you finish your tenth rep with a slight sigh of effort, you need to kick up the intensity.

An example is the leg press. After you get to your last rep, ask yourself if it was really your last rep. You can almost always get out another one or two after discomfort has made you lock the sled.

Lower your reps
I like the low rep range of 3 to 5. That isn't appropriate for beginning lifters, but there's no reason for you to go over 12. Anything above that is endurance, and if you're not training for something specific (like shoulders for boxing), then you don't really need endurance. Endurance, or conditioning, comes and goes quickly. Strength is built over a lifetime.

When you do a 30 rep bench, you're teaching your muscles to process lactic acid more efficiently and contract in an acidic environment. You are, unfortunately, not getting stronger.

Don't get too comfortable
If you're following the same routine you always have, but you haven't seen results in months, then you need to do something different. Change your rep range. Change your exercises. Change your rest periods. Go to a full body workout 3 days a week. Just do something to get the progress going again, or you're going to give up, and you may not come back. It's very hard to bite the bullet and put a lot of effort into getting back strength you once had. So why not just put in the intensity now and make new gains?

Do the exercise you like the least
I've said it before, but it's a part of intensity. Get in there and do what you need to do. Unfortunately, what you need to be doing is often the least pleasant. You go to work every day, and you eat your vegetables, so do your chin ups. Momma Jeff says it's good for you.

That didn't come out right.

Friday, October 12, 2007

What a Wacky Web We Wead

First of all, a thanks to the commenters who made yesterday's reader participation experiment a success. Now that I know you'll reply, I'm going to start doing interactive things more often. Sweet.

The bottomless appetite
"The volunteers who ate from normal bowls consumed about nine ounces of soup, just less than a can. They thought they ate 123 calories, but actually ate 155. Those with the bottomless bowls estimated that they ate almost the same number of calories -- 127 -- but had actually eaten an average of 268 calories and 15 ounces of soup. They'd ingested 73 percent more soup, but almost none reported feeling full because in their minds they'd only finished half the bowl."

This study is amazing. The general concept makes sense, but the proportion is wild. Who would have guessed that you could eat 73% more and not notice? If you sat me down in front of an endless bowl of hamburgers, heart attack city. I've heard that you should take delivery food or carry out and put it on a plate so you can see how much you're really eating. Seems like a good idea.

post workout meal nutrition -what to eat after a workout
"Simply put, aside from water (which you should already know you need) your post workout meal needs to contain 2 things, and it needs to not contain 1. You should be eating protein and carbs. You should NOT be eating fat."

There's some good information here. I would just ignore the parts where the author prefers jugs of supplements to normal food in every single case. I'm not anti-supplement, but I think real food does have some merit.

One point to notice: if you've got a sweet-tooth, indulge it a bit post-workout. The sugar won't be turned into fat as it gets absorbed into your sponge-like muscles. Also, insulin is an anti-catabolic, countering the muscle-burning effects of cortisol. Just don't down a whole cake, obviously.

5 Things: Happy Hiking Feet
I have a friend who reads my blog who hiked the Appalachian Trail. The Appalachian Trail is more than 2000 miles long! She chided me for not including hiking anywhere in my blog, as it builds leg bone density and muscle, especially if you're backpacking. She also pointed out that if you use a hiking staff you can transfer a lot of weight to your upper body, making it a full body workout. This is something I'd never thought about.

Anyway, keep the tootsies happy while you trek up and down mountains.

What's the point of living longer if you can't eat the yummy stuff?

"What's more important to you -- A sinful meal or your family and friends? I'm willing to bet that hardly anyone ever lies on their death bed wishing they'd ate more junk food -- but they will wish they had more time with their loved ones, and they'll wish they'd enjoyed time with their family more."

First, let me say that I think that if you work hard, you'll be able to occasionally enjoy the foods you love without guilt. With that out of the way:

If you're a fitness enthusiast, you may have encountered people asking you what the point of living to old age is if you have to be miserable the whole time. Some people are really contemptuous of those of us (you included) trying to better our lives and want to take us down a peg. It's easier to try to make others feel shallow and stupid than to gather up the will power to change your life. This little essay is a great response to keep in the back of your mind for dealing with this ignorant sort.

We know why haters hate, right?

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Fear and Self-Loathing in the Gym

Since things are going well with the blog and there are a few people out there who must enjoy reading what I'm writing, I'm going to kick the schedule up. I'll still be posting my main articles Monday and Wednesday with a traditional Friday web roundup, but throughout the week I'm going to post little bits of whatever is knocking around in the old nugget, whether it be something I thought up in the gym or something that bugged me about an article. Rock.

Today was leg day. I do deadlift on leg day because I don't do heavy squat (due to an extreme tightness in my rear-chain that I'm constantly trying to loosen up), so it doesn't conflict, and we all really know that deadlift works the glutes, hamstrings, and lower back, and so better fits into leg day than back day. Anyway, for the fourth week in a row now I've added five pounds to my pull. That's crazy. I haven't had a run like this since I started deadlifting. I made it for a solid five reps (well, 1 strict, 4 touch and go) so I think next week I'll go for five more pounds and then I'll hold for a few weeks to make sure everything is as strong as it needs to be.

But I almost psyched myself out this morning. I do that a lot on deadlift. I know that I should be able to make a pull, and I fail it because some little thing isn't perfect, and then that builds the beginning of a wall and I might fail the same pull for a month straight. The thing that always gets me is that one of the employees always seems to decide to mop while I'm doing deadlift! I admit that I lift during slow times, but still. I feel like he's watching me, just waiting for me to move so he can clean under me, and I freak out and fail my big pull. Today he was vacuuming, and I said to myself, 'Great, there goes my streak.' But I did it. Now hopefully I can use this as proof in the future that he isn't placing a curse on me and I can pull a new personal best even while he's dust-busting my plates.

Today I'm going to try something new; I'm going to ask a question of you, my reader. I hope I get some good replies, because I'd love to have interaction here. That's really my ultimate goal with this blog.
Do you ever feel like you miss a goal because you've psyched yourself out?
Do you have any tactics for overcoming this when you can feel yourself building a mental wall?

If no one comments, I'm going to make another account and answer myself. Look for a name like "Superman's A. Wimp" or "Gym Ninja".

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Gym Time

I like to work out in the morning. I am a morning person in all aspects, and always have a disgusting amount of energy. Well, I'm not disgusted by it, but those I'm pestering at 6AM are.

Early Morning
The gym is usually a little less busy at this time than in the evening, and the crowd is a little older. You get the stress-relieving effects right before you go into work, when you need a little peace of mind the most. Especially if you have clients from other countries. Have you ever opened your email to find that Europeans have filled your inbox while you weren't looking? They need to remember how we pulled their butts out of the fire in WW2 and have some respect. I mean, I guess I didn't actually pull their butts out of the fire, but I still feel I'm owed.

If you can arrange to get an hour and a half lunch you'll have time to workout and swallow a few sandwiches whole before going back to the grind. The benefit is a much less crowded gym and a midday stress reliever and energy boost. This is good if you're too tired to get up early, but also too tired at the end of a long day. The only problem may be convincing your boss to give you the time.

Early evening
The gym is at it's most crowded. If you can get in right after work, though, your hormones may be at their best. Late afternoon technically is when muscle building hormone levels should be highest. You can use this time to relieve some work-related aggression, or to have some you time before going home to your screaming, whining, snotty, beloved children.

Late night

I recently worked out at a friend's gym at 9pm, the time he usually goes. I'm not an evening person, but once I pulled some light deadlifts for warmup, I was pumped and ready to go. It was nice for a change. Gym traffic is at its lightest, and when you get home, after you've had a little time to settle, you'll sleep like the dead.

So really, it's just up to your preference and your schedule. Helpful, right?

Monday, October 8, 2007

Grocery Store Strategy (tips tricks)

Check out my guest post about grocery store strategy at the always delightful Cranky Fitness Blog. You'll marvel at the many benefits of applying OCD tendencies to grocery shopping.

Next, advanced list-making: make a list of all your most crucial lists!

Friday, October 5, 2007

Weekly Web Fitness: If They Could See Us Now

Fitness prediction from 1901: We'll all walk 10 miles with ease

"Everybody Will Walk 10 Miles. Gymnastics will begin in the nursery where toys and games will be designed to strengthen the muscles. Exercise will be compulsory in the schools. A man or woman unable to walk 10 miles at a stretch will be regarded as a weakling."
I wonder what they'd think if they knew we were edging our way towards 100% obesity by 2040. They hadn't apparently predicted the ready supply of pizza and cable television, or this would have been an easy call.

“I’m Off To The Physiotherapist...”
"For those of you who have had (or are currently experiencing) tendinitis of the rotator cuff, than you know exactly where I’m coming from. You never really know how important your shoulder is until you injure it because it is involved in all of your upper body movements (including walking - and with this injury, you feel it!)."
I've never torn my rotator cuff. Read this article and keep its tips in the back of your mind. I cycle in low-rep, but I back off the moment I start to feel sharp little pains in my shoulders. I don't do exercises where my arms go far behind my back (either high or low, ie dips or behind-the-neck pull downs). I do several rotator cuff specific exercises every week, such as external rotators (scarecrows) and cable laterals.

I can't imagine not lifting at all for two months and then being very restricted in movement for months after. Take the time to make sure you're exercising safely so you don't have to face these setbacks and lose your hard-earned gains.

Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is
"Unless you're in the small minority of people who have more money than they know what to do with, the thought of totally wasting cash is properly motivating so "put your money where you mouth is."

I've talked recently about motivation, and here's another great method to add to the list. I'm a personal trainer, but I don't deny that I have to trick myself into doing cardio, and I'm not that easily fooled by myself. I always seem to be one step ahead.

But I think this method would work for me. Knowing I already shelled out the cash is good motivation. Ask my wife: I am a total cheapskate.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Good Pain / Bad Pain

A lot of people harp on old Arnold for saying, “No pain, no gain” in regards to building muscle. They say that you shouldn't exercise through pain, and technically, you shouldn't.

What they don't say is that you can lift through discomfort. Extreme discomfort. Your body doesn't particularly want you to pick up twice your bodyweight and then set it back down several times. Then again, your body doesn't know what's good for it. A set of chin ups is uncomfortable from beginning to end. The last rep would probably be in the range that your average person would call “pain.” Suck it up, buttercup. You're not an average person, YOU'RE A WEIGHTLIFTING MACHINE! No, not like a cable station. That metaphor really fell apart.

One easy, bright line straight between good and bad pain is “sharp.” When doing bench press in the bodybuilding range, 8 to 12, you will feel an increase in burning. It may become very uncomfortable, but you can still crank out another rep. That dull, burning pain is fine. However, a sharp, sudden pain while doing bench means you should rack the barbell before you drop it on yourself. Sharp pain is an indicator that something is torn or strained. Give it up, go home, ice it, and see if you're ready to go again next week.

It can be more complicated than that, but only you can decide what is the discomfort of pushing your body enough to cause overload and therefore progress, and what is going to cause injury. So start light, build up slow, use good form, and learn your own body. As you develop a mind muscle connection, you will learn your limits (and how to bounce your pecs).

Monday, October 1, 2007

How Much Machine?

Some people avoid free weights because they're intimidated by the cavemen who frequent that dark corner of the gym. Some people are intimidated by the weights them selves, being unsure what to do with them and afraid of hurting themselves. But free weights have to be the cornerstone of your workout.

Recently, I've seen people who were extremely strong on machines get toppled by bodyweight exercises. This is dangerous and counterproductive. Everybody wants to look nice, but real world strength is the real goal. Free weights offer both.

Machines limit your movement to certain planes, and isolate muscle groups in ways you'll never encounter in real life. If you've only ever done supported machine rows, then you're upper back will be strong enough to pick up that heavy box of books, but your lower back will strain like a seive.

Every workout should start out with compound free weight exercises: bench press, shoulder press, chin ups, deadlifts and squats. These are often uncomfortable, and you'll feel a little unstable. Start with light weight and proper form, and you'll progress quickly. Mix up dumbbells and barbells for building both stability and raw strength.

So what are machines good for?
1. Burn out
After I've done my dumbbell exercises, my stabilizers are shot, but my main movers might not be. That's when I take it to the machines, so that I can safely go all out.

2. Mixing things up
There are some exercises that depend on a machine. You can shake up your routine either to avoid burnout or shock your body into new growth with exercises like this.

3. Muscle isolation
While machines usually do a bad job with compound exercises, due to the fact that they have locked into paths of movement that may not match yours during complicated, multi-planar exercises, they are great at isolating to a degree that is often difficult with free weights. A hamstring curl with a dumbbell simply isn't the same as with a machine.

4. Resistance throughout a movement
The problem with dumbbell flyes is that at the point when your muscles should be contracting the hardest, the resistance is the least, going straight down through your arms and into the bench. A cable fly, on the other hand, has a constant difficulty. This is true of curls, laterals, and any number of other exercises. Muscles tend to gain strength in the angle that they are used. If you want strength through the full range of a motion, you need resistance throughout that movement.

So what's the lesson here? Machines have their place, especially cables, which will work your stability, too. But machines should be used to supplement free weights, not replace them. Take the time to learn to do the big lifts correctly. The payoff for your patience will be strength that is there when you need it.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Weekly Web Fitness: It's Hard Being So Right

That's not actually true. It's totally awesome.

Exercise on par with drugs for aiding depression

I've been saying for awhile now that one of the biggest and most overlooked benefits of exercise is mental health. I've used morning workouts to regulate my anxiety for years now, because I don't want to deal with the side-effects of medication, while the side-effects of exercise are looking great and being fit. I'm not saying ditch your medication (I can see you all searching for your lawyer's phone numbers), but if you're feeling stressed or blue, it doesn't hurt to get out and exercise. The worst that can happen is that you're still depressed, but have a killer bod.

Sportline ThinQ Pedometer nestles by your credit card
The 10,000 steps a day way to fitness is great, but I hate carrying thick items in my pockets. My wallet is about 1/4” thick, my phone less than 1/2”. Pedometers have gotten small, but they're still always thick enough to be annoying in the pocket. This card is 3mm thick and the shape of a credit card. Keep it in your wallet for an accurate count of how much you move every day.

Motivational Weight Loss Game Where Everyday Moves May Inspire A New Addiction To Aid Fitness

I love the concept of tricking yourself into getting exercise. It just works better than guilting yourself. With the Wii and Dance Dance Revolution, everyone is excited about the possibility of melding the addiction of videogames to the benefits of exercise. I'm not sure these games sound fun, but I like where this is going. If someone could link a person's real world movement to how far their avatar gets to move in World of Warcraft, we'd see a significant improvement in nerd health.

I'm a nerd too, chill.

On The Surface of Things: Where to Run

Some crazy article was making the blog rounds recently, starting at MSN Men's Health, written by people who've obviously never run, that running on any surface causes the same amount of joint damage. Really? Then are special, shock absorbing running shoes part of a dis-information conspiracy? How about boxing gloves? Try getting jacked in the jaw with a 4 ounce MMA glove vs. an 18 ounce sparring glove. A 120lb woman hooked me in the jaw with a UFC style glove and spun my head, though I would have barely felt it through sparring gloves.

This article has it right. It does matter what surface you run on, and if you've got knees like mine, you're concerned about it.

Have a great weekend. With the weather getting cooler, think about getting outside and playing some tennis or walking the dog.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

On Goals

“I long to accomplish great and noble tasks, but it is my chief duty to accomplish humble tasks as though they were great and noble. The world is moved along, not only by the mighty shoves of its heroes, but also by the aggregate of the tiny pushes of each honest worker.”
-Helen Keller

The wisdom of this quote can be applied to how you exercise. Yes, the ultimate goal is a ripped bod, a deadlift of twice your bodyweight, and a long, healthy life. That's the long view.

But set humble goals every time you exercise that you can push yourself towards and achieve. What motivates me is the thrill of increasing an exercise by 5lbs or a couple of reps. It's the aggregate of reaching these small goals that will take you to your large one. Know the big picture, the dream, the end goal, and then decide the actions and commit the actions to meet the small goals to keep you motivated on the way.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Want Big Arms? Squat.

There are still some people out there who don't work their legs. For a long time, I thought this was a mythical breed, being to sketch comedy what the unicorn, dragon, and wildebeest are to fairy tales. But it's true, and they're very stubborn. They say they're not interested in the real world strength that only comes with leg and lower-back work. They say they don't wear shorts anyway. They say they're little wimps who can't handle the vomit-inducing beauty of a twenty-rep set of rock-bottom squats. However, there's always one thing that gets them: leg day makes the rest of you bigger.

“How can this be?”
“Are you serious?”
“Why do regardless and irregardless mean the same thing?”

It's true, squats, deadlifts, and leg press will make the rest of you grow, too. Tests have been done in which people only did squats, and their arms grew. The squat is a great exercise, but unlike in deadlifts, the upper arm is totally uninvolved. So how does it happen?

1. Heavy lifts release hormones
Hormones that make muscles grow. Your legs can move so much weight, it basically makes your body freak out. Your body doesn't want to let itself be crushed under hundreds of pounds, so it releases hormones to let you build the muscle that will assure that doesn't happen. You will never do a heavy enough lateral to get this effect.


2. CNS power
The large muscles of the glutes, hams and quads require a lot of nerve signal to fully activate. When your body gets used to activating a huge amount of muscle at once, it builds up your central nervous system. This will benefit every exercise, even your laterals (why do you like laterals so much?).

Anything you lift in the real world you need to be able to support with your legs and lower back, but even if you aspire to a martini glass figure, know that not going through the sickening, brutal pain of leg day is going to limit your growth.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Lift With a Friend

Last Wednesday I pulled a new personal record for an unbelted deadlift. It was set to happen, but it had been set to happen 2 weeks ago when I tried and stalled out. So what was different about this time? I worked out with a friend.

I usually go to the gym alone, unfortunately. The time that I go isn't good for most people. I like it because the gym is pretty empty at that time of the morning, but I do wish I had some company. What are the benefits of having a friend to work out with?

1. Accountability
Someone else is counting on you to show up. You'll know that being too tired, while being a good enough excuse on your own, doesn't cut it when someone's waiting for you to spot them. In other words: if will power doesn't work, shame might.

2. Fun
Unless you are really into working out, it can be kind of boring. Especially if you're slogging through a 45 minute cardio session. Having a friend to talk to can be the difference between being bored and having fun, and if you're like me, boredom is the first and last sign I'm going to stop doing something. I've got a zero-tolerance boredom threshold.

3. Competition / Vanity
When you're competing against someone of similar strength, you'll dig down deeper and move weight you didn't know you could. You can be cheering each other on and still be desperately trying to beat each other.

And even if your strength levels are different, so that you're not directly competing, you will still want to look as strong as possible, because you are vain and shallow.

4. Safety
You'll be able to confidently and safely do exercises you wouldn't be able to alone. You'll be able to push through an extra rep on your bench with someone spotting you, and you'll find that you are actually stronger than you thought, because your fear was keeping you from going all out. That means faster gains. Getting heavy dumbbells into place is difficult, and with some help you can take the energy you would have spent awkwardly hoisting them and use it for an extra rep or two.

Boy, after writing this article, it makes me really wish more people liked me so that I didn't have to work out alone. Ah well, what ya gonna do about it, be pleasant to be around?

Friday, September 21, 2007

Weekly Web Fitness: Bruce Buffer Buff?

Celebrity Fitzness Report: UFC Octagon Announcer Bruce Buffer

If you are a fight fan, then you know the voices of the legendary Buffer Bros, Bruce and Michael. Bruce Buffer is the big voice of the UFC. Apparently, along with the big voice comes a big ego, cause boy does he seem vain. Still, this is a cool interview.

”I rolled with Randy Couture years ago in which was an eye opener.”

“Both Tank Abbot and Sakura, each on different occasions tried to take my microphone away from me while I was doing my thing. They were upset about something. Neither one did though, because I wouldn't let them. I have my job and they have theirs, so let' not interfere with each other.”

I think most people let Tank take what Tank wants. Yikes!!!

Study: Soccer beats jogging for fitness
This story is tearing up the webs. Hey, I said it in Make Cardio Fun, you gotta do something to make cardio seem less like torture. Besides making it more likely that you'll stick with exercise, it makes your workout more effective. It's hidden interval training.

”Each period of exercise lasted about one hour and took place three times a week. After 12 weeks, researchers found that the body fat percentage in the soccer players dropped by 3.7 percent, compared to about 2 percent for the joggers.

The soccer players also increased their muscle mass by almost 4.5 pounds, whereas the joggers didn't have any significant change. Those who did no exercise registered little change in body fat and muscle mass.”

Stretch for More Strength
Tight muscles can limit your strength. I am unable to do a heavy squat because my rear-chain leg muscles are so tight that at the bottom of the movement I can't help but rise onto my toes. That's scary when you've got hundreds of pounds on your shoulders. I stretch constantly, but I'm willing to give this routine a shot, though it doesn't look that different from anything I already do.

I got so angry once at the tightness of my glutes, hams and calves that I yanked on my ankle to try to force my body closer to my legs. Of course, my very tough leg muscles didn't move, but I did strain my lower back, which took months to get over. I guess the lesson here is: don't do that, cause it's dumb.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

What You Like Least, You Need Most

For five weeks I was on an unprecedented roll. Every week for five weeks I added five pounds to my shoulder press. I was going low rep, so it was for 4 rep sets. I've always been disappointed by my shoulder strength, so I was ecstatic. My growth was unstoppable, but I felt a twinge in my shoulder.

I am a lanky person. I don't have a large structure, and I think it contributes to the slow growth of my tendons and support muscles. In the middle of a fantastic run, I had to call it quits, because I really really don't want to tear a rotator cuff. So, even though I hadn't plateaued, I switched to a bodybuilding range of 8 to 10 reps to let my muscle size catch up with my strength. I also worked in a lot of rotator cuff specific exercises, so that when I went back to low rep, I'd be ready for more gains.

I hate higher rep. Most people can move about 75% of what they can do for 1 rep for 10. I can do, at most, 60%. It's very frustrating. But that's the hypertrophy range, so if I want to get big, sometimes I have to suck up my pride, ignore my desire for strength progress and just push through. And I did for 2 months. My strength in the hypertrophy range barely increased on any exercise. I just sat where I had started on almost everything, but I stuck it out.

The day I stepped into the gym ready to go low-rep again, I was excited. But I was also realistic. My body wasn't used to pushing the weight it had been before, and even though I'd gained some muscle, there would be a bit of a catch up period.

But there wasn't.

I jumped in and moved more weight than ever on almost every exercise, and the next week they went up more.

I hate lifting in the 10 rep range, but it's what I needed. So I did it. When you can just do what needs to be done, you'll start to achieve your fitness goals, too. Because most of the time, the exercise you like doing least is the one you need to be doing.

I hated deadlifts when I started them. I'm 6'6” and extremely leggy. Deadlifts were uncomfortable and difficult. But I stuck with them, I've progressed incredibly, and I'm better off for it, having developed real strength. The same goes for chin ups. We usually like the things we're good at, but if you're good at bench and stick to it while avoiding chin ups, you're heading for a shoulder injury. Your lat and posterior delt strength should roughly match your pectoral and anterior delt strength.

Listen to your body and figure out why you don't like something, and ask yourself if you should be doing it anyway. I don't like running because I have arthritic knees and I just can't run for more than 2 weeks. I shouldn't run. I didn't like chin ups because they are as exhausting as a leg exercise and I was bad at them, but now I love them and do them with added weight instead of on an assistance machine.

You probably don't like eating vegetables or going to bed at a decent time either, but we're all adults, and we do what we need to.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Make Cardio Fun

Some people like cardio. Some people eat bugs and enjoy it.

Maybe you can guess I'm not among those who like cardio for cardio's sake. I like being able to jog a little farther than before (not regularly, because of my knees), but not enough that I would do it for fun. So I have to trick myself.

1. Read a book
This is most easily done if you are using a recumbent exercise bike, the kind that you sit in like a chair. Unless, that is, you get an audiobook. Your library probably has an online component that will let you check out audiobooks as mp3s. Get a plot-driven would-be-page-turner-if-it-had-pages, and time will fly by.

2. Take up a community center sport
Volleyball, basketball, or curlingwill push you to new calorie burning heights (well, I'm not sure about curling), and you will barely notice . I kickbox, one of the most intense workouts you can get, and I don't notice that I'm dead tired until class is over and I can't raise my gloves.

3. Take up a martial art
The great thing about a martial art is that they happen regularly, week in and week out, all year long. You can choose one with the level of aggression and physical intensity that suites you. If you're like me, sparring is what drives you, but maybe you don't want physical contact and something slower paced, like Aikido. Tae Kwon Do will increase your flexibility and explosiveness, and you can choose to point spar or not..

4. Sport specific training
Maybe it's because you already like the mechanics, or maybe it's because you have a goal other than calorie burning or heart health that brings more satisfaction, but training for a sport can make cardio more endurable. I like punching and kicking, so a heavy bag workout is not only intense, but enjoyable.

5. Get outside
Enjoy the weather while it's nice. Exercising in an active environment will keep your brain off of the fact that you desperately want to stop running.

6. Switch it up
Okay, but you're stuck inside during the bitter winter. What can you do to make the elliptical machine, the treadmill, the stair stepper, and the exercise bike more fun? Instead of counting down 30 minutes on one, spend 7 on each. Or switch session by session. It will alleviate some of the tedium.

7. Get an exercise partner
In a perfect world, right? No one you know seems to exercise, or they live to far away, or they go to a different gym. Well, maybe you can't find someone to go to the gym with you, but you can find someone who'll go on regular walks with you, like a family member. Your dog would be happy to, and although he's not a great conversationalist, he'll be enthusiastic. Having someone to work out with makes any exercise session better, cardio, weights, or sport.

8. Watch TV
I can't believe I'm advising you to watch the idiot box. My wife and I don't have cable anymore. Since mixed martial arts has caught on, there's fighting on some channel almost every night of the week. I found myself watching way more TV than I liked. So now, when we are good and use our aerobic steps together (no choreography, just step up, step down), we watch an episode of a television series on DVD. Right now we're watching the first season of 24, which neither of us saw the first time around. You'll find that hour long dramas that once had commercials are a perfect cardio length. 30-35 minutes of cardio followed up by 10-15 minutes of stretching. Since we don't have cable, it seems like a treat. And time disappears when you're really into a plot.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Web Fitness: Exercise Makes You Smarter

Now, I was a genius to begin with, but this could be useful for others. Serious though, there have been a couple of studies recently that show that portions of the brain especially useful to higher-function thinking can actually grow as we age. This is big, since for a long time we've all thought we were doomed to never recover the brain cells we lose daily.

It also turns out that exercise makes you smarter.
”Gage’s discovery hit the world of neurological research like a thunderclap. Since then, scientists have been finding more evidence that the human brain is not only capable of renewing itself but that exercise speeds the process.”

Exercise doubles blood-flow to the hippocampus, and the theory is that this increased blood-flow allows increased neurogenesis.

Every day it seems like they're discovering a new benefit of exercise. I love it.

A new study shows that there's no link between self-weighing and depression.
”Frequent self-weighing was independently associated with both the absence of depressive symptoms and lower BMI levels.
'The findings of the study suggest that recommendations for regular self-weighing appear to be equally beneficial for adults regardless of their depression status,' said Linde.”

The study even says that women who weigh themselves daily as opposed to weekly or monthly see even more progress. My guess would be that this is due to natural upward fluctuation in weight that can happen on a day to day basis being taken as weight gain, and then overcompensated for. I think if the scale is going to be a guide, one should weigh weekly. I prefer that people be positively motivated by their progress rather than negatively motivated by imagined setbacks, but apparently I may be wrong about this. One thing I will point out: you should be trying to put on muscle at the same time you're losing fat, which can make the scale deceptive.

It's painful going to the gas pump anymore. It's one of the few times I'm really happy that I drive my large self around in a tiny little clown car (I call it my car-suit. If I ever can't find a parking place, I can just stick my arms and legs out the side windows and wear my car around). There may be an upside, though, and a big upside, because high gas prices could make you skinnier.
”Entitled 'A Silver Lining? The Connection between Gas Prices and Obesity,' the study found that an additional $1 per gallon in real gasoline prices would reduce U.S. obesity by 15 percent after five years. “
Living in a sprawling suburb, I can tell you that the weight loss of people in pedestrian-friendly areas are going to be averaged against those of us who don't want to walk two hours to the bookstore. People in side-walk-less, winding, spread-out, SUV-drivers-will-drive-over-you-for-looking-at-them-cross-eyed sorta places are going to have to motivate themselves through other, possibly less wallet-centric means.

I'm an anxious person, and I've been using exercise to regulate this for years. But I can tell you, getting out of the rat race, doing what I'm interested in, and becoming my own boss has really reduced my stress levels. So, maybe you should quit your job too. How to Lose Weight By Quitting Your Job
”Research has shown that there is a very strong link between job strain (heavy demands, little decision-making power, and little social support) and risk of obesity.
What's interesting is the link to central obesity”

Weight carried around the middle is the worst kind for your heart, and it's the kind that stress puts on. If you can't find a way to reduce your work stress, you should be regulating with exercise, just to nullify some of the bad effects. Next week I'm going to post my September column for Kansas City Wellness Magazine in which I go on and on as I tend to do about the stress-relieving benefits of exercise.

And to throw a little fuel on our burning celebrity obsession (Not that we're obsessed with burning celebrities. You know what I mean!), Jessica Biel's trainer reveals some of her workout routine.
It appears to me that a lot of it is needlessly
1. Complicated and
2. Time consuming.
He says he emphasizes the old school lifts, but I see little evidence in the routine. For the average person, who can't exercise 4 hours a day, the big lifts are where you're going to make your progress. And progress is the best motivator.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Liven Up Your Protein Shake

I drink a chocolate protein shake made with whey protein and skim milk after every workout. I drink chocolate protein shakes because it's the only flavor I've ever found palatable, but drinking them day in and day out gets old. I've found ways to liven them up without adding a bunch of extra sugar.

1. Coffee - I make extra strong coffee with my French press, almost like espresso, and add it to my shake sometimes. It adds flavor, and lots of antioxidants, without adding calories. Because it's so strong, I can add just a little and it doesn't water my shake down. With chocolate whey, it tastes like a mocha latte (I'm somewhat ashamed to know that).

2. Cinnamon - Cinnamon is one of the latest superfoods due to its apparent ability to reduce insulin response. It also makes my normal morning protein shake taste totally different, almost like chai, while adding only three calories.

3. Baking cocoa - 100% baking cocoa is loaded with antioxidants and flavonoids, and a half a teaspoon will only add 7 calories. The whey protein I recently purchased is very sweet, but not very chocolaty, so this pure chocolate flavor is great.

Monday, September 10, 2007

7 Tips to Maximize Your Workout

I'm sure you're busy. I'm sure that even if you like going to the gym, you don't want to waste any possible gains. That means you need to go into the gym with a strategy to see maximum results from your efforts.

1. Eat before your workout
Get energy available in your blood and muscles. Anaerobic work won't use fat for energy, so you need glycogen in your muscles and in your blood. You won't store it as fat if you use it to lift. Eat 1 to 2 hours before your work out so you have time to digest.

2.Warm up
Your blood is stored in your torso. Warming up moves it out to your limbs, where you need it. It causes a gradual increase in muscle temperature which will prevent injury, and increases the elasticity of connective tissue. If you don't take 5 minutes to warm up, you're asking for an injury.

3. Lift before cardio
I've said it before. This is canon. Warm up, then lift, then do your cardio. You lift while you have glycogen available. If you do cardio first, your lifting session will be exhausting and difficult, but you won't have moved the same weight or made the progress you could have. You need to overload your muscles to make them grow, so you need the energy to push yourself. Doing cardio after lifting is fat-burning heaven, as you've already drained your body of alternate energy sources.

4. Primarily use compound exercises
Some bodybuilding routines prescribe massive volume with lots of isolation exercises. They are probably also using lots of steroids. Cortisol starts to overcome your testosterone levels the longer you workout. If you go longer than 45 minutes, depending on your body chemistry, you could be burning up as much muscle as your building. Cortisol is a steroid, but a catabolic steroid that is triggered by inflammation. It destroys muscle and makes fat. If you know someone who gained a lot of fat weight from being on steroids due to illness, they were on an anti-inflammatory steroid like cortisol.

Use compound exercises to get as much working out done with one exercise as possible. Deadlift will work your quads, hams, glutes, and lower back primarily, and nearly every other muscle in your body secondarily. Compound exercises build strength, because while muscles just know resistance, your body knows overall weight. When you move a lot of weight at once, it causes the hormones to flow that will allow you to synthesize protein into muscle. Then, if you want, do a set or two of isolation exercises at the end of a workout to overload a disproportionately strong muscle. For me, it's my triceps.

5. Choose a split
Don't walk into the gym and do a grab bag of whatever exercises you feel like. You need to systematically select your exercises by muscle group to make progress. If you need help, check my series “What's Your Split?” Parts 1, 2, and 3.

6. Lift with intensity
Make sure that the last few reps of your set are very difficult, and don't use more than 12 reps in a set. Don't just go through the motions. If you can do a thirty rep bench, you need to increase the weight. At that rep range, all you're doing is conditioning your muscles to process the lactic acid produced by anaerobic work. You're not making them stronger.

Eventually, you'll have the mind muscle connection to be able to really feel your muscles contract. When you do, you'll be able to pull out an extra rep by digging deep into the muscle and consciously contracting it. You'll feel an entirely different level of intensity once you can do this.

7. Have a post workout meal
If you eat within an hour of working out, your muscle will absorb twice as many nutrients. That means that less turns into fat, and there will be more there for the next workout. With carbs, that equals more energy for more intensity and overload. With protein, that equals more muscle building blocks for your recovery.
I've heard people say, “Well, I'm not in here to get huge, so I don't need to think that much about it.” Even if you're not working out to get huge, you're purpose isn't to waste time. Planning ahead means both shorter workouts and better results. Most people don't go to the gym for fun, so get the most out of the precious time you do put in.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Web Fitness: Staying Motivated

This was a good week for fitness on the web, and I've got some really interesting and informative links for you.

Biggest Diet and Exercise Mistake You Can Make
I'm going to ruin the surprise for you and tell you what that mistake is: demanding perfection to the point you can't accept setbacks.
”You can have a "perfect" record for months, but if you're not learning how to cope with the imperfect days, the first few that come along can derail you completely.”

The most difficult times I've ever had in the gym were coming back after being gone for a few months. Once I was sick for two months straight. Another time I moved and couldn't afford a new gym membership for awhile. Both times, the first week back in the gym was horrible. I thrive on and preach progress. I was struggling to move weight I had long surpassed and I felt ashamed. But I stuck with it, and the next week was much better, as regaining muscle is quicker than getting it the first time.

This blog is funny and smart, and I've subscribed to it. The author has a voice very similar to the late blog of the great Ms. Snark, NYC Literary agent, especially in the humorous way she refers to herself in the third person.

20 Ways to Stick to Your Workout
”A recent study by the National Center for Health Statistics found that only 19 percent of the population regularly engages in "high levels of physical activity." (That's defined as three intense 20-minute workouts per week.)
Another 63 percent—about the same percentage as that of Americans who are overweight—believe that exercising would make them healthier, leaner, and less stressed, but they don't do it. At the root of this problem is motivation, or the lack thereof. “

The single most important part of fitness is consistency. Like Woody Allen said, “Seventy percent of success in life is showing up.” But sometimes you have to trick yourself into it. Usually, my compulsive nature leaves me feeling so guilty and anxious if I don't work out that there's no benefit to not doing so. I can't enjoy sleeping in or sitting on the couch. (I also have an immaculate filing system, another OCD benefit.) But when I don't feel like exercising, I'll tell myself I'm just going to do half a workout. By the time I get to that point, I remember that I actually enjoy exercise and am pumped enough to continue. This article provides some inventive strategies to motivate yourself in those lazy moments.

Stronger Where It Matters Most
This is a good core workout routine, and with the exception of cable activities which can be easily replaced, can be done at home on the day you just don't feel like dragging yourself to the gym (ahhh, another motivational strategy: floating core day for your lazy morning).

These are all exercises I work in and out of my core routine. Don't do hundreds of crunches. If you wanted big strong legs, you wouldn't run a marathon, you'd do 10 or fewer reps of squats or step-ups. If you want a core strong enough to support you during those times when you need it, work intensely.

I can't say if this is fitness related, as I don't know if the woman was intentionally losing weight or was losing weight from illness. A son kills his mother for losing weight too fast.
"I was not going to watch my mother starve to death. ... I thought that murdering her was the right thing to do. I feel terrible about it, but I knew my mom was suffering," he wrote.

Be sure to check back next week. I have some great articles written for Monday and Wednesday.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Proper Range of Motion Part 5: Upright Row

In my years of going to the gym, I have seen far more people do this exercise wrong than right. Sometimes it's by using too much weight, in which case the bar only moves a few inches, or the lower back is used to cheat the bar up, causing incredible compression. But the most common mistake is committed by people who are just trying to work through a complete range of motion.

Try this now: raise your arms laterally from down at your sides to over your head. You'll notice that they naturally rotate after they get just above horizontal.

When doing an upright row (also known as a shoulder row), the movement should stop when your upper arms are parallel with the ground. This will place the bar at approximately your nipple line. If you are lifting higher than this, notice that Your upper arms aren't going up, only your forearms. The bar is going higher not because your delts and traps are lifting it higher, but because you are rotating the bar up. This is bad because:

1. With this exercise, you are trying to build your delts and traps, and any movement beyond horizontal is doing nothing for these muscles

2. Your upright row is probably going to be 2.5 times what you use for your external rotator exercise, making this a prime way to rip your shoulders apart.

The next time you do your upright row, feel when your upper arms stop moving up and stop there. You will be able to use a weight that is appropriate for your shoulders, and you'll reduce your risk of shoulder injury.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Proper Range of Motion Part 4: Seated Cable Row

Whether in an innocent attempt to get full range of motion, or in an attempt to cheat the exercise using glutes and lower back, this exercise is often done incorrectly.

In strict form, the body shouldn't sway at all during a seated cable row. With feet braced against the platform, the only part of you that should move are your arms.

Experienced lifters will occasionally do a cheat set in which they bend at the waist, getting an accelerated start that allows them to use higher weight.

1. This is used only occasionally with the knowledge that it is a cheat

2. This should only be done by experienced lifters who can handle the weight without tearing a bicep or letting their back bow

Your lower back should never bow. It should be flat, or curved slightly back depending on your personal anatomy, and it should stay that way throughout.

Final: Upright Row

Friday, August 31, 2007

Web Fitness: Stress

Stress is ever-present and increasing in modern life, and it's slowly killing us. Luckily for the fitness fanatic, exercise is as powerful an anxiety reducer as many medications. My September column for Kansas City Wellness Magazine is about the stress-reducing benefits of exercise and how it works. Here are some of the resources I used in writing it.

Stress: It's Worse Than You Think

“We may respond to stress as we do an allergy. That is, we can become sensitized, or acutely sensitive, to stress. Once that happens, even the merest intimation of stress can trigger a cascade of chemical reactions in brain and body that assault us from within. “

Stress: Unhealthy response to the pressures of life

“Instead of protecting you, your body's response to stress, if constantly activated, may make you more vulnerable to life-threatening health problems.“

Is Stress Making You Fat?

This article is really an excerpt from a diet book, but it has some good information.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Proper Range of Motion Part 3: Lat Pulldown

The mistake men make with this exercise is using too much weight with too small a range of motion, and using the legs to assist by rising out of the seat at the top of the movement. The tendency with women is to use too little weight and go through too great a range of motion at the bottom of the movement.

At the top of the movement, your lats should feel a stretch going deep into the muscle. It is possible to allow the lats to stretch fully while keeping a very slight bend in your elbows if you concentrate and practice. At the bottom of the movement, if your palms are faced away from you (pronated), and if you stay perfectly upright, the bar shouldn't go down much past your chin. At that point, the lats are fully contracted. If you want to go past that point, you can lean back slightly, which would allow you to pull the bar to your upper chest.

*You shouldn't lean back at the beginning to accelerate, or cheat, the movement.

If you can pull the bar down further with an upright posture, you are rotating it down with your shoulders. Using light weight, concentrate on using only your lats and biceps and see where the bar stops, then continue downward movement by rotating your arms down. See what I mean? I've seen people doing this to the extent that the exercise looked like a lat pulldown into a tricep pushdown.

This probably won't hurt your rotator cuff, which is strong in that direction, but it could. You don't need to exercise your rotator in that direction, only the reverse direction, which is much weaker.

The main issue is that if you are able to rotate the weight down, then it's not nearly enough weight. Your lats and biceps are much stronger than your rotator cuff, and if you are using a weight with which the tenth rep of the set is tough, you simply can't make this mistake. Up your weight. Lat pulldowns are for strength and muscle building, not cardio.

Lat Pull Down demonstrated at

Next: Seated Cable Row

Monday, August 27, 2007

Proper Range of Motion Part 2: Leg Press

A few years ago I met an enthusiastic young man just starting out lifting. He carried a book containing different exercises around the gym with him, studying form between sets. Consequently, he had excellent technique for most exercises.

Somehow, the topic of leg press came up one day. For building practical strength throughout the body, the leg press is inferior to the squat and deadlift, but for raw leg power, nothing beats it. Without the need to balance, you can throw every bit of strength into it, and while squat won't increase your leg press, leg press will allow you to improve your squat more quickly. However, this is one exercise that the young man avoided.

It made his lower back hurt.

This confused me for a long time. It wasn't until I watched a trainer on Fit TV demonstrating the leg press that I understood: too great a range of motion!

The man on television, a very well paid trainer with his own program, said that at the bottom of the exercise, the thighs should touch the chest. Consequently, his lower back rolled away from the seat.

Unlike the squat or deadlift, the leg press isn't a good core-building exercise. With your butt pressed firmly into the corner of the seat, there is little pressure on your lower back, probably just enough that your lower back is flat against the seat, unlike in a bench press where your shoulder blades and glutes would be the two points on the bench. You are able to handle massive weights because your lowerback isn't involved. What would happen if all that weight were suddenly transferred to your lower back? Pain or injury.

That's exactly what happens when your lowerback rolls off the back of the seat.

Your lower back is then suddenly between the 2 points of contact: your upper back against the seat, and your feet suspending many hundreds of pounds above you. And it's supporting all that weight in a curled position.

You'd never purposefully curl your back under a squat or a deadlift, because no one goes looking for a spine full of herniated disks. But you'll frequently see descriptions of the leg press in which the lifter is tacitly encouraged to curl their spines under twice the weight they can squat.

So when should you stop the negative portion of the movement? Your knees should be at approximately a 90 degree angle at the bottom. It is impossible to give the exact angle because of several determining factors:

1. The position of the seat back. Largely because your hamstrings attach across two joints, the knees and the hips, the lower you lay the back down, the further you'll be able to lower the weight without straining your lower back. However, it will also increase the chance you'll be squeezed out the back of the machine like a slippery bar of soap.

2. The flexibility of your glutes and hamstrings. How well can you touch your toes? This is a great indicator of how far you'll be able to lower the leg press sled.

With practice, you'll be able to feel when your lower back is going to roll up off the seat. Then you'll be able to leg press safely.

Dominant body builder Ron Coleman leg pressing 2300 pounds, for reps

Next: Lat Pulldown

Friday, August 24, 2007

Weekly Web: You Can Control Your Body's Age

Recent studies have shown that a large part of what has been long considered the natural physical decline of old age is the result of a sedintary lifestyle. The young body has a greater tendency to stay healthy despite poor health habits. Age will make those habits catch up with you.

I read an article years back about a 70 year old man whose bench had slipped down to 300 pounds. I decided that's who I wanted to be at 70. That's when I knew weight training would be a lifelong activity for me.

Fountain of youth: LB suits up for Sul Ross State after 37-year wait, 6 years before Medicare
Mike Flynt, age 59, is going to play college football again. Yeah, he probably has great genes, but he wouldn't be in the shape to attempt what he's about to if it hadn't been for a lifetime of healthy habits.
"People have asked me, `Mike, what is the fountain of youth?' Well, it's strength training that builds muscle, increases bone density and burns calories," he said. "It's the one thing you can do in your 90s and benefit from."

Swimmer Torres Makes Triumphant Return at 40
When a person can be a contender for the Olympic swim team at age 40, it shows that we've gotten to a point where we know how to keep people at a physical peak far past the age we previously assumed. Another example is the current UFC heavyweight champion Randy Couture. He is 44 years old, and defending his title tomorrow night.

Entropy - The Disuse Syndrome
This article gives examples of athletes who've used exercise to slow their physical aging. One of the most impressive is 75 year old competitive bodybuilder Kelly Nelson. Kelly didn't start weight training until age 52! She's the first to say she's living proof it's never too late to start.