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.