The Myth of Knees Over Toes

Oct 12 2012 |

It was way back when… during the early 1990’s when I was personal training in Houston, that an aerobics instructor friend told me that the way I was doing lunges was wrong.  And our knees-over-toes discussion ensued.

After decades of continuing to hear trainers instruct their clients to not allow their knees to go past their toes while doing squats or lunges (as if they’d dislocate their knee immediately if they did so even once!), I had shaken my head in disbelief long enough… I decided to look for the research.

I was happy to find the video below.  It shows a simple lunge.  While the movement isn’t the absolute BEST, it is correct in its simplest form.

What I discovered is that the American Council on Exercise posted the video, and their own certified “experts” and others berated them because the woman demonstrating the lunge was doing so with her knees traveling past her toes a bit.  As you can read in the linked material below, they found a need to post a followup that explained the following (I am paraphrasing, by the way):

Hey people!  We used to teach it one way.  New research in the ensuing 20 years showed that we were wrong!  So now we teach it the new and improved way!  Stop moaning about it and learn something new!

The numbers:

1978 showed that a vertical lower leg reduced shearing forces on the knee during a squat.

A 2003 study confirmed that knee stress increased by 28% when the knees moved past the toes, but hip stress increased nearly 1000% when forward movement of the knee was restricted!

So by all means, keep your knees from moving out over your toes to where it feels most comfortable and correct… but allow your hips to be stressed 1000% more in the process!  Good choice!

The impactful paragraph from the article…

It is a myth, however, that you should “never let your knees go past your toes while doing a squat or lunge.”This belief originated from a study that is more than 30 years old (1978 Duke University study that found maintaining a vertical lower leg as much as possible reduced shearing forces on the knee during a squat). The truth is that leaning forward too much is more likely what is truly causing the problem or injury. In 2003, University of Memphis research confirmed that knee stress increased by 28% when the knees were allowed to move past the toes while performing a squat. However, hip stress increased nearly 1,000% when forward movement of the knee was restricted.

Unfortunately, most people reciting the old method probably didn’t really understand what they were doing, nor why they were reciting that method.  They were just reciting something they were told.  So they probably wouldn’t be able to tell whether or not the “new” method was really better or not.  That’s why fundamental understanding is best, and essential if you’re going to try to teach someone else.

Back to my friend in Houston, and the debate that we had… She was one of those who was reciting a technique based on what she read in a book (and was told in a class), not what she experienced and adapted based on what she “felt” in her own body-in-motion.

Bottom line?  I was unable to convince her, but I was right.  I came to do lunges the correct way, intuitively, based on my own knowledge and experience, and upon my keen understanding of what correct muscle movement “feels” like.  I knew, without a doubt, that what I was doing was safe and effective, and that it was the movement that impacted the muscles in the best possible way.

But that’s the way that I found was most effective for my clients’ success in their fitness strategy… teach them to correctly FEEL what the muscles are supposed to be doing first.  Then they’ll be able to assess a new exercise, movement, or machine on their own and know whether it’s safe, effective, good, or bad, and be confident about their assessment.

The lunging video that received the negative comments… I only see a few of those comments now.

and the ACE article followup…

and a forum that referred to the ACE article along with some other links…

Weight-lifting: the ultimate exercise form

May 22 2012 |

lifting weights, if done the right way, is the ultimate way to spend the least amount of time and effort, to get the most results. Any other form of exercise could be a personal preference, but for the best return on investment of time & effort, there is no equal to resistance training!

The bottom line is that equating activities to calories is stupid. Figuring out how much you can get away with is counter productive. You need to know the most important, impactful facts and figures.

So you need to know that putting crap into your body is going to come ta price. You can get away with it sometimes, but generally, you should adopt a way of life and eating that gives the body what it needs… EVERYTHING that it needs! But nothing else. Most of the time. When your body is chiseled, detoxified, clean, pure (as practical), and overall healthy, vibrant, strong (functionally is most important), and capable of day to day action, plus maybe a little more (ok, for some of us, we want to be A LOT more capable of action! Superhero, anyone?), then you’ll probably LOOK great, feel great, and BE strong, healthy, and able to kick @$$!

Weightlifting Gloves, Straps, and Belts… Just for Show?

Jul 15 2010 |

“Manly” men think they’re for “girly” men.  My brother asked me once, “do those gloves and weightlifting belt actually do something for you, or do you just have those for show?”

I smiled.  Then I explained.

When I was asked that question umpteen times back in the day, when the “fitness craze” was just hitting full stride, I answered simply that “a girlfriend in the past had said the calluses on my hands were too rough, so she bought me a pair of gloves and asked me to wear them. “  And then I explained the other benefits.

Gloves help keep calluses from forming on your hands.  They also help you grip the bar, weights, machine handles, and everything else in the gym.  Dumbbells with knurled metal will tear your hands up, so a good weightlifting glove will save them, if not prevent calluses, completely.

While I’m at it, I may as well round out this short post by mentioning weightlifting straps, as well.  Arguments against are that your grip strength won’t be as good if you use them, because your hands and forearms won’t have to work as hard.  Well, I’ve had a disc slip in my lower lumbar when trying to get situated with 120 lb dumbbells on an incline bench.  I happened to forget my straps that day, and that was the last time I attempted to handle poundage like that without straps.  All it takes is the tiniest of miscues or slips.

Plus, you can always get another rep or three if you’re using straps on a lift that really utilizes grip strength.  Hanging wide grip chinups are a good example.  Your grip can be a limiting factor if your back is strong enough and is capable of doing more reps than your hand grip will allow.  Use straps and you can focus on your back, doing as many reps as possible that your back strength and endurance allow… not grip strength and endurance.  If I’m working my back, I want my back to fail, not my hands.  Same with every other muscle group.

And then there are weight-lifting belts.  They have their place.  For powerlifters, a necessity.  For others, depending, they can help, especially if you’re injured.  If you’re otherwise healthy and uninjured, I would suggest lifting without a weight-lifting belt, unless you’re lifting massive amounts of weight.  Then use one for those super heavy lifts, but not otherwise.  Your core, your abdominals… will work a bit more without a belt.  And your form will probably be better as a result.

But that’s just my take.  Opinions vary!    Try it both ways and let me know what YOU think!

The Basics to Health (and Fitness)

Jul 5 2010 |

The Basics? Seems like it’s always been “Eat a balanced diet, and exercise”.

The exercise part could be replaced with “lead an active lifestyle”, or “be active”, but there aren’t too many of us who are healthy, fit, and trim into our adult lives who don’t put forth at least some effort on it.

Does the following describe you?
Your body weight remains at a healthy level, your nutrition is pretty good, you’re a generally happy person who doesn’t stress much, you have fulfillment in your life, whether career, family, or whatever. And all you do is eat nutritious foods, walk the dog, play with the kids, mow the lawn, clean the house, and viola’, you’re healthy, and you look and feel great!

If so, good for you! Las Vegas has odds set at about 99 to 1 against that being you!

Unfortunately, with the obesity level in the U.S. rising to 26.1% of our population in 2008 (read the CDC obesity report), I doubt that there are many healthy people who don’t work at it at least a little. And for those of us who aspire to being very healthy, remaining young/youthful (anti-aging is the buzzword), or being very active, functional, fit, and looking the part, we either have to really enjoy the lifestyle, or work at it despite how much we wish we didn’t have to.

A Quick Note on Body Mass Index – don’t worry too much about this, but it’s good to understand it. It’s kind of out-dated, but it’s still being used.

As far as obesity and body mass index correlation, they are loosely correlated, but not absolutely.

My body mass index indicates that I’m overweight, though I am extremely fit, and my body fat level is usually below 10%.

Height: 5 feet, 10 inches
Weight: 190 pounds (my weight fluctuates between 188 and 195, while my body fat fluctuates between 7-12%, usually being roughly 8%.

My BMI, according to the adult CDC Body Mass Index Calculator:

“Your BMI is 27.3, indicating your weight is in the Overweight category for adults of your height. For your height, a normal weight range would be from 129 to 174 pounds.”

Conclusion? If you’re a sedentary person, body mass index charts are a fairly good indicator. If you have a lean, muscular physique, your BMI will be almost meaningless.

On the other extreme, the stereotypical anorexic “waif” model body type often has a higher than healthy bodyfat level, with poor health, but their BMI is “perfect”.

Ok, so back to the basics of being healthy and fit…

My take on it is this – you don’t have to kill yourself or hate the process to be healthy, fit, and energetic, and to look and feel good as well.

  • If all you want is to be somewhat fit, somewhat trim, be healthy by medical standards, and look and feel pretty good, regardless of your age, you can do so with a modest amount of time and effort.
  • If you want to be super fit, ripped, chiseled, and rock hard, super healthy, and look and feel great, you’ll have to work at it, and you’ll probably either love it, or love the results so much that you train your mind to “just do it”.

The amount of time and effort you have to put into it will depend on:

Time and Effort Factors

  • your genetics
  • your age
  • your beginning level of fitness, bodyfat, and health
  • your level of athleticism
  • your relationship with food
  • the fitness activities you choose
  • there are other factors, but they don’t matter as much

The Year Long Plan:

I’ve taken 50-something men and women who were entirely unathletic, and helped them completely change their bodies over the course of a year. They worked out 3 times/week, and gradually changed their eating habits until they were at a B- grade level with regard to nutrition.

The Fast Track to Health/Fitness:

It can be done faster, but how fast depends on a number of factors. I’ll say that 6 months is likely for many people, and 3-4 months for some.

The time frame for you depends on your goal, as well as the Time and Effort Factors listed above. But the beauty of it is that the basics are pretty much the same for everyone, while advanced goals require advanced exercise and intensity, and a more “scientific” nutritional plan. I use the term scientific because that’s what it is, but the common terms you hear are “more restrictive diet”, “eating super clean”, “a tighter diet”, or other similar-sounding terms.

Note: I will refer to the term “diet” often, meaning your day-to-day eating habits, as opposed to a restrictive caloric intake strategy to lose weight.

DIET = eating plan NOT a restrictive caloric intake strategy for losing weight

The Bottom Line:

Eating right and exercising are the prescription for good health. If you’ve neglected your body for a long time, you can start turning things around now. Just decide to start. Make a change. Start with one thing. When you’re accustomed to that, add one thing at a time, and before long, you’ll be living a healthier lifestyle. If you’re fairly healthy, but you want to improve in one or more areas, the answer is the same… just start to implement a new and improved plan. If you’re looking for a particular plan, you’ll find one that fits your needs on this site.

Go ahead, you can do it. Get started today doing something, and it will lead to much, much more.

Gut Check – Probiotics & Immune Health

Apr 24 2008 |

I have felt great lately (nothing really new), and have been cycling my carbohydrate intake, remaining lean by restricting carbs for 3.5 days and then doing a moderate carb load for about 1.5 days, training super heavy the day after the carb load, and reaping the most anabolic benefit possible from it. Then I go back to low carbs, starting the process over.

You need to know that I also had taken antibiotics for a nasty bronchial infection about 2 months ago, and after my 2nd course of antiB’s, I started taking extra probiotics to replace what had been killed. I didn’t realize that my intestinal flora was so out of whack, but taking the probiotics kept me healthy and feeling good, training hard, and living life like I had no worries. Until…

I hadn’t realized, but I had decreased the amount of probiotics I was taking, sometimes taking very little or none in a day, and maybe a small amount another day.  And when my probiotic lull coincided with my first really BIG carb load day, I started feeling a sore throat.

It took me until the next day, when I was getting sick, to figure out the probiotic/carb load connection.  My probiotic intake had decreased, but my immune response didn’t suffer as long as my carb intake was low enough.  When I overloaded on carbs – bam!  My intestinal flora went nuts… bad and ugly! And I started to get sick.

I immediately started taking much more probiotics, and I started feeling better the next morning.  I hypothesized that what was the beginning of a nasty cold was thwarted by the probiotics balancing things out quickly. A day later and I feel still better, with my soar throat entirely gone, and just a little stuffiness remaining.

Saturday – afternoon carb load begins, scratchy throat noticed Sat night
Sunday – carb loading continues, along with continued cold symptoms: soar throat, runny nose, stuffy sinuses. I began taking probiotics on Sunday evening.
Monday – soar throat has diminished some, symptoms haven’t gotten worse
Tuesday – feeling better, thinking that the probiotics are doing the trick, but won’t claim victory yet
Wed – soar throat is gone, all is well except for a little stuffiness. I decided to write this last night while laying in bed.

This experience has driven home the importance of probiotics and intestinal health. So much of immunity is affected by gut health. I’ve known this, but haven’t been reminded of it in such an extreme way before.

Today I ordered products to help kill whatever candida, bad bacteria, or yeast in my gut, and I will continue to take loads of probiotics until things are balanced again.

A quick search just yielded a couple great sources of research on probiotics and immune health…

U.S. Probiotics

Univ of Michigan Health System


Update on Feb 24, 2013

After much personal experimentation with dosage, frequency, and carbohydrate intake, as well as other variables… I haven’t been sick in roughly 5 years.  I think that probiotic intake is the easiest and quickest way to affect your immune system health (all other things being equal, and assuming relatively “normal” health).  Take a high dosage (anywhere from 30 Billion organisms to 50 to 100 Billion, it just depends on you, and you’ll find out by personal experimentation – the worst that happens if you take too many is that you get a little diarrhea) of probiotics every couple hours over the course of a day or two or three.  Your probiotic dosing can be likened to your foot on the gas pedal in your sports car… take more and it revs up your immune system, keeping your “good” to “bad” bacteria ratio balanced in your favor.

Update on May 17, 2014

Make it 6 plus years without a full-blown cold, flu, or anything else now.  I’ll post again at the 10 year mark! 😉

A TED Talks video.  Finally, probiotics are not NEW news, but this is getting GOOD now!

The gut flora: You and your 100 trillion friends:

Sex Sells It Better

Mar 27 2008 |

How to get her to “yes” in 3 seconds flat! That was the headline on the front cover. It should have said “How to get her to xxx in 3 seconds flat!” I thought for a moment and wondered why that mag didn’t have the headline “How to keep your liver from jumping out of your body!” instead. The feat would be about as likely to come true as the 3 seconds would be, and it would apply more to the healthy bod on the cover than 3 seconds would. ;-)
Ok, it was a Hard Bodz magazine, and I’m guessing by the fitness chick (oops, model) in a teenie bikini on the front cover that it’s a muscle (almost skin) mag. And looking at a couple other mags nearby, Cosmo being one, SEX, SEX, SEX was all over the covers. It just struck me that everybody’s displaying sex, selling sex, promoting sex, in order to sell their “stuff”.

Maybe just a rant, maybe something really worth discussing, not that I think it will change anything. So I’m writing this just to say it, if nothing else. I’m into female skin and sex-sex-sex just as much as the next estrogen-attracted male, but I sometimes forget that the mags are marketed with the least common denominator in mind.

Would a magazine sell if the cover said “How to keep your liver from jumping out of your body!”? Let’s try. ;-)Then follow it up with an article about the effects of drinking, drugs, pharmaceuticals and otherwise, cigarettes, and the chemical-laden junk food diet on your liver, along with a sexy photo of a healthy liver and a not-so-sexy photo of a damaged one. Would that magazine sell?

I started working out to become a better athlete. I continued to work out because of the attention from estrogen-laden females. I learned about the health benefits along the way, and continue to work out for all of those reasons and more.  Regardless of your motivation, getting strong starts the process of building muscle, and making metabolic and other changes, mental and physical, that go hand-in-hand with anything that you might be motivated by.  Stop for a minute.  Again, it works regardless of your motivation.  Strong is the new Sexy.  For your health, for yourself, and really, because it makes you the best you can be!

Gym Etiquette

Mar 18 2008 |

I’1 GYM ETIQUETTE KR 03ve been traveling a lot lately, so I wanted to let you know what the rules are if you happen to see me walk into your gym.  First, be nice and get out of my way.  I’ll be in a hurry, and I need my space.  Oh, and try not to be using equipment that I’m getting ready to use.  That really ticks me off!  And if you don’t like the sweat I leave on my bench after I’m done powering up the huge weights that I use, tough beans! Find another gym!

“Psyche your mind!” Hopefully nobody got too pissed off at me in the first paragraph.  I’m just trying to remind you of somebody you’ve come across in your gym at one time or another.  Many times it’s the hulking guys who think they own the gym, but there are plenty of “yuppie” or “pretty people” types in gyms who can be annoying also, and probably more so.

This month’s column is about gym etiquette, the do’s and don’ts in a crowded gym, and the most efficient way to manage your time to get the most out of your workout in a crowded gym. Oh, and the “psyche your mind” quote is from the movie Holy Man, starring Eddie Murphy. It was sort of a sleeper at the box office, but it’s actually a great movie. And now onto the unwritten rules of the hardcore gyms, and the written rules of the oh-so-yuppie-ish gyms.

It’s funny, but usually the friendliest gyms to work out in are the hard core gyms. Even when the big bodybuilder dudes see a small, puny guy working out, as long as they see this guy trying hard each day, and learning, trying new things, and making some progress, they’ll show him respect. It’s the guys taking up space and screwing off that they don’t relate to. But when it comes to being gross, the hardest of the hard core gyms usually has guys spitting and sweating all over the equipment, and not particularly cautious about what bodily odors they exude.

On the other end of the spectrum, you have the ultra “yuppie” gyms, that cater to the in-and-out professional, who’s there to do a quick circuit training session, or some cardio. Those are the gyms that usually have plenty of social butterflies amongst its more serious members, and those are the gyms that usually have a hundred rules about everything from spitting, to where you can stand using certain weights, and “oh, don’t move the benches”!

Depending on which type of gym you like to go to and its atmosphere, it’s pretty easy to figure out what the appropriate etiquette is for your gym. But the unwritten rules of the gym aren’t so obvious, and that’s where I’m going to help out.

To go over some of the obvious for the knuckle draggers out there, it’s best not to spit on the floor in the gym, flatulence is best saved for another place, and YOUR sweat should be wiped off of the equipment by YOU. Try to keep your moans, groans, grunts, and screaming that accompanies your “high intensity sets” to a minimum (it makes no difference anyway, accept to your ego), don’t abuse the equipment, and don’t hog the equipment.

That means throwing your weights around, letting them “fall”, or laying any weights across benches because it’s more convenient for you. The equipment wears out fast that way, and then you end up bitching about equipment that’s out of service. And don’t hog the equipment by laying your towel, water, gym bag, or whatever, on the equipment while you’re across the gym doing something else. Leave it laying near the spot that you’re working, but let others have access to the equipment without them having to stand there wondering who’s using it. Other than that, be considerate of others, and act a little bit like you would if you owned the gym, because, in a sense, you do.

And now comes the not so obvious. You should assume that people are in the gym to get an effective workout. Be polite, but do your thing. If somebody is using equipment that you want to use, don’t be afraid to ask if you can “work in”, or “grab a quick set” while they’re resting. And offer the same to others if you see them standing close by as if they’re waiting. Sometimes you’ll end up doing that exercise together and getting a great spotting partner as a result.

When I ask to “grab a quick set”, I sometimes get the response “I only have two sets left anyway”, and then they go about doing there two sets with a long enough time between sets that two others could have come and gone before being ready for the next set. It’s as if they’re afraid to get off the machine for some reason. And sometimes they’ll say that they just started, and are very defensive in their posture. OK, time to leave them alone. Just find another exercise for a few minutes. Then come back to it.

In general, people will allow you to work in with them, but if it doesn’t look like it’s practical, then come back to it later. That’s the breaks sometimes. The same goes whether you’re waiting for machines, benches, or a pair of dumbbells.

The more crowded the gym gets the more cooperative and patient you need to be. I was in the gym the other day and it seemed like somebody was always one step ahead of me to get to the equipment I was about to use. I altered my plan a bit and had a great workout.

When the gym is extra crowded, there are a few ways to deal with it to still get what you want out of your time there. Sometimes it just makes sense to find a piece of equipment to use, and park yourself there, and then do straight sets until you’re done with that piece. I usually do supersets, and it’s still possible even in a crowded gym, but not the normal way. I still park it on a piece of equipment somewhere, but I use two machines close together for my superset, or I bring a pair of dumbbells to use for the superset exercise.

If you happen to find yourself in a gym where it’s sheer madness with all the people and activity, sometimes it’s best to have a “smorgasbord” workout on that day. Just decide on a few body parts to train, and pick a few exercises for each. That way, you’ve got a lot of options in case certain equipment is in use. Just find a piece that’s free and use it, then walk across the gym and find another, and so on.

Sometimes I’ll just do a complete random workout where I pick an exercise that feels right at the moment, no matter what I did for my previous set. It’s a good change of pace, and it lets you get your workout done in case of unexpected situations.

Even though there are rude people and social butterflies who break most of the rules of etiquette in the gym, you’ll get your best workout by avoiding them, sharing with others who are serious about their workouts, and sticking to business. Think about getting that pump in your muscles, and don’t stop until you’ve got it. If you end up hating the gym you’re in, then find the gym that has an atmosphere conducive to growth, and keep pumpin’.


Body Type Training

Mar 13 2008 |

bodytypeSomebody asked me a question recently that prompted me to ask you the same question. And the question is? Have you always looked the way you do? The funny thing is that there’s only one answer to that question. Whether you look like a Greek God, or if you’re the most out of shape guy in the world, the answer is the same for all of us: of course not.

Some of the questions I’ve been asked have been related to this. I’ve been asked if I played football in high school or college, if it’s always been easy for me to stay in shape, and if I’m naturally muscular and lean. People just assume it because of my size and athletic look. And it took me by surprise the first dozen or so times because that’s not how I saw myself. Now I just sort of grin and explain that I’ve had to work my ass off to look the way I do, even though it’s much easier to stay this way than to get this way in the first place.

Even though there are a few guys here and there who are gifted enough to look like Greek Gods from the time they’re born until the time they’re 50, the vast majority of us are not. We all have individual body-type characteristics that cause us to look a certain way. But we can drastically change the way we look, countering our body’s attempt to keep us looking like the normal us.

In my case, I was a very late bloomer. If that wasn’t bad enough, I also have a body type that likes to keep things small, lean, and mobile. I don’t mind the mobile part, but I’ve cursed the rest. However, I have a propensity to stay lean, so that’s one thing I don’t have to worry much about. But my body really resists putting on muscle. And so I adopted a lifestyle to counter my body’s natural state.

I started weight training in order to put as much muscle on my bones as possible. And I’m still going like the Energizer Bunny, working out, eating right, lifting heavy, getting enough rest, and so on, for life. For some reason I don’t get bored with it. I guess it’s because I’m always setting some kind of goal. And I hate being small and scrawny.

So what’s your body-type? And do you care enough to overcome it’s short-comings? If so, I’ve got a few tips for your body-type in order to get you on the right track. There are three general body types that each of us fall into. You’re either an ectomorph (naturally skinny), mesomorph (naturally muscular and athletic), or an endomorph (naturally fat).

I’ll start with my body-type, the ectomorph. Reiterating, if you’re naturally lean, small, thin, bony, etc. you need to eat, sleep, and train your body for muscle growth. And you don’t need to worry that much about getting fat, so you can get away with eating hamburgers, pizza, and other tasty stuff mixed in with the healthy foods that you need for growth and repair.

Protein intake for a naturally ectomorphic body should be a little higher than normal if you want to grow. Training style should be heavy most of the time. Basic exercises like bench press, squats, deadlifts, and other power movements are the exercises of choice for any bodybuilder, but especially for an ectomorph. And rest, everyone should get adequate sleep, but rest days to allow the body to recover is essential for adaptation and health. Ectomorphs should take more rest days than anyone else due to our body’s “desire” to use muscle tissue for energy whenever there’s any stress.

Next up is the mesomorph, who’s body is naturally muscular and athletic, poor mesomorphs. These guys need to make sure they don’t pig out, because they can get fat if they try, and that’s about it! If they look at weights they grow, and they can usually get very lean if they try with a modest effort. Like I said, poor mesomorphs!

And then there’s the endomorph. A body-type that takes effort to overcome, but it can be done. Nutritionally, the endo needs to keep fat and carbohydrates both at a “requirement” level, and protein intake should be high. Training needs to be light to medium, with weights and cardio. But don’t overdo the cardio. The trick for an endo is to get your body composition shifted around in your favor so that it works for you instead of against you.

The endo needs to put on as much muscle as possible also, while keeping all activity in an “aerobic” state. That is, train at a quick pace, train with medium to light weights with high repetition and set scheme (15-25 reps/set for 4-6 sets of each exercise, and 4 exercises per muscle group). Weight training should be 4-6 days each week, with an hour of cardio each morning before breakfast for 6 days each week.

Well, that sums up the basics for each body-type. Which one do you fit into? We don’t all fit into nice, neat, packaged descriptions like I described, however, and that’s why I haven’t waved goodbye yet. You see, most of us are some combination of the ecto, meso, and endo body-types. Part of your body may accumulate fat easily, and you may have a muscular part or parts that stay muscular and lean no matter what, and you may have skinny something or others, too.

The strategy is to identify your natural characteristics for each part of your body, and train so that you can “mold” yourself into the perfect “you”. If you’ve got naturally muscular legs, a sunken-in chest with whimpy shoulders, and have a tendency to grow too easily around the midsection, then you should split the body into areas and train with a strategy for each. The upper body would get heavier weights, and more often. The lower body would get cardio and high rep weights with light weights, and the mid-section would get abdominal exercise along with a nutritional plan for getting lean

No matter what your body type, it usually boils down to getting lean and muscular. And then figuring out how to train so that your body looks balanced. A flowing, balanced, and healthy body that makes you feel like you’re ready for anything at a moment’s notice.

And now I wave goodbye! Until next time,


A Thirst Quenching Six Pack

Mar 13 2008 |

This month’s focus is on the mid-section”¦ or abdominals. Most of us already have good abs. If you’re an active person you probably have really good, or even great abs. Can’t you see them? Look closer”¦ if you peel away the layer of fat that resides over top of your midsection, you’ll see that you have good abs. They’re like a washboard. Some of you guys are RIPPED!

And that’s the problem. Body fat. Our abs are there. They’re what hold our guts in. When you walk, sit, turn around, stand up, or do just about anything, you are using your abs. They get a lot of work. As you age, they get weaker, and with neglect, the story changes. But for many of you, the layer on top is the problem.

How do you get rid of that top layer? Have you ever seen a fat guy at the gym doing tons of ab exercises? That’s a waste of time, so don’t do THAT. He’s definitely going to get stronger and bigger abdominal muscles from all that ab exercise, but no one will be able to see his abs! They’ll still be hidden under the flab.

The way to get rid of flab is to burn it. The way to burn it is to activate muscles, or to adjust your eating so you burn it. Your abdominals are a small muscle group compared to the rest of your body’s muscle groups, and will burn much less fat than the other groups. So instead, start doing a total body workout, and start eating better. It’s not what people want to hear, but when it comes to your mid-section, that’s the unfortunate answer.

Abdominals are very misunderstood. I should say body fat AND abdominals because they really go together. The bottom line is that you can’t make your midsection look good without getting moderately lean. It’s different for everyone, but you do have to get lean enough that the layer of fat on your midsection doesn’t camouflage your abdominal muscles. It’s easiest to just eat right, lose a little body fat, and viola! You’ll have a mid-section that looks better than if you did tons of ab exercises without changing your diet. In fact, if you work out regularly, especially with free weights, you’ve already got great abs. Whether you can see them or not is another story.

A story will illustrate what I’ve said a little better. In college I ate everything in sight trying to get BIG. My metabolism is fast, and my thyroid works very efficiently, so I was always a naturally “skinny” kid”¦ and college student, and beyond. So I ate tons of protein, carbs, and some fat in order to gain muscle, and I gained a lot over the years. My muscles were full and defined, and my mid-section was tight, but I didn’t have “washboard” abs. I figured that all I had to do was ab exercises and they’d “pop” right out like the rest of my muscles. I was wrong. They got better, and you could see them, but they never got really good.

After a number of years, I got around to changing my diet. Instead of eating tons of protein, carbs, and a little fat, I started eating high protein, moderate carbs, and moderate fat. I got ripped. Should I say that again? I GOT RIPPED. In fact, I got so lean that I had to start eating more fat so I wouldn’t lose too much weight. But the key was keeping my carb intake at the right level. Now I just balance my intake depending on how well my abs show through. And it’s healthier, too!

I realize that not everybody cares about having ultra ripped abs, but the general principles are the same whether you’re trying to get ultra ripped or trying to lose some of your “love handles”. And you’ll have a harder time trying to lose love handles than trying to make “tight” abs look like a washboard.

I haven’t meant to belabor the point, but I’ve heard too many people completely miss the mark when talking about abs.

So to sum up: If you’ve got tight abs and want to make them better, you can do so by training them. If you want to make them look really good, just lose some body fat. If you just want your mid-section to look better, then do some exercises for your whole body, including a bit for abs, and try to eat better.

Here’s some ab exercises that work well. Do a few sets of 20-50 reps a few times a week. Otherwise, do exercises for the other parts of your body. Work on getting stronger, and feeling better. If you couple that with eating better, you’ll get leaner.

Leg lifts are good. Bend your knees slightly and lift them by rotating at the hips to about 30 degrees, then lower to the floor. Doing these while face-up on a bench is extra effective.

Ab crunches. Everyone’s heard of these. Don’t pull on your neck or head. Hands on chest are a good way. Bend your knees with feet on the floor, and knees together. Try to envision your abs kind of like an accordion, and let them contract together to bring your mid-section to a slightly concave position.

Ab machines , the best are the ones that allow you to feel your contracted abs without stress to your hips, hip flexors, back, or anything else. There are a lot of machines out there, and all will feel good to one person but not another. Try them out.

Until next time! just keep getting better.


“Spring”ing into Shape

Mar 13 2008 |

Building-Muscle-ToneNow that summer is approaching, it’s time once again to get serious about looking good, if you haven’t already. Spring is the most exciting time of the year for me, because it seems like the beginning of the year to me. My senses come to life in the Spring, I think because the warmth and sun bring blooming of everything, from plant life to human activity”¦ more activity, more life and growth, and a reminder that “living” is an action.

So it’s time to get your asses up and enjoy some outdoor fun. Get in shape if you’re not, get outside, breath some outside air, soak up some sun, and tune in to your senses.

And speaking of senses, I want to tune in to “sens-ing” in this month’s column. As a perfect fit with Springtime, I’ve put together a list of exercise tips that’ll cause new sensations in your workouts. They’re some of the little things in various exercises that make the difference between “working out” and “kicking ass” in the gym. You’ll feel the difference, and you’ll make better progress as a result.

I’m always looking for better ways when performing an exercise, and when you can feel a muscle more, that usually means more control and more stimulation to the muscle. Try to be aware of what you feel during your exercises, and don’t be afraid to make slight adjustments to your form as a way of experimenting. You may discover something that works better for you individually.

I recently went through a heavy cycle of lifting, and have now gone back to some of the basics in order to make sure I don’t neglect anything, or get into any bad form habits.

One of the exercises that I’ve experimented with lately is reverse flyes, for rear deltoids. The rear delts are difficult to “feel” for most of us because it’s so easy to let the upper back assist in the movement. In order to eliminate assistance, you can move your hands up high on the handles of the flye machine.

Even if you’re using bent over laterals with dumbbells as your rear delt exercise, the idea is the same. Just use a movement that keeps your hands, elbows, and arms up about your shoulders. Try a few inches first, and experiment with different positions after that. Find the one that allows focus on your rear delts with no help from the muscles “between” your shoulder blades. Keep the weight light for starters, and make sure you’re using you’re your rear delts. That way you’ll be sure that your rear delts will get more work and you’ll make progress faster.

Another exercise that will allow you to feel a major sensation change while making a minor adjustment to your form is squats”¦ of any type. Especially any type of hack squat machine that allows you to do a movement facing the machine, which I call a “reverse” hack squat. I’ve done this movement on a hack machine before, but there are also machines made specifically for it.

Whether you barbell squatting or using a machine, the adjustment to your form is the same. Just shift your hips out, or stick your butt out, and move your stance to about six inches beyond shoulder width, with toes pointed outward. Find the stance”¦ width and foot placement that allows you to use your butt the most in this exercise.

Usually you’re trying to feel your legs most while squatting, but try this for glutes and hamstrings for a change. What you’re feeling for is the glutes doing as much of the work as possible. So tune in to the glutes, and your hamstrings and quads will get plenty of work from it also. Just focus on the glutes. And keep the weight light enough that you can completely pause when you squat down to parallel. Use the pause for a few sets, and one without, but with a heavier weight.

A final “new sensation” that I’d like to introduce you to is one that comes from modifying inclined bicep curls. This is an exercise that will make your biceps sore, and grow, if you haven’t done it this way. And I’d bet that less than 1% of you, or anybody else, have done it this way.

Adjust an incline bench to 45 degrees, and pick dumbbells that are very light compared to normal bicep curls”¦ maybe your warm-up weight. Sit back on the bench with dumbbells hanging down at your sides, and put your head all the way back. No, I mean ALL the way back, and resting on the bench”¦ and keep it there. That’s half of it.

Now, lift the weight up like usual, but when you bring the weight down, and reverse directions, do so without rotating your hands or arms. Just let the weight down slowly, and when you get to the bottom, reverse directions and squeeze the weight up again. Try some of your sets with elbows in close to your sides throughout the motion for even more isolation.

There’s three new sensations to include into your Springtime routine. It’ll kick-start your efforts, and get you into a hard-core frame of mind. Enjoy your new exercises, and enjoy your Spring. Until next time”¦


Ultra Nutrients

Mar 13 2008 |

I’ve been interested in getting healthy, strong, muscular, and lean for a long time. That has meant getting exercise of various types, eating healthy amounts of nutrient rich foods, and avoiding the crap. Oh, and it always will, sorry to say, that’s just the way it is.

I’m always on the lookout for new information on health, fitness, and nutrition, but I’m usually looking at the most practical stuff first, so I can cut to the chase. Most of the effort has been spent on finding exercise and proteins that build the most muscle, carbohydrates that give the most energy but aren’t converted to fat, and anything else in general that will keep me healthy and injury free so I can keep doing it all.

Well, it seems the latest big thing in nutrition is anti-oxidants. And so I was in a store looking for the “perfect blend”, and I came across a book on fats. Not something that I’d usually be interested in, but since the store owner came over and gave me a quick synopsis that sounded interesting, I figured I’d better read it. The book is titled “Fats that Heal, Fats that Kill”, and its author is Udo Erasmus.

I’ve never been worried too much about fat, thinking “hey, just avoid tons of crap and you’ll be alright”. I’ve called it the 97% rule. If I can do the stuff that gives me 97% of the benefits, then I can forget about the other crap that is a pain in the ass that contributes the other 3%. I thought fats were in the 3% category. I found out that they’re not. In fact, I immediately put them at the top of my list. The book is THAT compelling.

So what’s the scoop? Well, it’s the same old story about getting good stuff and avoiding the crap, with a few distinctions. Everything that grows is good, and everything else is crap! Too restrictive? Ok, here goes. Vegetables need to go up on most of our lists, green leafy stuff along with the rest, unfortunate as we may feel about it. You know, yellow, orange, red, and whatever color you can find. Protein stays where it is for me. I usually eat eggs, chicken, salmon, and steak once in a while. Carbohydrates should be limited to energy needs, as I’ve stated to you before, and hopefully come from the least processed stuff available. That would mean oatmeal, a bit of fruit, vegetables, brown rice, and the like. And then there are the fats.

The interesting thing is that nature really does take care of us. Certain essential fatty acids are required by our bodies to maintain a healthy metabolism, immune cells, and all body tissues. The fats that provide the healing are those that we as a society are most deficient in, and those that, in general, maintain the “healthiest” balance of hormone levels in our bodies. With the proper balance, our body will heal on its own.

At the top of the list are hemp oil (from the marijuana plant), flax oil, soybeans, fish, and walnuts. These give an abundance of omega 3 and omega 6 essential fatty acids. In nature we find these fats hidden inside of seeds or nuts, with tough shells that protect the fat inside from heat, light, and oxygen, which damage the essential fatty acids. That means that using oil for frying is damaging to fats, and actually turns them into fats that cause havoc in our body’s cells.

I want to include one other important point about fish oils. Some fats need other nutrients present in order to convert them into the most useful form for the body. Fish oils don’t. Find a good fish oil and it’s good all by itself. Eskimos have the least heart disease of anybody on the planet, tons of fat in their diets, but all great fish fat.

The other nutrients that have been given a lot of press lately are anti-oxidants. Among the best known are vitamins C, E, A, and the mineral selenium. There are many more. It’s been noted that the Asian cultures that consume green tea, along with the French who consume red wine from a young age, are spared of widespread heart disease. Both have the same anti-oxidants from the grapes that make the wine, and the green tea leaves.

One other nutrient that I think everyone should include in their daily intake is the amino acid L-Glutamine. It’s been linked to a healthy immune response, and research is being done pretty heavily on it to quantify things.

There’s much more to the story, but these were the most important practical points to be made.

I don’t usually do book reviews, but this is something that would have been difficult to share with you in any other way. I think it’s the best book on health and nutrition that I’ve ever read. And considering the great disparity between total crap and nutrient rich foods in the grocery stores, along with the pollution, stress, and impure air and water that we’ve grown accustomed to, as well as many other health risks out and about in today’s world, this book applies to everyone.

Until next time, just keep getting better.



Mar 13 2008 |

I hope this finds all of you feeling healthy, strong, lean, and happy. If it doesn’t, then it’s time to revitalize your commitment to getting that way, and to figuring out how to be motivated in the gym. Which brings me to a new twist to an old subject, sports supplements of the “hard core” variety, namely steroids, frequently referred to as “the juice”. Do they work? Yes! But what are you getting yourself into if you decide to use them? That’s the question that you should ask yourself before you decide to take the plunge.

There has been a wide range of reports by the news media about steroids and their effects. You hear about scientific studies that say steroids aren’t really very effective, that it’s a placebo effect, and then you see reports about guys getting tumors, cancer, or dying because of steroid use. What’s the truth? You don’t really know unless you’ve been there, or have been around others who’ve been there. I’m not pretending to give you the last word on steroids, but I will share what I know about them, and I’ll probably provide a better analysis than you’ve seen so far, but hey, that’s what I do.

I started hearing about guys on steroids when I was in college. My brother and I worked out together most of the time, and we’d see guys come back from summer break with an extra 30 pounds of muscle than they had at the end of Spring semester. No doubt about it, steroids! Sorry, but “eating extra food”, or “supplements” don’t make that kind of impact. It’s funny to see some guys grow so quickly.

I was tempted to take steroids in college, and ended up asking a high-ranking National level bodybuilder who happened to work out at my gym about steroids. He told me that he had a prescription for them from a doctor. He said that he told the doctor that he was either going to get them off the street, or he was going to get a prescription for them so he could be monitored by the doctor. Given that choice, the doctor gave in.

So this guy goes on to tell me about the precautions he took, the routine monitoring of his blood pressure, cholesterol level, and other blood chemistry fluctuations that are side effects of steroid use. After about 30 minutes of hearing about the good and the “not so good” steroid side effects that he’d experienced, I left with a conviction that personally, it wasn’t worth the potential risks. But that’s just me.

I’m not dead set against steroid use. I just know that there are risks involved. I’ve decided to stick to the natural way, and to be happy with whatever the results are.

Back to the heart of the subject, and to the first real question:

Do steroids work?

Yes, without a doubt. If anyone tells you differently, they don’t know what they’re talking about. Steroids are chemicals that enhance your testosterone levels, and other male hormone levels. More testosterone equates to more muscle. But there are many types of steroids, each with varying effects.

What are the side effects of steroids?

I’ll split this category into two parts, those side effects that are desirable, and those that aren’t.

Positive effects – The desirable side effect is that you’ll grow more muscle, if you work out. Some steroids promote muscle growth more than others, some affect body fat, some don’t, some make your muscles harder and tighter, some make you hold water, bloating you, and the list goes on.

The most important factor in all of this is that each person is different. Each of us is our own little chemistry lab, with internal variables that are different from one another. It’s sort of like alcohol, in that people have varying experiences with different types of alcohol, different amounts, etc. Some people get drunk easily, some don’t. Some people are mean drunks, some are happy drunks, some get sick when they drink certain types of alcohol.

It just depends on the individual body chemistry makeup, which includes genetic makeup, as well as how healthy you are, what you eat, drink, and so on. Steroids are the same way. Add to this each person’s psychological and emotional makeup. It all makes a difference in which side effects you’re going to experience, and to what degree!

Negative effects ““ Not everyone experiences these similarly, and if you’re looking in a Physician’s Desk Reference you’ll see every side effect EVER experienced due to steroids, because that’s the way the research is done, and reported. But, for most guys who take steroids, they experience physical and psychological changes, again, with varying degrees. The physical effects are higher blood pressure, higher cholesterol, and associated triglyceride levels, which are related to heart disease, liver and kidney stress, which permanently alters functional capability, and acne (very unsightly in some cases).

The psychological effects are related to aggression, irritability, and so on. Oh, and when your testosterone levels increase you can also expect another side effect, Your sex drive may change. Sometimes you get hornier and sometimes not, sometimes you get hornier for a couple weeks and then your sex drive decreases due to your body’s compensation to the steroids.

The overall effects of steroids can be summarized quite simply. Most people have heard about the associated risk factors of being a male, that is, the “manly” requisite of having testosterone pumping through your veins. When you elevate your testosterone levels “naturally” or “pharmaceutically”, the risk factors are elevated also. It so happens that your natural testosterone levels don’t fluctuate nearly as much, no matter how diligently you go about it, as when you take steroids.

Now that you know the effects, what’s the answer? That’s for you to decide.

Some people have reported that steroids were a great experience, and others have cursed them due to their regretful experiences with them. I know of guys who’ve ABUSED steroids for years, and they seem to be healthy. The problems tend to occur about ten or so years down the road. That’s when heart problems, kidney failure, or liver damage cause serious problems to surface.

It’s funny that I know a guy and girl couple who took them in their early 20’s, and refer to their experience as really cool, but they don’t take them any longer, and won’t. And they’re still in their late 20’s.

I’ve known guys who took steroids in college for a year or two, got bigger, and then lost it all once they decided that their “bodybuilding” days were over. These guys seem to be fine health-wise as far as they can tell, but most of them have turned into “ultra health conscious” fanatics. Who knows how it all balances out.

Chances are that if you take steroids for a short time, and in small amounts, you won’t have problems. But when you go off “the juice”, your body goes back to the way it was before. There’s actually uncertainty in my mind about that last sentence. Some guys are able to train so hard on juice that after they go off, they seem to keep a little extra muscle that they didn’t have before.

The best advice I’ve heard from a pro bodybuilder was that if you aspire to be a pro bodybuilder, and you can win a natural contest without ever taking juice, and you start working your way up the amateur ranks without it, then when the time is right, it would MAYBE be worth taking steroids to get where you want to go in bodybuilding. Here’s the catch: If you can’t even win a natural contest without steroids, it’s a waste of your time, and the risks are too high.

If all you’re doing is looking for a better body, then get off your ass and get it. Chances are that taking the easy route will give you some momentary glory, and sooner or later, the steroid shortcut will put you right back where you started. It’s probably not worth risking your health.

Lastly, I’ll mention that if you’re contemplating using steroids, do yourself a favor and check them out as thoroughly as possible before you decide, take moderate amounts, monitor your blood chemistry, and cycle their use so your body has a chance to clean out.


Training Strategy

Mar 13 2008 |

How many of you have seen guys in the gym who seem to be wasting their time, huffing and puffing, and never seeming to make progress? It’s not always the guys trying to lose weight, either. I’ve seen guys in great shape, but a little too skinny, who’re trying to gain more size who can’t even put on an ounce, in a year. So what’s my point? There’s more to it than that.

Attaining “body beautiful” status is as much about what you do OUTSIDE the gym as what you do INSIDE the gym, and all it takes is a little thought in coming up with an overall strategy that’s best for YOU. Here’s what I mean.

Most of what you see and read about working out is just that, the process of working out. But look into the training strategy of any of the great bodybuilders, and you’ll find that sleep, rest, eating, and training schedule had as much to do with their progress as anything else. It’s all tied together, and if you can spend a little time coming up with the best strategy for YOU, you’ll see better results.

Before we get going, I want to emphasize that your strategy is to get RESULTS, so setting priorities is a must. For those who don’t have much time to think about it, let alone do your workouts, then your strategy is to do SOME exercise! Doing something is better than nothing, and 30 minutes, three times a week, is sufficient for progress and better health. And then you can build on that strategy as you go. A successful strategy can become more successful, but at least you’re moving forward, so don’t worry about taking small steps. They’re better than NO steps!

Don’t be one of those guys who figures that if you can’t duplicate Mr. Olympia’s workout, eating, and sleeping routines, that it’s just not worth it. You’ll look back in ten years (or less) and wish you’d done SOMEthing. Don’t make excuses! Just decide what you want and then make it happen, because you CAN.

The best TIME to work out is whenever you have the chance. The important thing is that you fit it into your schedule sometime, because working out at 3am is better than nothing, assuming you don’t lose any sleep as a result.

Most guys go to the gym after work, which means 5 or 6 O’clock for most of you. Physiologically, research shows some differences with regard to time of day, but there are a lot of factors that come into play. So, if you’ve got freedom to work out whenever you want, you should work out when you’ve got the most energy during the day. I’ve read studies that show mid-morning to be best for most people, but it’s an individual thing.

When I was in college, working out was as much a priority as academics, and I experimented by working out at all different times. I found that no matter what, I had the most energy, focus, and strength at around 8pm . I figured out that it had to do with the fact that my body had been “loosened up” from the day’s activities, and that my energy stores were good because I’d already eaten 4 meals to that point.

When I tried to work out at 8am , 10am , noon , or in the afternoon, I felt better as the day wore on. The mornings were the worst for me. I felt sluggish, and lacked energy.

But now it’s quite the opposite. I prefer working out sometime between 10am and early afternoon. I think it has more to do with mental energy though. If I’ve been working (my work is low-stress, and mostly done from my home office), and I work out late in the day, I find that it takes more time to get my mind clear for the workout. So I wake up around 8-10am , have breakfast, and make a few phone calls or whatever, and then I head to the gym.

It may be different for you, but again, the best thing is to figure out when you’re going to get your best workout. Try a few different times if you can, and go with what works best for you.

Once you’re getting to the gym on a consistent basis, the question is, how much working out is optimal? How many days per week and how long for each workout? Again, it’s an individual thing. Most of us will need at least three workouts each week, but probably more like four or five. If your priority is to lose weight, then more workouts are usually better, especially when you’re talking cardio. But if you’re trying to gain muscle, and your workouts are very intense, then you’ll need more rest.

Your workouts should be about an hour in duration, give or take. Mine have been taking 2 hours on ultra intense days, or when I do legs. If I’m training during a lighter phase I’ll keep the pace faster, lighter, and do a few more sets, but the workout goes quicker because I don’t need as much rest between heavy sets.

It’s smart to get in touch with your body, and learn when it needs rest by how you feel, or how your muscles feel. If I have two ultra intense workouts, one day after the next, I take a day off. If I don’t, my next workout is going to suffer, and I’m not allowing my body to heal. If you’re sore, or feel a lack of energy, take a day off. A little tightness or soreness is fine, but experiment a little, and you’ll find that more rest between workouts is usually better than less if you’re unsure.

If you’re not sure, train two days in a row, and then take a day off, and every week or so take two days off in a row. Fit your workout into an hour for starters, and adjust it from there based on your needs, and progress. If you feel great and want to string together 3 workouts in a row, then do it. If you have to work out 4 days before a rest day due to travel or whatever, then do it, but get back to your routine after that.

Equally important in creating your physique strategy is eating, and scheduling your meals. Normally, whether you’re trying to gain or lose, 5 smaller meals are better than 2 or 3 larger ones, but you have to do what you can. Protein bars can be a great thing if you can’t find time to eat, by the way.

On training days, it’s best to eat a light meal an hour before your workout, and if you work out after a large meal, just wait a little longer. The key is to not feel sluggish in the gym due to a bunch of food in your stomach. So again, go by how you feel. In college, I could eat a huge meal and work out immediately afterward. It just depends on you. Listen to your body, and make adjustments.

And now, EQUALLY as important, if not MOST important in creating your physique strategy, and LIFE strategy, is SLEEP. I heard on a news program last night about more data that shows we Americans are becoming more sleep deprived as time goes by. Studies have shown that waking up to an alarm clock is not as “healthful” as waking up naturally. Eight hours of sleep shouldn’t be considered a luxury, or wasting time, or non-productive. It’s the way the body is geared. It needs time to heal, and for the mind to do its processing. Your health depends on it.

Parenthetically, a poll was taken asking some top CEO’s about their sleep time, and most of them said that they slept at least 8 hours, and felt it was important to their success.

As for workouts, if you go to the gym feeling like shit because you haven’t had enough sleep, you may as well not be there, so go home! Basically, get enough sleep as a rule, and if you only get six hours of sleep once in a while, as a departure from the norm, your workout will go fine. Make it a habit, and you’ll be one of those guys huffing and puffing and never making any progress.

And that goes with the rest of the strategy items. Eating, sleeping, training time, and frequency, they all make an impact on your progress, as much an impact as the actual workout. Every month or so, sit down by yourself, or with a workout partner, and talk about what you’re doing, strategy-wise, covering all the areas I’ve just covered. Use it as an excuse to go have a drink and hang out without any other agenda. You’ll like your results.


If in Doubt, Train Legs!

Mar 13 2008 |

It’s time for more leg training. Stick this quote in your head and use it: “When in doubt, train legs”. After all, legs are usually trained less than anything else, but it’s the body part that stimulates more muscle growth, and more fat-burning than any other. So don’t be a pussy”¦ and get in there and train legs.

There are a couple of guys I see in the gym all the time training together. They’re good friends, and I’ve gotten to know one of them a little. During “gym talk” one day, I asked him about his leg training with his friend. He said that he goes to another gym to train legs, because his buddy doesn’t do legs. What? He said the guy didn’t think he needed to train his legs. He just wore long pants all the time.

There don’t seem to be many of those around any more, but I’m sure there are more than I think. So I’ll add a few words for them and for the rest of you who need a little extra push with your leg training enthusiasm.

You don’t need to have tree trunk thighs, but working legs so there’s a bit of noticeable muscle there is necessary to having a respectably balanced physique and to having that “ultra health” that you’re after. If you keep your legs strong, you’ll likely have a healthy heart, lungs, and everything else. And you won’t be as likely to need a walker when you hit the age of 60.

I don’t want to beat a dead horse, but I’ve already gone this far”¦ When you stop walking, that’s when everything else starts to deteriorate. I worked for six months in an old folks nursing home when I was in college. The second most amazing thing to me (the first was how poorly the staff treated the residents) was how quickly the health of the patients deteriorated after they were put in wheelchairs”¦ to make it easier on the staff. Fifty year olds who could walk fine were put in wheelchairs most of the time, and within a few months they couldn’t walk if they wanted to. And after that, their health went downhill faster than you could imagine.

If you don’t train legs because of the “high” it gives you, then I want you to train them to avoid future pain and suffering. If your legs are strong, everything else will be, too! And from a bodybuilder’s point of view, it speeds your metabolism up the most because your legs carry so much of your muscle. And because of the amount of muscle involved, there’s a larger growth hormone releasing effect with working legs. If you haven’t heard, growth hormone is the key to youth. It starts to decline naturally as we age, but intense muscle exercise keeps it higher and balanced with the rest of our body’s hormones.

Now to the exercises”¦ a few of the newer things that I’ve been doing lately to stimulate growth.

Especially if your legs aren’t a strong point, try a new approach. Use light weights, and use super strict form, with full range motion. It will stimulate your legs to grow, and you’ll like the workout more. That is, if you hate working legs because you feel like shit during your workout, then try the super-light, full range method for a while.

Do any of your favorite leg exercises with very light weight, and with full range motion, but here’s some new ones for you to try.

Warm up with slow leg extensions, really squeezing the quads at the top. Do 4 sets, adding weight each set. You’ll be ready for what follows, and you’ll feel blood in your legs right off the bat.

One legged leg presses – Sit in a leg press machine. Use no weight at first, then add small amounts until you get to a comfortable starting point. Find a foot position on the platform that allows you to feel your quad work the most. Experiment! Start somewhere near the middle, but shift it around and find the spot that lets you really feel it work. Perform 12 reps with one leg, then switch. Add weight if it feels too easy.

Hack Squats – You won’t see many guys doing it this way. Again, start with very light weight, or none at all. Stand with heels near the bottom of the platform, heels together, and toes pointed out at 45 degrees. Let your knees track out in line over your toes as you descend. Go down all the way until you “bottom out”. Your hamstrings will touch your calves, and that’s as far as you can go. If it’s light weight, this won’t be difficult, or a risk to your knees, but it will enable you to feel your quads work in a way that you’ve never felt before. Add weight if it feels too easy, and do 5 sets this way.

A nice variation of this is to keep everything the same except use a wide stance instead of close, and move your feet up to the middle of the platform. You’ll feel a different, but intense sensation, and inner thighs will get some work also.

Squats – This is an exercise that guys avoid for all kinds of reasons. But if you take the weight off, start with something that’s normally a warm-up weight, and squat all the way down until your hamstrings meet your calves (hamstrings”¦ I’d like you to meet my calves), pause in the bottom position for a second or two before pushing up to the starting position.

Reverse Lunges – If you’ve got a Smith machine in your gym, try these. Otherwise, they’re a bit difficult with dumbbells. Alternate legs with each step backwards. Stand upright with the bar on your upper traps, holding the bar with both hands near your shoulders. Start with your feet out in front of you so you’re leaning back onto the bar. When you step backward with one leg, the front leg will bend as if you were doing a one-legged squat. Press up to the starting position and switch legs back and forth until you do 15 reps with each leg. Perform ten to fifteen reps for each leg, and call it a set. Use a weight that lets you keep your balance, and feels like you could do 20 or so reps. Lunges make you tired, and using a weight that makes you struggle for balance should be avoided.

Happy Lunging! By the way”¦ if there’s one exercise you should do for your legs it’s regular old lunges!


Legs and Glutes

Mar 13 2008 |

If you haven’t ever experienced the feel of a great pump in your quads, butt, or hamstrings, then you’ve been missing out. When you train your legs correctly you should get “the pump” (at least a little one). Whether you’re into hard-core training or just staying in shape, “the pump” is achievable and necessary if you’re going to have really good legs.

As I’m typing, I’m thinking “ass”. It’s just the way I think it and say it, even in the gym”¦ to friends or whoever, but for some reason it’s not coming out when I type. So now that the secret’s out, please allow me to speak freely. Have you ever felt the muscles in your ass when you walk? No, really, I’m serious!

I was in college walking through campus when I had my first “glute” experience. I could literally feel my ass when I was walking. I hadn’t really been aware of my glute muscles prior to that day (gluteus maximus and minimus to be technical), but as a result of a lot of intense leg workouts, I was experiencing a new, and very unique sensation. It was a powerful feeling that took body awareness to a new level.

That’s when I knew I was doing it right, and that lunges were one of the most awesome exercises for the entire lower body. What had given me my new ass? That’s funny… “A new and improved bubble butt, and lunges can give it to you.”

OK, time to get back to serious advice for quads, glutes, and hamstrings. When you train quads doing squats or lunges, you’re working your entire lower body. These two are the best. Use them. After that, it’s pretty much up the individual to decide how to combine hack squats, leg presses, leg extensions, and their variations to round out the program. I’ll give you something to try in a moment, but first I want to finish with the basics.

Next is hamstrings. They get plenty of work from exercises that are considered quad exercises, but they often get too tired to work very hard when you get around to doing the pure hamstring exercises. Every other leg workout, or every third leg workout, do hamstrings first. It’ll be more difficult doing quads afterward, but that’s ok. Just use lighter weight for quads if you need to, and realize that it’s part of the plan. Doing it this way will give your quads a little break, and will give your hamstrings your maximum effort on a consistent basis.

And finally back to glutes. Your glutes will get worked when you do squats, lunges, and straight legged deadlifts. Just be aware of your ass when you’re doing squats and lunges. Try to use it equally to assist in the exercise. If you do your lunges first in the workout, or second after squats, your quads will work more and your glutes less. If you do lunges last, after quads have been fatigued, your ass will be sore the next day. Its good to do it both ways, but do lunges at the end of the workout most of the time. And lastly, if you perform one or two light sets of lunges every time you’re in the gym, you’ll get that “ass” awareness I mentioned earlier. It won’t be too much work for your legs. Just do one or two sets of 10 reps for each leg, and that’ll do it.

Here’s what I want you to try for a couple weeks on leg day. Start with Squats, then do Reverse Hack Squats on the Hack Squat machine, then leg extensions, then lunges. For hamstrings perform let curls on the lying leg curl machine, then perform seated or standing leg curls, and then straight legged deadlifts. Do 3 sets of 10 reps of everything.

If you know what supersets are, you can make this workout more effective by supersetting hamstrings with your quad exercises. Just alternate a set of hamstrings with each set of quads.

Now get busy and grow some legs and an ass.

Tips for performing Reverse Hack Squats and Lunges

Reverse Hack Squats – Just turn around in the machine, keep your feet close together and near the bottom of the platform. When you lower the sled, bend your knees and stick your butt out a bit, and find the position and posture that gives you the most tension in your quads. This is a great quad isolator. Performing these after a set of entensions is a killer.

Lunges ““ Alternate legs with each step onto the floor. Stand upright with the barbell on your upper traps, holding the bar with both hands near your shoulders. Step forward with one leg, letting the other leg bend at the knee while remaining relaxed. Push off with the front leg to starting position. Change legs, wash, rinse, and repeat. Perform ten to fifteen reps for each leg, and call it a set. Use a weight that lets you keep your balance, and feels like you could do 20 or so reps. Lunges make you tired, and using a weight that makes you struggle for balance should be avoided.


Lagging Muscle Groups

Mar 13 2008 |

shoudlers_mainSome exercises feel great when you do them and some feel uncomfortable and awkward. Have you ever wondered why? It’s no surprise that the exercises that feel great lead to muscles that look great and exercises that feel awkward lead to muscles that don’t. The trick is to figure out how to get the awkward-feeling muscles into the great-feeling category.

The good news is that you can make any body part one of your favorites if you want. You may still have that body part that responds quicker and better, but you can turn an “awkward” body part into one of your favorites that feels great during workouts. It’ll take consistent work no matter what, but I’ll give you a method to try that will work if you give it a little time. Then I’ll share a “shoulder experience” of mine with you that took my shoulders from being an awkward muscle group to a favorite.

Every now and then you’ll see some guy who has one great body part that really stands out, and the rest of his body doesn’t quite match. The rest of him just seems normal. “Normal” for being in great shape, that is. I’ll bet he loves to train that muscle group, and he feels great when doing it.

Every guy usually has a favorite body part that he loves to work out in the gym. If you haven’t found yours, it’s there somewhere on your body, so go to the gym and find it! If you’ve found yours, or when you do find yours, you’ll know the feeling. It responds better that the rest of your muscles, it feels great when doing exercises for that body part, it feels strong all the time, and it looks better than the rest.

Sometimes those “ultra” responsive body parts are a result of genetics (thank your parents in that case), and sometimes they’re a result of working out more, harder, or learning about the exercises for it first. Whatever the case, it would be nice if all muscles responded that way.

What about the muscles that don’t respond like your “favorites”? It’s likely that you’ve had a muscle group that doesn’t seem to feel right when working out no matter what you do. Some exercises always feel awkward for you, but other guys seem to be doing great with the same exercises. The cause for this one is”¦..who can guess? Either genetics (you can BLAME your parents in that case), or you learned how to train that body part AFTER the rest, and it never quite caught up. Most of the time a neglected body part doesn’t catch up until you make it THE priority.

In order to make a lagging muscle group a priority, you’ll need to train it first in your workout. Whether you do total body workout three days a week or a four-day split, you’ll put your “awkward” muscle group first in the workout. And if you work out different body parts on different days, you just need to put your new priority muscle group at the beginning of the cycle. So not only is it first in the workout, but it’s the first workout of your weekly routine, whatever type of split routine it is.

Pick two or three exercises that give you the best feeling of control over your lagging muscle group. Then pick any order, but perform your sets with a very light weight that you can “man-handle”. The key is to over-do the “strictness” with which you perform the exercise, and exaggerate the squeeze in the contracted position, holding it for a long count where you concentrate on the feel in the muscle while you squeeze the muscle. The weight will end up being about half the weight you could otherwise do, just to give you an idea.

Performing the exercise this way will force the muscle to adapt without allowing another muscle to compensate for it. You may not have felt like any other muscles were helping out, but they probably were. Continue the same way for three sets, using the same weight if you can. If you lose that super contraction ability, then lower the weight a notch for sets two and three. Your muscles will get tired doing it this way, they will adapt so that, in time, you’ll be doing the same weight that you were using before. The difference will be that the “target” muscle will actually be doing most of the work, and you’ll be able to feel it like you should.

This method can give you the answer to transforming your so-so muscle groups into favorites. But if it doesn’t…. don’t despair. Keep hunting for an exercise that will give you that feeling your muscles love, and you’ll know it when you feel it.

An experience that I had with my shoulders had a solution even a bit trickier than the one I explained. So I’m including it here as an example that there are always exceptions to the rule and as an exercise to try that you probably haven’t seen anyone do before. I don’t know if it’s a great exercise for anybody else, but it is for me, and I think it’ll be useful for everybody. Biomechanically it’s a sound exercise that works the shoulder mostly, but involves the upper back muscles and triceps quite a bit.

I was going to say I got a little lucky in solving my shoulder “problem”, but actually I could have tried this exercise at any gym I’ve ever been in. So it was the fact that I persisted and continued to look for something different that would give my shoulders that “feel” that enabled me to find the answer.

The exercise involves using a cable station with the pulley at the top. I do it at a cable cross-over station, but any cable station with a high pulley should work since you need only one cable. The handle I use is just that, a regular handle for your hand. I perform a motion similar to a side lateral raise, but I have a starting point that is overhead and with my shoulder stretched and my arm pulled across my body. And I do it for one shoulder at a time.

I employed my “stretched position” ideas in finding this exercise. It starts in the stretched position, but I don’t use such a heavy weight and I don’t perform a limited range motion. You should stand with your side adjacent to the pulley and weight stack, facing perpendicular to it instead of AT the weight stack. I go full range from the start to finishing in a contracted position with the handle near my leg furthest from the cable station. I concentrate on feeling it in my rear deltoid the most, thought the medial head works also. I feel the fatigue mostly in the rear head, so I know when I’m hitting it right, and I adjust my body position until I do.

Make sure that you let the weight pull your shoulder and the back of your shoulder (the muscles in back of your shoulder that wrap around into your back) into a stretched position across your body. You can dip your shoulder down and away a bit in front of you in order to feel the stretch more, then start the movement again while trying to relax everything but that part of your shoulder. Keep the arm almost straight, with a slight bend in the elbow (in a sort of “bow-legged” arm position).

Another way to describe the motion is similar to a full backhand tennis swing, but with a starting point that’s much higher and a plane of motion that is along the front of the body. This is a bit tough to explain, but if you try it, make adjustments until you feel your rear delt doing most of the work.

Start with a light weight, and perform reps until you feel a burn or fatigue in your rear delt. Do three sets. And try this exercise first for shoulders, and then try it at the end of your shoulder exercises. Sometimes you feel an exercise better after another is fatigued, so it can’t compensate because it’s too tired.

Turning weaker, lagging body parts into stronger, responsive body parts is the answer to balancing out your physique. Making the lagging muscle group a priority, finding the exercises that work best for that muscle group, and using the right form and control in the exercise will turn a so-so muscle group into a favorite. It’s really just a matter of making the decision to do so.


An Advanced Chest/Back Routine

Mar 13 2008 |

Along the road to advanced training, you come across super-setting at some point, and chest/back super-setting is among the best. So I’m talking about chest and back this month because they’re a perfect workout combination. Before getting into the exercises, I want to give you a glimpse of how it fits into the bigger picture.

Most guys start out as a beginner doing the entire body, then graduate to upper body/lower body on alternating days, then go to a 3 day split, and so on. You keep splitting until you want to stop your progress, basically. The reason for gradually changing to fewer body parts in a workout is that your body adapts, and becomes capable of doing a hell of a lot more work than it could when you first started working out. Your muscles will need more work to get to the fatigue point, and before long your workouts take too much time, and you’re energy is gone halfway through the workout.

So you switch to fewer body parts per workout. As a result, you’ll need more workouts than before. On the advanced end of the spectrum, you’ll be doing a single body part in a workout, which means you’d need six workouts or more before you work each muscle group one time.

If you want to continue to make progress, that’s the progression you’ll go through, and beyond. Your bigger, stronger, leaner body will need more and something different to adapt to, which means more sets, or more reps, or heavier weight, or less rest between sets, or super-sets, or something else that makes it more difficult than before.

On your way you’ll find what body parts you like to group together, and particular exercises and combinations that work best or feel best for you. If you want to avoid a pitfall, don’t dig your “favorite workout trench” too deep. Before you get too accustomed to any one favorite workout, change things up. Make it feel different. Have a favorite it you want, but force yourself to get a “new” favorite every few weeks. Otherwise you’ll end up with an unbalanced physique, or worse, a body part that you don’t want to train, and dreaded workouts that suffer on that particular training day.

And now on to chest and back, which are the biggest muscle groups in the upper body, and should receive most of your attention. Don’t neglect other muscle groups, but realize that, in general, the bigger muscle groups will require more work. The smaller muscle groups get worked while the bigger ones are exercised, and they’re just smaller, so they don’t require as much to get to the fatigue point, or to the over-trained point.

Chest and back can be super-setted together, alternating a set of chest with each set of back, or done with straight sets, meaning that you do your entire chest workout before starting back, or vice-versa. With alternating muscle group super-sets, one muscle rests while the other works, and if you’re working opposing muscle groups together, like chest and back, bi’s and tri’s, quads and hamstrings, one muscle gets stretched and rested while the other gets worked. It’s beneficial to switch things up before your body gets too comfortable with a certain routine. You can use the same exercises but change the order, or group different exercises together for super-sets, etc., so it gives the muscles something to adapt to. You should be able to feel the difference.

As an example, use dumbbells for either flat or incline presses, and barbell for the other, then do flyes, pullovers, or cable crossovers for a finishing exercise. The final movement will let you squeeze the muscle even though fatigue has set in to the chest and its assisting muscles, the triceps and shoulders. You’ll be able to get the pecs to their exhaustion point this way.

If you do chest and back on the same day, you should super-set them. Otherwise, by the time you get done with one muscle group, you won’t have the energy for the other. They’re both big muscle groups and require a lot of energy to train hard, but super-sets will give both muscle groups equal energy throughout the workout. When you want to switch to straight sets with chest or back, either train it alone on that day, or group chest with triceps, biceps, or hamstrings. Triceps get some work during your chest work so they’ll get tired quickly, but it’s like you’ve already done half the tricep workout during chest, so you’re already half done with tri’s. Bi’s will be fresh, but it’s small and doesn’t require as much energy, and hams will be fresh and require more energy, but your upper body chest training has nothing to do with the legs, so you’ll feel good when you switch.

The workout:

Flat bench dumbbell presses super-setted with Lat Pulldowns (or Wide grip chin ups, if you can) – Warm up using light weights, and add some weight with each set. Keep going this way until you’re at your heaviest weight for 8 reps, and then complete 2 or 3 sets at the heaviest weight for 8 reps.

Incline Barbell bench press super-setted with Seated wide grip rows – you won’t need much of a warm up here, so start with an intermediate weight, then add a bit, and you should be at your heaviest weight for 8 reps by your third set. Again, perform 2 or 3 sets at this weight. For incline, make sure you pause with the bar briefly on your upper chest, almost at the top of the collarbone. For back, concentrate on using the upper back muscles, between your shoulder blades. Tip: The upper back is easy to neglect, so use a light enough weight that you can control with the upper back and really feel them contract. Keep your elbows and arms high and in line with your shoulders.

Pec Dec or Flye machine super-setted with Close Grip Low Pulley or Seated Rows, or T-Bar Rows – use a medium weight for your first set and then move to a heavier weight for 2 or 3 sets. Concentrate on really squeezing the pecs hard at the contraction point. You may need to use light weight to feel the pecs properly. Just find the weight that allows the squeeze. Whichever back exercise you picked here is targeting the middle back. It’s the exercise that most of us feel comfortable with. You want to use good form, but this is the exercise to cheat on if you’re going to cheat. Use the narrow grip (about 6″ apart) and pull into the ribcage to the contraction point. Hold and squeeze for a set or two, so you make sure that you’re controlling with the muscle, and then do two sets by just pulling and releasing without the exaggerated squeeze, you’ll be able to lift a little more that way. That’s the cheat part. You sacrifice a bit of form for the ability to put more stress on the muscle than you otherwise could.

If you don’t feel tired after this workout, then you haven’t worked very hard. Ease your way into performing your super-sets quickly,. A set of chest followed immediately by a set of back, and then take a minute to rest before your next set of chest. Eventually you’ll be limited by your breathing (aerobic capacity) more than muscular fatigue.



Nutrition Tip of the Week

Mar 5 2008 |

Food pyramid? Hopefully everyone knows not to follow those guidelines any more. What’s right for you? Who knows. Find out yourself. Do a little experiment. If you don’t know yet, it can’t hurt. Try more protein, less carbs, and less fat. If you don’t notice a difference in a week, try something else. Like loads of vegetables (salads and veggies), some fruit, and some fish. Maybe some vegetable soup as well. Drink more water. Pure if you can. It helps take junk out of the body, it helps with fat loss, and it is essential to everything the body does. Your body’s biochemistry depends on it. How much you need depends on your body mass.
100 lbs = 2 liters
150 lbs = 3 liters
200 lbs = 4 liters

Those are approximations, but they’re a pretty good estimate.

Fitness Tip of the Week

Mar 5 2008 |

chest_2Speed up your basal metabolic rate by increasing the activity in your muscles. Doing cardio is great, but it doesn’t affect your overall health or fitness level as much as doing resistance training with moderate resistance and 15-20 reps. Try doing a total body workout, resting only a minute or 2 between sets, and do 20 minutes of cardio immediately afterwards.Start off with 3 sets per bodypart and take it from there. Your metabolism will kick into high gear, even when you’re not in the gym, and the 20 min of cardio after your workout will be twice as effective at burning fat! And due to the quick pace of your workout, your overall cardio benefit will be much more than just those 20 minutes on the cardio equipment.


Health Tip of the Week

Mar 5 2008 |

Diet and exerciseTired all the time? Do you get enough sleep? Most people don’t. You should make it a priority. Nobody else will do it for you. 8 hours does a body good. Less than that causes faster aging, more stress, moodiness, and decreased mental acuity. And growth hormone is released during sleep, which is your ticket to staying youth and healthy. Get some sleep.