The End-All Be-All for Fitness

Jun 17 2010 |

Real or hype?

You’ve seen the commercials and infomercials.  Countless of them touting this and that apparatus as the best, easiest, most effective, FUN, efficient, and all around greatest thing in the world!  Just minutes a day and you’ll be in the best shape of your life.  Need I make a list?  It will be outdated by tomorrow.

Following suit are the super-duper workouts that guarantee even greater results in the least amount of time.  Follow their plan for just 90 days, and you’ll amaze yourself and your family and friends.  Go ahead, take the challenge!

And finally, the fitness models who promote the equipment and workouts in commercials and infomercials, and even a Yoga instructor and franchise owner of a Yoga training system who promotes her system on DVDs, all have the same thing in common.  They’re misrepresenting the truth.  And that’s being nice about it.  The truth is, they get in shape one way, and they tell you they get in shape another way.  They’re trying to sell you the end-all be-all, but the way they stay fit is something entirely different.  Why?  Because the end-all be-all equipment and workout systems aren’t really end-all be-all.  Nor are they very good, at all!

The Yoga franchiser is someone I know.  And someone I’ve watched work out with a personal trainer, doing a weight training routine, for years.  And when it’s time to get in tip top shape just prior to shooting a new Yoga DVD, she hits the gym hard, working out with that personal trainer, with weights.  Not heavy weights, but a weightlifting routine that targets all the major muscle groups, just like a bodybuilder works out, with specific modifications based on a different goal.

Same holds true for the fitness models you see demonstrating the end-all be-all exercise equipment that will end up as a clothes rack or storage shelf in your house after 2 weeks.  They get in shape working out with weights, using progressive resistance, barbells, dumbbells, and heavy duty equipment designed for thousands to use every week.  And then they get paid to make it look like the equipment they’re demonstrating is effective.  You see the motion, the movement, their muscles contracting, and “wow, that looks like it really does the trick”!

But someone who is in shape, lean, and fit, and who understands how their body and muscles work, can make it look like swinging a golf club is a good workout.  They can make it look like pressing the air is a good workout.  Because they can contract their muscles in the desired way, using specific movements, it will look impressive.  And anything they’re doing at the time will look impressive.  That’s how a bag of marshmallows could look like the ultimate workout gear!

Bottom line:

Don’t buy the hype!  There’s no silver bullet for weight loss, improving your health, or fitness.  If you can’t look at a piece of exercise equipment that’s touted as the end-all be-all and tell if it really is or not, then you don’t know enough about your body and how it works, and you should start with learning the basics of exercise first.  Exercise physiology is the term, and a basic understanding of it will expedite your progress towards being healthy, fit, and knowing how to be both.

Training Strategy – It Helps To Have A Plan

Jun 15 2010 |

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.

Chest Exercise – The Bench Press

Jun 10 2010 |

This post is a timely one, because it was today that I gave some unsolicited advice to 3 young lifters (could have been in High School) who were doing flat bench press, or trying.    I was doing my workout, and noticed them at a nearby bench.  I don’t give unsolicited advice often, but once in awhile I can just tell when someone isn’t sure about what to do, and either is hoping someone will help them out, or they’d at least be accepting of help if someone gave it.

I didn’t know if that was these 3 guys, but I couldn’t continue to see them gripping the bar in the position they were.  Just wrong.  Way wrong, unless they were intending to do this exercise to get a very specific result.  I waited until the one lifting finished his set, and took a few steps over and said,

“Hey guys, are you trying to work your chest and get stronger in the bench press?  (all 3 nodded yes)   Well, if you’ll grip the bar wider, so that when your upper arms are parallel to the floor, your forearms are at about 90 degrees to your upper arms, that will give you the most leverage.  Otherwise, you’re wasting energy and strength, and not working your chest as much.”

They seemed to appreciate the advice, said they did, and were polite, anyway.  And they adjusted their grip and continued bench pressing.  I didn’t wait to watch, I just went to do another set of Back Rows.  After my set, I look over… Ooops!  I need to tell them something else.  Again, only after the one on the bench was finished with his set.

This time I started off saying, “I know unsolicited advice isn’t always wanted, but I’ve got a tip for you.  If you don’t like it, don’t use it.”  They were ready for it.

“This is the key to the bench press, getting stronger, and building your chest.  When you bring the bar down to your chest, do it under control, and pause… for a full second, but you’ll count fast, so pause for 2 seconds at first, and then press the weight up from a dead stop.  Keep tension at the bottom, but lightly rest the bar on your chest, each rep, for a full second.  You may feel weaker at first and have to decrease the weight to do it that way, but in two weeks?  Your strength will shoot up, and keep going from there, much faster than any other way.”

One of them then asked me if I was familiar with training with bands on the barbell, a method of increasing resistance as the bar is pressed up and the band stretches.  He said that he had used that method with someone before, so we chatted about the technique briefly.  They thank me, and again, I leave to do my next set of Rows.

As I walk a few steps to a Lat Pulldown machine for my last exercise, I glance over to check on their progress.  What I noticed when I glanced over was that I was going to have to give them one last bit of information.  So after my set, I approach them for the last time.

“OK, the last thing I’m going to say (smiling) – you need to find the angle that feels the most comfortable and strongest for your arms, across your chest, elbow to elbow.  If they’re straight across, you’ll probably feel the most tension, but you may feel some discomfort in your shoulders, so you may naturally drop them down at a slight angle.  That’s important.  You don’t want shoulder impingement.  So feel for good tension, but so that it feels “right”, not “wrong”.   That’s it guys, see you later.”

The bench press is the king of chest exercises, and whether you’re doing flat bench barbell or dumbbells, or incline bench barbell or dumbbells, the principles to your technique should be the same.  Grip the bar at a width that makes the angle between your forearm and upper arm 90 degrees when the bottom of your upper arm is parallel to the floor (when the bar is a few inches or so from your chest, your arms become parallel to the floor).  That’s just to establish your proper grip so the work you do benefits you fully.

The other positioning principle is for tension through the chest.  The more your arms are in a straight line, elbow to elbow, across your chest, from side to side, the more tension you’ll feel.  But the chest happens to be activated more when your elbows are tucked under a bit.  Find what feels comfortable, but where you have a good bit of tension, like a rubber band stretching, and seek that maximum tension across the chest.  You’ll feel the variation in tension if you move your arm positioning during a set.

And The Pause method is just a tip, but the most significant thing I can tell you about getting strong!   It’s the most effective way to gain strength in the bench press, it was taught to me when I was 18 and a novice.  He knew what he was talking about.  I felt like a weakling taking substantial weight off the bar in order to pause correctly, but it only took 2 weeks until I was back to my previous weight.  And my strength did continue to increase way past that.  Rock solid, real strength.  Try it!