Tag Archives: resistance training

Which Is Better – Free Weights or Machines?

Get-started-with-free-weights-for-a-better-physiqueFor the greater part of my career, I worked in gyms and thus had the convenience of being able to work out where I worked.  Every once in a while though I would visit a local competitor anonymously  to just workout without interruption but more so to see what other types of equipment they had to offer. Could there really have been much difference? Aren’t all gyms essentially the same when it comes to equipment? Cardiovascular equipment is relatively the same with a few added features and types here and there. With the exception of colors, manufacturers, or may be some slight modifications in design, free weights (plates, barbells, dumbbells, etc.) are essentially free weights. But where a lot of gyms would try to differentiate themselves would be in the amount and types of weight machines (aka resistance machines, strength machines, Nautilus, etc.). Over the years that grew into a greater, more prominent argument as opposed to just being the gym with the mostest. What were these resistance machines and were they superior to free weights?

In The Beginning

Resistance machine training has its origins dating as far back as the early 1900s, but it wasn’t until the late 1950s through the 1970s where companies like Universal and Nautilus began a movement of adding horizontal resistance by way of cables, pulleys, and cams to move weight stacks where it really took off. Nautilus became a household, generic name to describe all resistance machines when in fact Nautilus is the name of a particular company and product, much like Kleenex is used to describe tissue. The ease of their use and user friendly appeal launched a rise in their production and use through the 80s, 90s, and 2000s. But as they say, what was old is new again and despite all of the technology that has created some amazing resistances machines, free weights still reign supreme when it comes to developing muscle. Or are they?

Building It Up

The primary reason anyone should be doing resistance training of any kind (free weights, resistance machines, body weight training, bands, balls, etc.) is for the maintenance and growth of lean tissue, a diminishing factor as we age. Sure, training with weights can be used to increase muscle size, strength, and power – and those are all positive results – but at its root, it’s about being stronger against the constant forces of gravity. In that essence, any external resistance on the muscles will do. But when it comes to building quality or functional (term that is used to describe mimicking or relevant carryover to daily living) muscle, free weights are superior. Here’s why.

King of The Mountain

Aside from their Neanderthal, caveman-like reputation, free weights are unattached, free movable objects that translate well to applied human movement, much like we encounter in real life. Free weights address and simultaneously train multiple planes of movement; teach how to deal with gravity in every and all positions; and teach how to manipulate physical elements, such as inertia, momentum and impulse.  Training with free weights can do all of that and due to its strong neurological component, it sometimes can provide result within minutes!  This is a very hard combination for any training methodology to live up to or compete with. Since resistance machines are generally fixed, unnatural positions, does that make them ineffective? Of course not and for certain populations (bodybuilders, rehab patients, etc.) they can be used as mode of training that isolates a muscle and provides a different stimulus to stave off physical and mental boredom. But in the real word, no muscle works in isolation and through free weight training proper lifting technique and stabilization mechanics are gained– both very important when it comes to moving through this life.

So are free weights superior to resistance machines? Yes. Does that make them a bad exercise choice? Absolutely not. Resistance machines have become an invaluable part of the strength, fitness, and conditioning fields and are what I like to call just another tool in the tool box. Remember, there is no such things as a good or bad exercise; just the application of the exercise.

Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better.

Can I Lose Fat Without Losing Muscle? 2013 – 12 Days of Fitness: Day 3

(This is Part 3 of a 12 part series to provide you with some helpful health and fitness tips over the holiday season)

fatlargeThe #1 reason most people start an exercise program is to lose weight which unfortunately most times overlooks the other benefits of exercising. When someone says they want to lose weight they’re generally referring to losing the fat.  It’s an important distinction because losing weight and losing fat are two separate things. The goal with any type of such program should be to lose fat while maintaining and/or increasing lean (muscle) tissue mass. Inevitably due to improper training or adherence to dietary recommendations, lean tissue mass also decreases. Furthermore, fad or scheme dieting plans characteristically decrease body weight by decreasing muscle mass which is not good for long term successful fat loss. So is it possible to lose fat without losing muscle? Absolutely! It will take a little more effort than simply eating less and moving more, but the long term effect is sure winner. Here’s how.

Keep Your Calories Up

If you’ve ever began an exercise program to lose weight and after the initial couple of weeks progress stalled it’s because you’re not eating enough calories to lose weight. Contrary to what most believe, but when you go too low on calories, negative feedback survival mechanisms kick in such as a decreased metabolic rate, reduced thyroid output and lean tissue loss. Muscle becomes expendable because it burns too many valuable calories that are needed to maintain key body functions. Always better to err on the side of starting higher with your calories and then come down as needed – not vice versa.

Stimulate The Muscles

If you don’t give your body a reason to hold on to your muscle, it’s going to break it down and use it for energy. Some form of resistance training is mandatory if you want to lose fat without losing muscle. If you try dieting without any concern for muscle, you will still lose fat, but the ratio of weight loss will start shifting more towards muscle loss. As stated previously, weight loss and fat loss are not the same thing. If you want the majority of your weight loss to come from fat stores, give your body a good reason for why it should hang on to your muscle.

Keep Your Protein Intake High

Muscle is mostly made up of protein. Protein not only makes up your muscle tissue, it’s also a key component in every cell of your body. Protein is one of two essential macronutrients that you don’t want to under-consume. The amount of protein you need will vary based on many factors like your activity level and gender, but generally speaking, an intake of .8-1 gram/lb of lean body mass will be sufficient to maintain a positive nitrogen balance and prevent muscle wasting when under calorie restriction.

Don’t Run Out of Gas

Carbohydrates are stored in the muscle as glycogen where it can readily be broken down at the muscle for energy through two different pathways: aerobically and anaerobically. For short intensity activities such as lifting weights or H.I.I.T (high intensity interval training – proven to be most effective for fat loss) muscle glycogen is the primary source of energy for prolonged anaerobic activity. Without it or limited amounts, your workouts despite your best efforts will suffer. The easiest solution is to eat complex carbohydrates periodically throughout the day to build those stores.

Cut Back on the Cardio

For many people, cardio and weight loss go hand and hand. But here’s the truth – cardio exercise as you know it is not necessary to lose weight. Can you lose weight doing cardio? Of course you can. Is it necessary? No. The only thing that is necessary for weight loss is a calorie deficit. Better yet, find ways to make your strength training more intense so that you can incorporate cardiovascular training at the same time.

You don’t need to kill yourself with exercise every day of the week to get results. While you might burn a few hundred calories during your workout, you burn thousands the rest of the day just by being alive. Focus on using exercise to create a favorable metabolic environment and creating a sustainable calorie deficit through your diet to lose unwanted fat, not just weight.

See you tomorrow for Day 4 of the 12 Days of Fitness

Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better.

7 Reasons Why Women Need to Strength Train

Statistically, more women train with weights today than they did 10 years ago.  Unfortunately, the myth still perpetuates that strength training (aka resistance training, weight lifting, weight training, etc.) leads to big, bulky muscles in women and creates a masculine look instead of the sleek, sculpted feminine look that so many desire. So in an effort to recruit more ladies to a diet rich in iron, here are 7 reasons WHY women need to train with weights.  And for the guys, pay attention, because for the all the reasons it’s good for the ladies it has the same benefits for you as well.

  1. You have to lift some weights to get toned. Getting “toned” is such a catch phrase and misnomer (muscles always have tone or they wouldn’t function) but it’s essentially what women are looking for when they pick up weights. Strength training puts stress on the muscle fibers, breaks them down and then when you recover they will build back stronger. Cardio doesn’t have that effect at all.
  2. Strength training helps you lose weight. In order to lose weight one of the things you can and need to do is boost your metabolism. Strength training stimulates the nervous system and the musculoskeletal system. Muscle is a much more active tissue than fat and needs more energy (calories) to work. Strength training develops more lean muscle; more lean muscle burns more calories; more calories burned equals weight loss.
  3. The right kind of strength training won’t bulk you up. Most women have lower testosterone levels than their male counterparts so it’s pretty much impossible naturally. Muscle bulk comes from high volume of work, progressively heavier loads, protein synthesis, etc. – more than most women care or have the time for.  Instead, the focus should be on doing the same exercises as men, just at a level that’s challenging for you.
  4. Strength training is fun. Forget all about the stereotypes associated with lifting weights – the grunting, dropping of plates, banging of metal, veins popping, etc. Most of that is all for show. Strength training is hard, yes, but it can and does create more of a sense of physical accomplishment than just running aimlessly on a treadmill.
  5. Lift more to lose more. Lifting heavy weights with perfect form is primarily stimulating the nervous system so you are getting stronger without adding “size” to the muscle. Plus you burn more calories and challenge your body harder than small weights with high reps. Lifting a heavier dumbbell or dead lifting a barbell is 100 times more effective than 25 repetitions of bicep curls with iddy biddy 5 pound weights.
  6. You can get strength training and cardio training all in one workout.  Want to really change the shape of your body? Ditch the cardio exercise. Perform a 30-40 minute workout combining movements (large multi joint movements super set with smaller, isolation movements with minimal rest periods (30-45 secs tops) for a metabolic cardio effect while getting strong and lean.
  7. It is ALL about body composition. Throw the scales away. Would you rather be 130 pounds and 28% body fat (36.4 lbs of fat) or 130 lbs and 20% body fat (26 lbs of fat). Same scale weight, drastically different looking physique. It’s not always what the scale says, but instead how much fat you are packing on and how your clothes are fitting. If you are looking to lose weight, use the scale in moderation and instead get an accurate body fat percentage reading and take your measurements. Oh, and by the way, muscle does not weigh more than fat. It is just more dense but takes up less space.

You don’t have to be a bodybuilder to appreciate the benefits of strength training nor will you look like one. With the right program of exercises just a few days a week, the benefits of strength training are unsurpassed by any other exercise modality.


Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better.



12 Days of Fitness 2011 – Day 7: Four Strength Training Tips For Real Results

images (1)(This is Part 7 of a 12 part series to provide you with some helpful fitness tips over the holiday season)

Strength training, weight training, resistance training – whatever you want to call it, is an essential key component to any fitness program. Without it, there’s no way to get stronger; no way to combat the effects of gravity; no way to develop lean muscle, and on and on. But because most pick up weights for the wrong reason (“I just want to tone”) or have no idea on how to do the exercises properly (“I saw this great workout in Muscle and Fiction”), it often leads to diminished or no results.  One of the great mentors in the industry, Coach Mike Boyle, ranted in a post I read earlier this year and as with most things that Coach Boyle discusses, he’s dead on. I share it with you today whether you’re intimidated by weight training or even consider yourself a seasoned veteran.  These are great points to consider next time you pick up the weights.

Point 1 – No one ever got better lifting light weights.

Light weight is an oxymoron. A weight should be appropriate to the goal but, rarely, if ever, intentionally light. The load should be based on the strength level of the person. The reality is if you are lifting a weight ten times, numbers nine and ten should be difficult. If you can lift a weight 20 times but choose to do only ten, you are wasting your time. Period.

Point 2 – The essence of effective strength training is a concept called progressive resistance exercise.

This means that that even if the resistance may be light to begin with, it should not stay that way. I go crazy when someone tells me about the routine they’ve been doing with their eight-lb hand weights. (P.S. Call them dumbbells. Calling them hand weights is a dead giveaway that you are clueless.)  My first question is this. How long have you been doing this? Often, people respond with something like, “I’ve done this three times a week for three months.” The doctrine of progressive resistance says that the first two weeks were beneficial and that 10 weeks were wasted. It’s no wonder people stop working out.

Point 3 – Once you have passed the first three weeks of training, you should lift a weight that is heavy but allows perfect form.

Be wary, however, of another all-too-common mistake. When we say the load should be heavy, people begin to cheat. We are not encouraging cheating. Strive for perfect technique in all exercises AND progressively increase the resistance.

Point 4 – Work on basic strength in basic exercises.

If your trainer has you practicing your golf swing with a dumbbell in your hands, get a new trainer. Do not wave dumbbells around and call it strength training. Learn to bodyweight squat, learn to do a push-up. Good basic training should strongly remind you of the calisthenics you used to do in high school.

Here’s the truth. The secret is, there is no secret. If you want to hit a golf ball further, you need to get stronger.  You will not get strong lifting a five-pound dumbbell.

Thanks Coach Boyle!

See you tomorrow for Day 8 of the 12 Days of Fitness

Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better.



My Top 10 Most Useless Pieces of Exercise Equipment – #1 The Shake Weight

(This is the final in a 10 part series in which I am reviewing some of the products sold as exercise equipment, fitness solutions, etc. on infomercials, magazine ads, and cable shopping networks.  Unlike most of the ads for these products, this isn’t based on a double blind, major university backed study.  It is simply my professional opinion based on my fitness experience and knowledge in the hopes that it will save you some time, aggravation and money.)

Get Sexy, Toned Arms & Shoulders in just minutes per day using the Shake Weight!!The Shake Weight

Well, we have reached the end of My Top 10 Most Useless Pieces of Exercise Equipment.  Mind you, this list was for the gimmicks sold on TV, not the abundance of useless equipment that fills health clubs; that’s for another time. I could have created a Top 20, 50, or even 100 list of the most useless pieces of exercise equipment and it still wouldn’t have covered it all.  Aside from the equipment, such as the Hawaii Chair, the Ab Doer, and the High Tech Ride Ijoy, there are also the useless gimmicks such as the Sauna Belt, the AbTronic, and countless others that could make a book all their own. I see a new one just about every other week and as is proof from my list, abdominal gimmicks seem to proliferate the market the most.  But when I first saw the Shake Weight I thought it was a joke…really, like some kind of twisted Saturday Night Live skit. (actually, SNL did do a parody skit, click here to see video parody) To my utter amazement, the Shake Weight (over $40 million in sales) is for real.  How gullible has society become and where does it ever end?

Just For the Women

It is the fear of far too many women that resistance training will bulk them up.  It is a completely unfound fear when in reality resistance training will do more to change the shape of a woman than just about anything she will do exercise wise. There are too many factors, such as the amount of circulating testosterone, total volume lifted, rate of protein synthesis, calories consumed among other things that have to be present in order for women to show much muscle hypertrophy.  A small percentage of women have higher than normal circulating testosterone levels (yes, even women have testosterone naturally occurring in their bodies as do men have levels of estrogen in their bodies) and the grotesquely enormous muscular women got that way artificially. I have always been amused by the woman in the weight room standing in front of the mirror while bicep curling a 5 lb. dumbbell because she only wants to “tone” her arms and not get manly arms. What she doesn’t understand is that she would tone her arms more effectively and noticeably with a heavier weight done correctly to muscular failure.  This woman is the target consumer of the Shake Weight manufacturer.

By merely shaking the Shake Weight, it is guaranteed to tone, trim, shape, and flab blast the arms and shoulders through what the makers of Shake Weight call “dynamic inertia”, which is nothing more than describing the forces moving back and forth from the momentum caused by the Shake Weight’s motion.  The result: the muscles of the upper extremities (arms, chest, and shoulders) are contracting quickly to decelerate and create more momentum.  Will the muscles burn and get tired? Probably.  Will it be enough to strengthen and tone the muscles of the upper extremities? Hardly.  And yet again, the Shake Weight is sold on the promise of spot reduction (eliminating fat from a body part by working that body part) and spot toning (defining a desired muscle by working that muscle). It may work the targeted muscle, but not enough to elicit the change that is sought.

Just For the Men

The popularity of the women’s Shake Weight was so pronounced that someone at Shake Weight HQ decided it would be a good idea to promote a men’s only Shake Weight. When you watch the ads for the women’s Shake Weight it promotes toning and sculpting and not increased size and strength.  The men’s Shake Weight promotes size, definition, strength, and will build muscle.  Wait a minute.  Isn’t that what most women don’t want? Isn’t that what the men would want? What makes the men’s Shake Weight so different? Nothing, except that it’s a little bit heavier (women’s is 2.5 pounds; the men’s is 5 lbs). Hmmm. Do you see now why these things are so ridiculous? They think the average consumer won’t notice or care to notice the difference because they’re too emotionally wrapped up in why their arms are so flabby.  Well, sadly it was enough to generate over $40 million dollars in sales. May be four years of college and 16+ years of real world practical experience have taught me nothing.

Here’s My Answer to That

Wake up people! There is not one single exercise, device, supplement, or diet that is going to make you healthier or more fit than you currently are all on its own.  It requires a lifestyle; a lifestyle of moderate, consistent exercise; healthy and balanced nutrition; stress reduction and plenty of rest.  It doesn’t have to be perfect; it just needs to be better more times than not. It requires a discipline that doesn’t necessarily need to be a hardship, but it needs to be automatic.  For some, it will take more work than others, but no matter how hard the effort or path you follow, the end result undeniably outweighs the journey.  Take responsibility for your own health for ultimately in the end, you have no one to point the finger at but yourself.

My Conclusion to This Series

I hope you enjoyed this series of My Top Ten Most Useless Pieces of Exercise Equipment. I have a lot of pride and a lot of passion for my profession and it is not only my duty but my honor to educate and touch as many people as I can who seek true health, real fitness, and the knowledge they not only need, but deserve to hear.  So as I’ve ended all of my posts and til I post again….

Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better.

In case you’ve missed them, here are My Top 10 Most Useless Pieces of Exercise Equipment so far:

#10 The Jump Snap
#9 The Thigh Master
#8 The Ab Roller
#7 The Red Exerciser
#6 Leg Magic
#5 The Ab Circle
#4 The Bender Ball
#3 6 Second Abs
#2 The Ab Lounge


The 12 Days of Fitness – Day 8 – To Lift Or Not To Lift? That Is The Question

William-Shakespeare-007Strength training, resistance training, weight training, weight lifting – they all mean the same thing.  All of these terms are used to describe any exercise in which an external resistance is pushed, pulled, raised, or lowered from or towards the body.  For most, dumbbells and barbells come to mind.  But weight training could also include bands (elastic force), bodyweight, and even water.  However, no matter what you choose, it’s important you know the “why” and not the “assumed”.

It’s Not About Mass at All

Women in particular fear the words “weight” or “resistance” when it comes to training and exercise; fear that it will bulk them up and turn them into grunting Neanderthals.  Truth is, resistance training is probably the single, most beneficial exercise anyone can do, particularly women.  Mass or bulk, while certainly can be the result of resistance training, is a combination of many factors coming together.  The resistance training is just the spark, but if there isn’t enough of the other “fuel” (testosterone, proper caloric intake, cyclic training routines, etc.),  there’s no combustion to create size.  Just ask the hard gainer in the gym who’s weight trained for years and struggles to add any weight to his frame.

It’s About Form – The Human Form

“I just want to tone my muscles” is what I always hear.  Guess what?  Your muscles are always tone and there are approximately 640 of them..  Tonality correctly refers to the ability of a muscle to maintain its designed form and function, so unless you’re dead, your muscles are always toned.  The “tone” that most people are referring to is the ability to see the muscles (i.e., no blanket of fat over them).  Guess what?  Resistance training will do more to create decreased levels of body fat than any other form of exercise, no matter if it’s weights, body weight, water, – it doesn’t matter.  Building quality, functional muscle is what resistance training is all about.

So the question then becomes, how can you afford not to lift?

See you tomorrow for Day 9 of my 12 Days of Fitness.

Bodyweight Training

‘Tis the season for the flood of infomercials pushing the latest fitness craze or ground breaking piece of exercise equipment.  After the holidays have passed and the masses have made their resolution to become more fit in 2006, late night and weekend airtime will be saturated with ad campaigns designed to capture that desperate audience. The truth is, the best piece of exercise equipment you will ever need will not be found on TV.  It is state of the art, truly one of a kind, better than anything man can build, and best of all it won’t cost you a dime! In fact, it’s priceless! Sound too good to be true?  Well, look no further than your reflection because that priceless, one of a kind, state of the art piece of exercise equipment is your body.

The thought of looking at themselves in the mirror can sometimes conjure up feelings of fear, disgust, or gleaming admiration (or may be a combination of the three) in an individual. Unfortunately in society today, we tend to measure our worth through our outward appearance. But beneath the clothes and other superficial cover-ups is an intricate network of nerves that coordinate muscles, which move a system of bones and joints to create movement.  Our bodies, truly magnificent pieces of machinery, are capable of doing well more than we could ever possibly imagine.  Ever see a Cirque de Soleil show? While this is not a call to become a contortionist, there is really no other piece of equipment you need to exercise other than your body.  In fact, using the body as an apparatus for performing exercise is not a new fad or phenomenon.  It is as old as the human species itself, disguised more recently under the category of bodyweight training.

Bodyweight training, simply stated, is any exercise that involves using the body as a means of resistance, or more technically put, working against gravity.  Walking, for example, is as basic a bodyweight exercise as there is.  Problem is, too much of the population is not doing enough of it. Bodyweight training however, goes well beyond even something as basic as walking.  Some of the other better known types of bodyweight training are calisthenics, such as jumping jacks, push-ups, sit-ups, etc.  (Who would have thought that your high school gym teacher might have been on to something?); plyometrics, otherwise known as jump training, used predominantly in sports conditioning to develop quick, explosive power; yoga, an ancient but recently popularized form of bodyweight training in which the connection between the mind and the power of the body is emphasized.  Still have reservations about bodyweight training?  Think about all of our service men and women? They do not use fancy gym equipment to get in shape.  How about gymnasts or ballerinas? They too seldom if ever use more than their own bodyweight to develop greater strength and stamina.  Some consider ballerinas to be the best athletes in the world and they will not be found grunting under the squat bar! The list goes on and on.  Bodyweight training, plain and simple, is an effective means of getting in shape and as with traditional training when properly manipulated can produce considerably measurable results. How is that so?

The muscles of the body work with the levers created through the bones and joints thus creating the required movement. With bodyweight training, the movements are not used to move equipment or other exercise modalities. These movements are used to move the body against the always present forces of gravity and ground reaction forces (the work of our bodies against the weight of the earth). Unlike most traditional strength training techniques, bodyweight training is more functional and effective because it allows the individual to work in a three dimensional, or multi-planar, environment to overcome forces of gravity.  But even better than that is it does not cost you a thing. No down payments, no refinancing, no excuse for not being able to get to a gym, etc. Bodyweight training does not require special instructions, special equipment, or a specific place to do it.  So then, how did something so primal become so technical?

There are reasons too numerous too list, but at the root of the problem is that we as a population have gotten away from one of the benefits of being human, which is movement.  If a sedentary life is what we were designed for, we would have been born rocks! Bodyweight training is what our great, great, great ancestors relied on for their exercise, except that they did not refer to it as exercise.  It was their way of life.  Fancy equipment and techniques were not necessary because the land provided enough obstacles all on its own.  Bodyweight training is a return to a simpler time and is a reminder of just how state of the art, beautiful, and powerful our bodies really are.

Featured in March/April 2006 of Philly Fit Magazine