Tag Archives: weight training

12 Days of Fitness: Day 4 – 10 Fitness Myths That Need to Die

(This is part 4 of a 12 part series to provide you with some helpful health and fitness tips over the holiday season)

A New Year means more people come to the party and with them they carry on believing in old views about fitness and weight loss. Science gets ignored and myths prevail. Good results sometimes require debunking bad ideas. Far too many enter the New Year with old ideas. They still believe fitness myths that were probably debunked years ago. The following are 10 myths that live on because their friends, coworkers, family members, and popular media continue to endorse them.

  1. Lifting weights makes you bulky. To be fair, my industry has come a long way in dispelling this one. But you’ll still get people, particularly women, who believe three-pound weights will build a lean, toned physique while anything heavier will likely lead to tighter pants. There are literally mountains of science-backed benefits linked to resistance training, like improvements in strength, mood, anti-aging effects and metabolism. Look it up. I’m not lying.
  2. The key to results: Eat a lot less and exercise a lot more. This one is so widespread. It’s convincing because it’s only partly true. You do need to be mindful of what you’re eating and for many that simply means eating a lot less. And most likely you need to exercise more frequently. The trick is not to tackle both at the same time, especially not at full speed.
  3. Keto is the best diet for weight loss. Another year, another diet. Just in the low-carb category, we’ve gone from Atkins to South Beach to Paleo and now to Keto. We could create separate timelines for everything from low-fat to vegetarian to fasts and cleanses. Do you see the ridiculousness? With each new fad, we learn yet again that no single diet is right for everyone, while some aren’t a good idea for anyone. When it comes to a lot of these popular diets, most people don’t completely understand the challenges of a particular diet. Stop following blind faith and believe in good ol hard work!
  4. A good workout burns a ton of calories. As someone in my industry who I admire, Gray Cook says, “First move well, then move often.” Burning calories is a byproduct of your physical activity. It will happen. But labeling any workout good or bad by the number of calories burned and you’re not getting the idea. You generally don’t burn a ton of calories in a workout. In fact, unless you are monitored with gas exchange equipment, it’s a best guess.
  5. Cardio is the only way to lose weight. Visit any gym on any day in January and you’ll be hard-pressed to find an open treadmill, elliptical, stationary bike, or stairclimber. It’s a sure sign that the general public still believes cardiovascular exercise is the premier way to drop pounds. After all, a cardio machine keeps a running count of the calories you’ve burned, like exercise is a video game and the goal is to get the highest score. Of course cardio exercise can burn a lot of calories. But there’s a catch: You have to do a lot of it.
  6. Stretching will loosen tight muscles. Humans evolved to move, not spend long hours sitting. We sit at our desks at work, on our couches at home, and in cars. The problem with traditional stretching is that it only pulls on a given muscle, with no consideration for the mobility or stability of the joints surrounding it. A more practical approach: improve range of motion and joint function.
  7. Big muscles are built with big weights. Bigger muscles are typically stronger, and stronger muscles are typically bigger. But the science of muscular hypertrophy is actually more nuanced. Load is just one of the major drivers of hypertrophy. You also need time under tension, which is achieved with moderate to high rep ranges and controlled movements, and volume. The more total sets and reps, the greater the training effect.
  8. Every workout needs to be all-out. Never judge the quality of a workout by how fast your heart is racing or how much you are sweating. What’s even more dangerous is going full throttle when you struggle with less than 50%. Learn to progressively increase workout loads and how beneficial it is to cycle your workouts.
  9. Deadlifting hurts your back, and squatting is bad for your knees. The only people who believe this are those who have never done either exercise properly. The squat and hip hinge movement patterns are vital for health and performance. The best training programs include multiple examples of both. You will receive greater benefit from either or both exercises, than skipping them altogether.
  10. Hiring a personal trainer will fix everything. For so many, contracting a personal trainer is a get-out-of-jail-free card. It means you can cheat on your diets, skip workouts, do whatever you want, etc. After all, you hired a trainer, and that should be enough, right? Don’t you wish. Having an experienced trainer, not some glorified cheerleader, for you will be the one stop solution to getting everything and more out of your fitness journey.

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

See you tomorrow for Day 5 of the 12 Days of Fitness!

Just in case, here’s what you might have missed:

Day #16 Tips for Avoiding Holiday Weight Gain
Day #2 – Cholesterol Myths You Need to Stop Believing
Day #3 – Festively Fit: Staying Fit Over the Holidays

 

 

 

12 Days of Fitness 2017: Day 10 – 10 Weight Room Mistakes

(This is part 10 of a 12 part series to provide you with some helpful health and fitness tips over the holiday season)

The weight room doesn’t have to be your nemesis. A well-structured strength and conditioning plan can help anyone, male or female, build strength, power, endurance and durability that will pay massive dividends. But a handful of costly weight room mistakes can sabotage your efforts. Here’s a list of 10 common mistakes I see many people make while training.

  1. Skipping a Warm-Up

One of the most costly mistakes often happens as soon as you walk into the gym. If you skip your warm-up, you miss out on an opportunity to improve mobility and flexibility, and you increase your chance of injury. A proper warm-up should:

  • Raise the body’s core temperature
  • Mobilize and stabilize joints such the hips, shoulders and ankles
  • Preview movement patterns you will use in your workout (e.g., Squats, Lunges, etc.)

Don’t be the guy or gal who does a few arm swings and toe touches and thinks you’re ready to go. Do yourself a favor and take 3 to 5 minutes to perform a thorough warm-up. That means foam rolling, mobility drills and a few light sets of your first strength exercise to get your body ready.

  1. Performing Too Many Isolation Exercises

Life requires fluid, full-body movements. So why on earth would you spend time in the gym working one body part at a time? Instead, pick multi-joint strength movements like Squats, Deadlifts and Push-ups, along with powerful exercises like Jumps, Sprints and Throws. In fact, put them together to build unparalleled explosiveness with post-activation potentiation.

  1. Never Deloading

Many “meat heads” pride themselves on pushing to the brink of exhaustion, but always teetering on that line can halt your progress. Every once in awhile, you need to take a step back to take two steps forward. Deloading is a planned training period during which you don’t work quite as hard, thus allowing your body and mind to recover so you can keep getting stronger. If you’re training hard at least four days per week, you should take a week-long deload every four to eight weeks to recharge your batteries.

  1. Training to Failure Too Often

Your workouts should build you up, not break you down. There’s no faster way to leave yourself feeling broken down than training to failure too often. Luckily, you don’t have to train to failure at all to get bigger and stronger. As a general guideline, always leave one or two good reps in the tank at the end of each set. You’ll recover faster and still make progress. A surefire way to avoid training to failure is to pick the right number of sets and reps for each exercise. Big, heavy exercises like Squats and Deadlifts lend themselves to fewer reps and more sets, while lighter exercises like Push-Ups and Pull-Ups work best with more reps and fewer sets.

  1. Wearing Improper Footwear

Did you know that what you wear on your feet can have a huge impact on how you move? Your workout footwear can greatly enhance—or reduce—the effectiveness of your exercises. For example, wearing running shoes to Squat or Deadlift is a common mistake. The soles of running shoes are cushioned to reduce impact while jogging. But when you’re lifting a heavy barbell, you want a solid heel so you can produce force into the ground. The squishy soles of a running shoe reduce stability and limit how well your legs produce force. Instead, opt for a flat-soled shoe or a heel-elevated shoe with a hard sole.

  1. Sacrificing Form for Weight on the Bar

As fun as it is to throw around heavy weight, you need to remember that it nots how much you lift, but how you lift it. Lifting heavy weight is one of the fastest and most effective ways to become stronger, but never at the expense of proper form. If you get hurt in the gym, all your efforts were for nothing. Be sure to take the time to master the technique before loading  exercises with heavy weight. Train under the guidance of a certified coach or trainer whenever possible, and use spotters when appropriate.

  1. Doing Too Much Cardio

Cardiovascular endurance is certainly important but doing a whole bunch of cardio just to do cardio isn’t going to cut it. Always know and understand the “why’s” to your workouts, not the blind allegiance to a particular method.

  1. Not Doing Enough Cardio

On the other hand, doing no cardio at all is a bad idea. Even though most of us need strength and power more than we need endurance, it’s a costly mistake to ignore aerobic conditioning entirely. That’s because all recovery is aerobic in nature. Your oxidative energy system is responsible for regenerating ATP, the body’s main energy source. Intense exercise requires lots of ATP, and if your oxidative system is poorly developed, you’ll take a long time to recover.

  1. Neglecting Unilateral Exercises

Big lifts like the squat and bench press are fantastic strength movements, but make sure you follow them up with unilateral exercises like lunges and rows to reflect the one-sided nature of life.

  1. Not Putting Your Phone Away

A lack of focus will derail anyone’s workout, and nothing does that faster than a smartphone. When you walk through the gym doors, your only priority for the next 60 to 90 minutes should be about getting better. Nothing on Facebook or Instagram will help you lift more weight or get more explosive. To avoid distractions, use a notebook instead of your phone to track your workouts. If you use your phone to listen to music, arrange a playlist ahead of time so you’re not fidgeting with your phone mid-workout to find a song you like.

See you tomorrow for Day 11 of the 12 Days of Fitness

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

 

Just in case, here’s what you might have missed:

Day #1 – Top 10 Reasons Why People Don’t Exercise
Day #2 – The Dangers of Dieting
Day #3 – The New Rules to Strength Training
Day #4 – How to Stay in Shape When You’re Busy
Day #5 – How Natural is “Natural Flavoring”?
Day #6 – Understanding Food and Nutrition Labels
Day #7 –  Minimalist Fitness
Day #8 – 7 Common Myths About Fat Loss
Day #9 – The Food Pyramid: The Demise of the American Diet

 

 

12 Days of Fitness 2014: Day 9 – 10 Fitness Lies You Tell Yourself

(This is Part 9 of a 12 part series to provide you with some helpful health and fitness tips over the holiday season)

mariahdolan_image_mariah01Some people like to think that they can talk themselves out of corner when in reality most times they talk themselves right into a corner. It happens in numerous scenarios in life but none could be a greater an example of when it comes to health and fitness. There are those who think they know it all or better than everyone else and then there are those that no matter what the laws of physics or thermodynamics say they are exempt. Here is my list of the top 10 fitness lies people tell themselves that either make them feel good about what they’re doing or keep them from ever reaching their goals.

  1. I know how hard I’m working by how much I sweat. Sweat will never be a valid indicator of exercise intensity. Sweat is a healthy and normal response to physical activity as it’s the body’s way of keeping cooled off from rising body temperatures. But everyone has different sweat rates and while no sweat is bad, more isn’t necessarily better.
  2. The more I work out, the faster I’ll see results. Exercise quality will always trump exercise quantity. The notion of “if little is good, more must be better” regarding exercise often gets more people injured, burned out, and blaming exercise for their lack of results rather than accepting that consistent and gradual progress will win out in the end.
  3. I’ll start working out as soon as I lose this weight. Huh? It should be seen the other way around – ‘I’ll start losing some of this weight once I start working out.” While weight loss shouldn’t always be the goal of exercise, it is a very nice side effect. Exercise (physical movement) has a seemingly endless benefit to us in so many ways that there’s really no reason to not do it.
  4. I can eat whatever I want because I exercise. You might have a need for more fuel depending on the intensity of your workouts, but just because you exercise is never a license to eat whatever you want. It’s a destructive mentality that in the long run will bite back.
  5. If I’m not sore the day after my workout, I didn’t train hard enough. Muscle soreness isn’t and should never be the goal of any exercise program. Day after or second day soreness is usually the result of a new exercise, new movement pattern, new muscle fiber type recruitment, heavier resistance, new mechanical stress, etc. that manifests itself as micro-tears in the muscle at the cellular level. Healthy? Yes, and quite normal. But success of a previous day’s workout should never be based upon it.
  6. Even though I’m still hurting from yesterday’s workout, I’ll work through the pain. Pain is the body’s way of letting you know that something’s not quite right. It might be miniscule; it might be a bigger deal, but never think you’re weak or gutless because you need to skip a day. It’s important to know the difference between pain and muscle soreness/tenderness.
  7. I’m going to work my abs incessantly to flatten my abs. Abdominal work is great and just one of many muscle groups to develop but training them will never, NEVER, flatten your stomach until you change the diet that deposits the fat on top of them. It is very possible to have very strong abs but a flabby belly. Work on your diet incessantly.
  8. I am going to pick up right where I left off with my workout. Missing a day or two is one thing. Missing a few weeks, months, or even years is a recipe for disaster. Put your ego and high school athlete mentality away and gradually work yourself back into a routine.
  9. I stick with machines to avoid injury. Injury is an assumed risk with every exercise and just because it’s a machine doesn’t make it exempt from injury potential. In fact, machine use could have a more detrimental effect on muscular coordination and development simply because most work in isolatory movements whereas the body works in multi-planar movements, but that’s a discussion for another day.
  10. I only need to do cardio because I want to burn fat. True, you can burn some serious calories doing cardio correctly but it is not the most optimal way to do it. As previously discussed, fat loss is a wonderful side effect from doing regular, consistent exercise. But cardio has benefits beyond that trump fat loss. True fat loss success come from overall systemic body fat loss through some regular, moderate to high intensity cardio exercise, resistance training, and nutritious diet.

See you tomorrow for Day 10 of the 12 Days of Fitness

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

Is Weight Training Safe for My Child?

P0211HEALTHkidweightThere’s certainly no argument that fitness is good for everyone. Conversely, fitness is not a one-size-fits-all concept either. We have different shapes, muscle fiber types, skeletal structures, joint articulations, etc. that demand that some exercises may need to be modified or at the very least progressed appropriately for certain populations. In the fitness realm, there are loads of popular beliefs that are mostly unfounded about what’s best for who and why, especially as it relates to children. This whole conundrum comes to reality when parents, coaches, or even doctors know and appreciate the value of weight training yet don’t agree to terms as to whether children have any business lifting weights regularly if at all. Whether you have children or not, it’s important to understand the hard truth about resistance training as it pertains to everyone regardless of their age.

Physiology 101

To make informed and correct decisions, you must first understand the mechanism as to how it all happens with weight training. It’s not as simple as just picking a weight or resistance up and hoping the muscle will grow and you get stronger. Without getting into the science of muscle growth, let’s just focus on the mechanics of weight training which is basically all that it is. You pick up, push, or pull a weight and the muscles involved in the movement get to work by shortening and lengthening the muscle fibers. As the muscle fibers shorten, mechanical forces act on the limbs involved and create movement. The movement is caused by the muscle pulling on the tendons that attach it to a bone. Over time, as more mechanical force is applied (either through repetition or increased load), tendon strength gets stronger. As tendon strength gets stronger, so does the area on the bone where it attaches. In time, you have a movement of a stronger muscle that pulls on a stronger tendon which creates greater bone density which ultimately stimulates growth to not just the muscle, but to the bones supporting the muscles as well. It’s a simple stress adaptation and when properly applied pays huge dividends.

The Feared Risks

All exercise is a risk. It’s a physical activity and no matter what your exercise choice or intensity, there is always an inherent risk. Weight training is no different. People assume that because there are heavy implements or cables or plates or bands that could cause some serious damage that children should be steered clear of all of that. Nonsense. The risk to children is similar to that of adults. Improper instruction, carelessness, and unsupervised weight training sessions are where the risks are. Statistically, of all recreational activities, weight training carries a lower risk of injury than many of the popular sports played today such as football, soccer, basketball, or baseball. Parents aren’t keeping their kids from playing sports. The long held fear regarding children and weight training however has been the concern with abnormal or stunted bone growth plates. There have been several cases of growth plate fractures in adolescents over the years but the common theme in those cases was the result of improper technique, excessive loading , or lack of proper instruction and supervision.  Too often, schools up to the collegiate level are ill equipped to properly outfit and staff a facility on campus and even the ones that are don’t have enough knowledge or man power to lead safe and effective programming. Home gyms can be more than adequate but again left to their own devices, children (and most adults) should not enter into a resistance training program without the proper knowledge and instruction on how to do the exercises safely, effectively, and properly.

When Is Good To Start?

An organization I’m very proud to be a part of for the past 20 years, The National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), has research proving that professionally supervised weight training programs are well tolerated by children as young as 8 years of age. Their data includes countries in which children as young as 8 years participate in advanced multi-joint lifts that require a high degree of skill. Some adults are entering into fitness programs today that include advanced multi-joint lifts and have no business doing so because they have not learned the proper skill. The benefits of properly designed resistance training programs for the youth far outweigh the risks. Since children often participate in sports or activities that are strength and power dominated, it is reasonable to expect that resistance training would enhance their performance in such activities and reduce the likelihood of injuries.

It’s All Good

There’s no such thing as a bad exercise; only the execution and implementation of the exercise. Proper instruction and progression are the keys to a safe and effective weight training program, child or adult.  Furthermore, specialization in a single sport does not provide enough movement variety for full bio motor development.   Regardless of the activity, children should be encouraged to participate in a wide assortment of fun and developmental activities; resistance training should be one of them.

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

How Many Sets and Reps Should I Do?

weight-lifting-tips-14032011We are a society obsessed with numbers, everything from scale weight, to calories; from interest rates to stock prices; from race times to batting averages. Numbers represent a uniform way to measure or measure against. It’s a universal language so to speak that is a concrete quantity of progress or regression. Problem with that is, numbers aren’t always what they appear to be nor are they always clear as to what they’re measuring has any validity at all. Case in point, the body mass index (BMI) does not take into account lean tissue mass and classifies even someone like me as being borderline obese. But weights and calories aside, one of the most confusing numbers in fitness is the number of sets and reps one is to use with their selected exercise(s). Is there a special number or magic combination? Let’s take a closer look into weight room lore.

I Lift Things Up and Put Them Down

The science of strength training is really quite that simple. You pick things (weights) up, progressively stress your muscles, add conscientious nutrition and adequate rest and hit repeat. Simple, right? If that was the case, everyone who ever lifted a weight and followed that formula would be as strong as superman (or whoever your favorite heroine may be). However, it’s a bit more complicated than that and since everyone is unique in limb lengths, muscle fiber types, sex, etc., there is no optimal number of sets and reps to get the most out of a particular exercise. Like most things in fitness, there are opinions across the board about the best way to do things and then there’s the science. Unfortunately, most have succumbed to fads, myths, and pseudoscience when it comes to following or designing a workout plan, particularly when it comes to strength training. So where did that all begin?

A History of Numbers

The famous three sets of ten reps prescribed in most commercial gym centers and followed blindly by many did not even come from a laboratory, bodybuilder or gym. It was a rehabilitation protocol created by Army physician Dr. Thomas L. DeLorme (who was also a bodybuilder) during World War II to expedite injured soldiers through an ever overflowing hospital. The concept was to get soldiers back out onto the battlefield by progressively building their strength as opposed to previous protocols that focused only on endurance. It had tremendous success and hence a program was born. Were three sets of ten reps really that magical? Were three sets necessary? Couldn’t the same be accomplished with just one set? What about all of these high rep protocols?

A Case In Futility

Since the 1940s, science has worked hard to examine the effectiveness of single set vs. multi-set training as it pertains to weight lifting. As most things with fitness, it’s not as simple as black and white, but you can usually come to an agreement somewhere in the middle. In this case, both are effective but it’s dependent on the individual situation. Can you gain strength with a single set? Absolutely. With multiple sets? Sure. For a beginner new to weights, a single set is going to show tremendous benefit, especially if performed to failure where the muscles can do no more. For small muscle groups like the biceps single set work is just as effective as multi-set training for they don’t need the volume of training larger muscle groups need to stimulate real growth. Single sets are also great when time is a factor. But like all things physical, unless the stimulus changes, progress diminishes and eventually the training needs to be adapted. Multiple sets are best for the intermediate to advanced exercisers who need more volume of training for their gains to maintain and increase, particularly athletes. The big muscle groups of the body such as the legs and back respond more effectively to larger volumes of training and for the complex lifts such as the squat or deadlift, practice and perfection of the lifts isn’t going to occur in a single set protocol.

What About Reps?

Reps, or repetitions, can best be described as a measureable goal of how many times a weight can be lifted in a particular exercise. They run the gamut of one to twenty five with the popular ranges being anywhere from ten to fifteen. Rep schemes are designed to do two primary things: increase neuromuscular control of a particular movement and focus on a particular muscle fiber type. Higher reps are great for a beginner as they help to increase neuromuscular coordination of the movement and because the weight is generally lighter in a high rep scheme is an ideal starting point to allow the muscles to adapt to the new training stimulus. Higher reps are effective at targeting Type I muscle fibers that have a high affinity for constant physical work. Lower reps allow for a great resistance to be lifted thus increasing the load and development of the muscle, perfect for the intermediate and experienced. Type II muscle fibers have a higher affinity for strength and larger bursts of work which are more effectively developed through lower rep schemes.

So What Am I To Do?

Still not exactly clear, is it? The truth is, it all works. What doesn’t work is doing the same thing, the same way, with the same weight, the same sets, and the same reps all the time. If you’re strength gains have stalled it’s not because you’ve hit a plateau; it’s because you failed to manipulate the training variables. If you’re muscles still aren’t “toned” (major misnomer; a discussion for another day), you failed to lift enough weight to stimulate the muscle. Without a proper stimulus, muscle doesn’t change much shape. If you’re muscles haven’t grown in size to your desire, you not only failed to manipulate the training variables, you also ignored the importance of nutrition and rest. Chasing cheeseburgers with protein shakes isn’t going to cut it! Exercise of all types is a physical stress and when that physical stress remains the same, so does the return on investment. There’s a time and a place to use different combinations of sets and reps but that decision is based on your goal.

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

 

 

6 Exercise Mistakes You Could Be Making 2013 – 12 Days of Fitness: Day 12

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

0709-a-wh-fitness-1847One of my favorite sayings is “That which does not kill you only makes you stronger.” I find it both motivating and powerful at the same time and it can apply to anyone in their own unique way. For me, I have always come to use it with regards to my personal health and fitness development. I seek the challenge both daily and consistently pushing the limits of my own capacity. But exercise is something that is good for me regardless and for that I will always continue to remain physically active. For others, just getting that message is tough and for those that do they often go about it blindly doing something they know is good for them without any sense of purpose. A lot of people will say “any exercise is good exercise” to which I inevitably reply, “You can always be better.” So if you’re of the fortunate number of people who not just understand the value of exercise but attempt to live it fully, here are 6 common mistakes to avoid along the journey.

  1. Stop Doing Exercise You Don’t Enjoy. And no, the excuse “but I don’t like exercise” doesn’t count here. Media and pop culture all too often and unfortunately influence what types of workouts are not only “hot” and the “thing to do” but generally have little to no scientific data to support their validity. Hence, you get a bunch of people doing something that they either 1) really don’t enjoy, or 2) get injured in the process and are back to square one disliking exercise in the first place. Find something that is not only enjoyable and repeatable, but has real value in benefiting your fitness.
  2. Doing Too Much Exercise. A difficult concept to understand because after all, exercise is a good thing, so more must be better. Wrong. In a few short weeks, thousands will hit the gym to begin working out for the first time or to get re-started (again) and the number one mistake they will make is trying to erase weeks, months, perhaps years of bad health decisions by “crash training” themselves into the ground. Too much exercise can be just as counterproductive as not exercising at all. For exercise to be effective, remember the three “P’s”: have a plan for why you’re working out and what you’re doing; have a proper progression in the amount and type of exercise you choose; have passion for what you’re doing.
  3. Not Preparing Properly. Exercise is properly defined as any physical activity you do that is above and beyond anything you would normally do on a daily basis. Therefore, preparing for a workout should take just as much a priority in the workout as the regimen itself. It is often neglected or copied blindly by doing what was always done. See my post on the importance of the warm up from earlier last month to discover the how and why it is supposed to be done.
  4. Exercising Through Injuries. Injuries happen and if you do anything long enough you’re bound to get hurt. Accidents and injuries happen and as tough as it may be at first, it’s always best to cut back and give the injury time to heal, rather than push through the pain. The alternative is developing a nagging injury that never goes away.
  5. Thinking Cardio and Strength Training Are To Be Separated. Most people have come up believing that cardio workouts were to be separate from strength training workouts. This line of thinking became so popularized that people started to forget that cardio is simply cardiovascular training. Cardiovascular training can also be accomplished at the same time as strength training. You just need to push the intensity of your workouts.
  6. Working Out Your Ego Instead of Your Muscles. A whole chain of fitness centers of which I will not name grew its entire brand from this. If you go to the gym to compete with others, you’ve already lost the point of getting exercise. In addition, if you go to the gym and are worried about what others think of you and what you’re doing, there’s a deeper issue there than simply not getting enough exercise. Don’t worry about what anyone else thinks. Work out with a weight that allows you to use proper form and move through the full range of motion. And if it’s an audience you crave, there are alternatives to stoke the ego.

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

In case you missed any of the 12 Days of Fitness – 2013, here’s a convenient link to each day:

Day #1 – Holiday Fitness Survival Guide
Day #2 – 6 Lies The Food Industry Is Feeding You
Day #3 – Can I Lose Fat Without Losing Muscle?
Day #4 – The 10 Best Fitness Apps
Day #5 – Blood Pressure: The Silent Killer
Day #6 – 7 Reasons To Stop Drinking Diet Soda
Day #7 – Is Cardio Necessary To Lose Weight?
Day #8 – Are Your Eyes Bigger Than Your Stomach?
Day #9 –  Successful Resistance Training 101
Day #10 – Can You Please Pass the Salt?
Day #11 – Still Good Enough For Us To Eat?

Successful Resistance Training 101 2013 – 12 Days of Fitness: Day 9

(This is Part 9 of a 12 part series to provide you with some helpful health and fitness tips over the holiday season)

weighttraining1As someone who has spent a lot of time in the gym, I can honestly say that no reality TV show has anything on the things I’ve seen in the weight room. There are those who think they own the gym and consequently there are those who don’t go in there because of them. The novice needn’t be intimidated or afraid though because there is a vast difference between those who think they own the joint and those who really know what they are doing. Of all the exercises that one can choose, nothing will strengthen and reshape the body more effectively than resistance training. For that reason, it’s not something to be taken lightly or time spent wasted with minimal or no results.

For Resistance Training To Be Successful….

  1. Use Proper Form – I’ve seen it all. Legs flailing, rounded backs, flared elbows, bouncing bars, etc. You aren’t doing yourself any favors using bad form. The greatest chance for injury occurs towards the end of the set when form begins to waver. Do yourself a favor and do a little research before attempting an exercise. Hire a trainer, read a book, etc.; just don’t make the mistake of trying to be so macho you injure yourself. It’s not how much you lift; it’s how you lift it.
  2. Don’t Compare to Others – I think a lot of the boneheaded mistakes people make in the weight room are ego related. They want to know how much you lifted. They’re afraid of people watching them work out. They’re afraid of doing something wrong, so they avoid it. They’re afraid of not looking very strong, so they sacrifice form for more weight on the bar. You are only in competition with yourself. Don’t compare your numbers to others. Resistance training is about personal development; there is no room for ego.
  3. Mix It Up – The body is a very adaptive machine. Do the same thing over and over again, and it will become very efficient at that movement. That sounds good, but not if you want to make progress. I used to think Mondays was international chest day because everyone would bench on Monday and with that, the same exact sequence of exercises, sets, reps, and weights. Motor neuron adaptations take place very quickly. A large portion of your strength gains are not only from muscle growth, but better motor neuron recruitment too. Change your routine up every few weeks.
  4. Take Time For Recovery – The real result of the workout comes from the recovery; the workout was just the catalyst. You grow when you rest, not when you work out. Working out tears down your muscles so that you can build them up bigger and stronger while you’re resting. If you don’t allow enough time between workouts, you’ll be limiting your strength potential come workout time.
  5. Use Compound Movements – Compound exercises involve the movements of several joints. They allow for maximum muscle fiber and motor neuron recruitment. I see this a lot in what I call “charmers”. They work their chest and arms (biceps) only with using the bench press as their sole compound exercise. They don’t do squats, deadlifts, etc. so they have nicely developed upper bodies supported on toothpicks. For 90% of fitness individuals, compound exercises will be all they need to be successful. Isolation exercises are fun but not completely necessary in most cases.
  6. Work Out With Intensity By using compound exercises, you’re already on the right path towards boosting your intensity. Recruiting a large majority of muscles forces you to work harder. In doing so, you stimulate the release of all kinds of favorable hormones that will help you build muscle and lose fat. Another even simpler way to boost your intensity is to take less time between sets and exercises. I can’t tell you the number of people over the years who take credit for spending three hours in the gym for doing 20 minutes worth of work.
  7. Chart Your Progress – You need to provide a stimulus to your muscles if you want them to grow. More weight on the bar, an extra rep, or more work in a given time, all are ways to make progress. If you went to the gym and lifted 135lbs for 10 reps, and then did the same exact thing the next workout, or even 3 workouts later, why would your body think it needs to adapt? It already has the strength it needs to perform that activity. If you want to grow, you need to better your last workout.
  8. Man (Woman) Up – If you want the result and you’re going to invest in the time and energy it takes in the gym, you better understand that your nutrition is the biggest determinant of your success, not your exercise. Building muscle requires calories, and unless you’re eating an excess of them, you aren’t going to grow much at all. And no plastic tub of powder is going to be the only solution.

See you tomorrow for Day 10 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.

 

 

Bodybuilding Vs. Weight Training

I suppose I’m at that stage in my life now where it seems almost weekly where celebrities, athletes, and other famous people I grew up with are now starting to leave us. A little over  a month ago a man that most people outside of the strength training and bodybuilding worlds would not even recognize passed away without nearly as much the attention as the “Godfather of Fitness” Jack LaLanne had when he passed in 2011. His name is Joe Weider and chances are you’ve seen, read, or at the very least heard of his publications (Muscle and Fitness, Flex, Shape magazines among others); his international bodybuilding contests (Mr. Olympia, Ms. Olympia, etc.); his lines of strength equipment and supplements.  But what people aren’t aware of is Joe Weider is credited with not only bringing the sport of bodybuilding to worldwide attention, but he is the one, if not, the only reason we have Arnold Schwarzenegger here in America.

My First Weight Set

My early lifting days involved using the kind of things that are almost en vogue today: cinder blocks, railroad ties, clothes line props, tree branches, monkey bars, small tires, etc. But once I got serious, my first weight set was a Joe Weider starter set. The barbell was metal but clothed in plastic. The plates were also plastic but filled with sand (other sets were filled with concrete). The bench was small, but adequate and had a built in rack with a leg extension/leg curl attachment. It was my first gym in the basement of my house and as I progressed into puberty, me and one of my best friends in life lifted in his mom’s garage with multiple Joe Weider sets.  What was my goal back then? To be big and muscular of course.  While I never had aspirations to join a bodybuilding contest, I liked the way I felt, the way I looked, and the fun I had lifting weights. As it turns out, fitness became my career and I still play with weights almost everyday – but I’ve advanced from the concrete filled plastic plates.

Beyond Bodybuilding

Over the years, I’ve evolved the way I train and the way I think.  The bodybuilding style of training moved to more fitness style training to more athletic style training to more functional style training and so forth.  I went from admiring the obviously overgrown and overblown physiques in the magazines to affectionately  calling Muscle and Fitness magazine Muscle and Fiction due to the extraordinary amounts of articles and advertising all funded by the supplement companies. With age came wisdom and with experience came a better way to accomplish the same task with less. As a fitness professional, I’ve seen numerous times over the years people who approach weight lifting like a bodybuilder, yet one – they don’t want to be a bodybuilder;  two, they don’t want to adopt the lifestyle of a bodybuilder; 3 – despite all that, they still expect to look like a bodybuilder. Not going to happen.  But is there a difference between bodybuilding and weightlifting?

Beyond The Science

With bodybuilding, the goal is simple – increased muscular size (hypertrophy) and definition. With weight training, you can also certainly accomplish both goals but the difference lies in the approach.  A bodybuilder will attack or train a specific muscle group (i.e.chest) or two during a training session in as many ways as possible to get as much dedicated work to the muscle group(s) as possible. An everyday exerciser going to the gym to lift weights is not going to train with the intensity or training protocol that a bodybuilder is going to train with nor should they. Why? Because they don’t want to be a bodybuilder.  They may think they do but they really don’t. Beyond the discipline of the weight room comes the discipline to the strict eating regimen and while I won’t discuss the pharmacology of bodybuilding for the purpose of this article, bodybuilding is an activity, like training for a marathon, that has specific protocols and techniques. Same holds true whether male or female.

A large majority of women still shy away from the weight training thinking it will make them look like a bodybuilder.  That couldn’t be further from the truth. Number one, most women don’t have enough naturally circulating testosterone. Number two, there isn’t enough protein that can be healthfully ingested to create such an anabolic environment in the body. Number three, most women are not going to lift the sheer amount of weight repeatedly to create such mass. Weightlifting, resistance training, or weight training, no matter what you want to call it, has a benefit to us all.

My point is this.  Weight training is a powerful, wonderful exercise with amazing benefits for both sexes. If you don’t want to be a bodybuilder, then don’t train like one.  Lift heavy, lift hard, and lift with intensity but lift with a purpose. And to Mr.Joe Weider, thank you for your ingenuity and contributions to our health and fitness community.  We will continue to carry on strong.

 

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

 

 

 

 

A Workout Of Olympic Proportions

OlympicRingsWith the London Olympic Games just about to wrap up this week, some of you may have experienced joy and elation watching our athletes compete for the gold while others may have felt sorrow and compassion for the tough defeats. (or perhaps that their normal TV programming has been put on hold.) For some however, the Olympics spark a rebirth if you will of stepping up their current fitness routine, starting a new one, or creating dreams of competing in four more years in Rio. Political opinions aside, there’s certainly a lot of good that comes from watching the Olympic games and if you feel so inspired to train or compete like an Olympian, here are some tips I can suggest to make you feel worthy of standing on the podium.

  1. Create a clear goal – It’s cliché and you hear it all the time but it’s so true and can not be avoided.  You MUST develop clear, concise, and concrete goals.  Every single one of the Olympians knew what their individual goal was and did everything they could to reach that one goal.  Anything less and you will be in an endless state of “wish I could’s”, “I tried”, and “I can’t” excuses.
  2. Train smart – Anyone can train hard and nowadays that’s what seems to attract the previously sedentary.  “I’ll just train really hard with no direction or concern for my safety and I’ll be fit in no time.” But training hard just for the sake of getting sweaty, sore, and bragging rights is far from training smart.  Training smart is knowing what you need to do, executing it properly, and understanding the principles of proper nutrition and rest.
  3. Think, Sleep, and Live Success – If you have any doubt, you’ve already conceded defeat. And to be average is just like saying you’re just as close to the bottom as you are to the top.

Designing A Champion’s Workout

What I enjoy most about watching the Olympic Games is seeing the different shapes and sizes of the athletes, the individual skills they have to perfect, and thinking about the type of training they had to endure to get to where they are.  Imagine if the Olympic athletes trained like most that workout at the health club or follow a mass produced fitness program and how they would fare. There would be no specificity to their training; no structure to their program; no specific outcomes; just a bunch of organized chaos leading to marginal if any success. Does that sound like a good idea? Of course not. So why not train or approach your exercise regime like an Olympic champion instead of just trying to be average or worse yet, just get by.

Your Training Template

Without getting real technical, the best approach is to think of your body as one complete machine where the strength is only as good as its weakest link.  Yet many only like to train or do what they like despite the fact that it yields the same result– zilch!

Let’s start with a clean slate.  First, think big, then small and what I mean by that is choose multi joint, big movements like squats for the legs or chest presses for the upper body and if there’s time afterwards, small movements like bicep curls or deltoid raises.  Second, if you’re going to change the muscle, it has to be stressed differently and progressively if you want it to change. Change the number of sets, reps, rest periods, and most importantly the weight lifted periodically to create stress that the body has to adapt (i.e. change). No matter what your goal, simply doing the same thing all the time will yield little change over the long haul. And finally, attack the movements of the body, not just mindlessly moving from exercise to exercise. A training method that I strongly believe in is known as training the four pillars of movement and it will serve as the foundation of any program what ever the goal.

Pillar #1 – Push and Pull. All of your pressing motions – chest press, shoulder press, leg press, shoulder press, etc.; moving resistance away from the body. All of your pulling motions – pulldowns, rows, curls, hamstrings, etc.; bringing objects closer to the body.

Pillar #2 – Locomotion. The simple act of moving the body from a state of rest to a state of motion.  Walking, running, jogging, swimming, etc.

Pillar #3 – Rotation. Any movement where the hips and shoulders move in opposite directions, such as swinging, chopping, twisting, and believe it or not, walking.

Pillar #4 – Raising and Lowering of Your Center of Gravity. Like the other three pillars, just as the name implies. Squats, deadlifts, lunges, jumps, etc.

A compound movement from each pillar builds the foundation of a solid program.  All the rest is simply accessory, like putting the finishing touches on a great suit.  Here’s what a sample base workout might look like:

Bench Press
40 yd sprints
Medicine ball rotations
Deadlifts

Pillars can be combined and chosen exercises are endless but the point is to train the body as if it were going to compete in the decathlon or the check out line at the supermarket.  Either way, no reason for you to not come out on top.

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

My 2012 Fitness Challenge personal update – 22,000 push ups done as of publishing time