Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Exercising when Sick?

A lot of my readers probably come here from Transformetrics since I frequently post there. One question that I see a lot is what do when sick? Should you exercise when sick or should you skip it until you're better? There never seems to be a clear answer. I'm no expert but I definetly have some thoughts on the matter based on two things that I've read.

I recently read a book that described the intense training that goes on at Fairtex Muay Thai Kickboxing Acedamy in Thailand. The training and conditioning of this famous school is intense and extreme. The students train to the point where they often have to go to the hospital for simple infections and flu. The problem is that their intense training brings their bodies to a point where they're so overtrained that their immume system is compromised. This might seem like an extreme example but it does point out something important: You can exercise too much when you're sick. It does take a toll on your body and demands recovery when you need to direct your recovery powers to fighting off an infection or other illness.

Bed rest may not be the answer. I also read a survival guide before that states that if you have an ill or injured person in a survival situation that you must find something to keep them busy. Boredom and feelings of uselessness can kill someone as fast as their injury or illness can.

My thoughts on the subject of exercising while sick are this: If you feel good enough to do it, then some light exercise won't do you any harm and it might even help. I wouldn't do anything resembling a strenuous workout though. Just do enough to relieve boredom and get a nice endorphin rush. I do exercise when I'm sick. Sometimes, I'll just do some isometrics with my hands and forearms. Anything is better than nothing.

Then again, if you just can't move, then for goodness sake, listen to your body and take it easy. Don't exercise. You're not going to melt from three missed days. Listen to your body and make choices based on what your body is telling you what to do.

My Towel Grip Pull-up Video Blog

Friday, February 22, 2008


There are certain calisthenics that make up the foundation of conditioning certain regions of the body. The lunge and squat happen to make up the cornerstone of the legs. The squats get a lot of attention thanks to the popularity of the Hindu Squat. It’s a great exercise but there is a lot to offer from the lunges too.

There are several flavors of lunges. The most well known is the forward lunge. Another great one is the reverse lunge. Rather than moving one of your legs forward, you instead lunge one backward while lowering your weight on the lead front leg. It ends up working the hamstrings on the rear legs rather than the quads on the front.

The lunge lend itself well to plyometric exercising. There are two ways that you can do this. One involves jumping up to rather than rising up. I like this one but I have a low roof so I came up with hopping up slightly and then rapidly moving the rear leg to the front. They both will make you sweat in a hurry.

Since I've been getting back in to my Brazilian Jui Jitsu, I've been interested in exercises that replicate fighting moves. What I've come up with is a reverse lunge with a knee shot. Descend down into a reverse lunge and as you come up, throw a knee with the opposite leg. Repeat this several times and then switch to the other leg. Knees force you to throw a limb against gravity. It's not easy to throw 20 of these, believe me.

Give these a whirl whenever you are exercising your legs. They are great, even if they're not sexy enough to get the attention these days.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Eating Healthy While Traveling

This has got to be one of the biggest problems many people encounter when trying to get into or stay in shape: Traveling and eating healthy. I'm not going to lie and say that it's a breeze to do. It takes some thought and some know-how. I travel a lot for work and I still manage to eat reasonably well in spite of this hurdle. I'll admit that some of the things here that I mention have some downsides but you have to look at the alternatives: Junk food.

The easiest healthy food to find on the road has go to be nuts, seeds, and peanuts. Even the most junk food-laden cornerstones and airport gift shops have them. They are loaded with protein, minerals, and healthy fats. Since they have a high fat content, they make you feel full with less fuss. Now, the fat content may be a bit of a problem so just keep the quantity marginal (an ounce or two will do). One other drawback is the salt that they throw on. Keep your eye out for unsalted or better yet, unroasted. Like I said, they're way better than candy bars and chips.

Not-from-concentrate juices are getting surprisingly easy to find. Look for ones with no added sugar. Cornerstones always have milk. In airports, milk can be tricky to get a hold of though. One option that is getting easier to find are juice smoothies. Many airports have them now. They are expensive but they are a good way to get some fruit in on the quick. Even when I can get to these beverages I still drink a lot of water. That is never hard to find.

Now, I know that you can get sandwiches and salads when traveling but I generally avoid them since they are often loaded with fatty dressings, aren't very fresh and therefore don't taste good. I may sit down for one but for anyone whose traveled, sitting is a luxury that you often don't have. Food has to be portable and quick to eat.

Ultimately, when it comes to food and travel, the 7 P's come into play: Proper Previous Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance. Bring your snacks with you. Pack raw, unsalted nuts and seeds. Dried fruit works well too. Fruit and nut bars like Larabars (Http://www.larabar.com) are great on the run. A huge advantage to packing it is that they're WAY less money than cornerstones or airports. I recently bought 10 ounces of pistachios at an airport for $14.00.

This is hardly a comprehensive guide to eating right on the road. It's just what I do. You can eat right when traveling but it's just going to take some thought. You need to ask yourself if what you're eating is good for you before you buy and consume more often than you do in your normal, controlled surroundings. It's a bit harder but it is doable.

The Pushup vs. The Bench Press

As I previously mentioned in my Perfect Pushup review, I've come across a surprising amount of information claiming that the pushup might in fact be better for overall development than the gold standard in weight lifting, the bench press. In the past half century or so, the single greatest way for a man to prove his power was to flaunt his bench press number. Now, the pushup is an exercise as ancient as civilization itself but it had, for a while, fallen out of place in serious strength training. Since you could pile on more weight than just your own bodyweight with a bench press, it has been the assumption that its superior. The pushup is merely an exercise for muscular endurance. In other words, it doesn't build power and size. So, which one is really better for building strength?

My take is a no-brainer, the pushup. However, I have evidence. Even some from people who train with and teach weightlifting. The problem with the bench press is the bench. Your upper body is immobilized on the bench. Your core doesn't do any work in order to stabilize your body. It's all done for you, and that's a bad thing. If you really want to be honest with yourself, core strength is one (if not the biggest) of the biggest sources of power, strength and health in your body. Probably more than any other part of your body, if you don't have core strength you don't have strength at all. The pushup demands it and the bench press skips it.

Even worse is the lack of recruitment of the serratus anterior. I won't go into detail when I can post a link where a guy smarter than me can explain it better.

Yet again, the pushup demands more muscular recruitment and the bench press skips over.

Geeze, isn't the bench press starting to sound like a lazy exercise yet? Still, it builds a huge chest though. Plus you can add weight and make it more difficult. Let me ask you this: Is that really a good thing? This is one of the things that many of us BW guys believe about weight lifting: all of that iron isn't good for your body. It places a lot of stress on your muscles (good) which in turn strengthens your bones (good too). It also places a lot of stress on your tendons and ligaments (not so good) and if you put too much on, it ruins your cartilage pads in between your joints (BAD).

So, if you want the maximum in overall strength and development, the bench press simply can't touch the pushup. The pushup demands less out of your pectoral major muscles than a bench press can but the bench press omits far more muscles which are critical to muscular power. Plus, you can do a pushup anywhere you want to. That is one thing that a bench press will never be able to touch.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Changing your body

I was interested at first to hear what the author of "the New Rules of Lifting for Men" had to say on my radio about women being concerned about getting too bulky from lifting weights. He did get it right by saying that weight training wouldn't necessarily make a woman bulky but he screwed it up when he said it had to do with how you trained with weights. It depends on volume and mass lifted. This is, at best, half right. This at-best-half-right advice gets repeated many, many times.

If you ever hear this from anyone talking about strength training, be it weight lifting or BW, you have before you someone who really doesn't know what they're talking about. You don't get big from the exercise that you do. You get big (or don't get big) FROM WHAT YOU EAT. The idea that you can make more muscle from the same amount of food just because you lift more weight is absurd. It's like giving you the same amount of steel and concrete that it took to make the Empire State Building and trying to make the Sears Tower. You can't make more muscle if you're not taking in more food. Matter cannot be created or destroyed. If you want more muscle, you need to eat more. If you want to lose fat, then you have to eat less. The exercise is the directive order.

If you ever hear an expert talk about body mass manipulation, be it muscle gain or fat loss, without mentioning what you eat then you know you have a hack. The truth is that your diet and exercise are inseperately linked. The sooner that you accept this basic commandment, the be quicker that you'll get results.

Be a Fitness Leader

I'm not inclined to believe a lot of fitness studies because I know biases will take over fact when the results are announced. Still, I didn't doubt for a moment the study from the New England Journal of Medicine that proved that people who hang out with fat friends and family are more likely to be fat. Food is a social event as well as a biological necessity. If everyone around you eats chips and beer, it's likely that you'll do the same. Most people function on group mentality. So it leaves the nagging question: How do you get fit if the fat people around you sabotage you?

The answer goes back to what I discussed in, "Is it Fanaticism?" This situation of social circles collectively killing themselves slowly demands a thick-skinned leader to take charge of the situation and deciding for themselves to make their health a top priority. This one person has to eat right, exercise, and take their health seriously. They have to ignore the taunts about their efforts. They have to eat right when everyone around them isn't. They have to make the time for exercise. No preaching, that is an important part. Answer questions only when asked. Give advice only to those who are serious.

How do I know this will work? I went through it. My family collectively thinks that I'm a fitness nazi. I take it too seriously, I'm too extreme, I do too much , I'm too strict with my diet, blah, blah, blah. Even if I'm all of that, I kept going, doing my thing. Slowly, they've all started to follow suit. They are all doing some sort of regular exercise. They're all making an effort to eat better. I'm not saying that the agree with me or that they are doing what I'm doing. I still hear the same remarks but I got through by example. Eventually, they'll come around. They've come farther than I thought that they would have come even a few months ago.

Be ready and go it alone. Eventually, others will follow.

Friday, February 15, 2008

How to View Diets

Recently, I lunched with some friends of mine. One of them was scouring the menu for something healthy since she had just worked out and felt like she’d be flushing all of her good work down the toilet if she ate something fatty. I agreed with her and told her that I could relate to that feeling. She told me that I don’t need to think like that. After all, I am in great shape and she’s looking to lose weight.

That reminded me of something that I read on the internet. A woman on the internet who only goes by the username, “Bunklers”, once said that getting yourself healthy and celebrating by eating junk that you’re not supposed to eat is sort of like an ex-smoker celebrating the end of a cigarette addiction by lighting up a cigarette. People just have the wrong outlook on diet in general. You do yourself a disservice by placing an S on the end of the word diet. Diets are temporary changes in the way you eat. They don’t work because they’re temporary. If you want to get into shape, you have to take the S off the word and make any changes in your diet permanent. Unless you want to gain back your weight constantly, this is what happens when your diet changes are temporary.

That isn’t to say that I never eat things that I shouldn’t eat. I certainly do occasionally (maybe once or twice a week) but am certainly doing it consistently enough to maintain a healthy physique. If you look at healthy eating as something that you’ll eventually stop doing, then be prepared to eventually fail. This hard-nose approach is the only way to guarantee success in getting healthy. My friend hasn’t learned that yet. She ended up with hot turkey sandwich on white bread with gravy for lunch (oh, and a side of french fries).

Mirror Muscles

I’ve heard a good term to describe the fitness world’s obsession with the chest, abs, biceps, and quads: the mirror muscles. If it is seen in a mirror or from the front in a camera photo, then it gets the most attention to the point where all other muscles in the body are disregarded in favor of these. Such narrow-minded approaches to fitness yield poor results in real life application for a number of reasons.

Muscular tension is responsible for creating proper alignment of the skeleton. The bones of the body don’t have directly interlocking attachments. If they did, they would lack any sort of flexibility. Instead, they are held in place by the muscles. Each muscle pulls skeletal structure in a certain way. Another is responsible for pulling the same structure in an opposite direction. For example, the pectoral major muscles of the chest pull the arms and shoulders forward in front of the body. The trapezius muscle of the upper back pulls the shoulders backwards (among other things that it does) to create an antagonistic movement. This is what creates proper posture as well as stabilizes the shoulder joints.

Well, the mirror muscle fixation causes many to disregard the trapezius completely. After all, it is on your back and nobody looks there very much, certainly not most cameras. I once saw an article in Men’s Health that reminded the reader not to forget them. It’s a small wonder why the rotator cuffs of so many bodybuilders and weight lifters blow out so often. Without proper tension between both chest and back, the shoulders lack proper stabilization. Such is one of the penalties for mirror muscle obsession.

Another, more shallow (but in line with modern fitness demands no less) reason to not neglect the non-mirror muscles is size. When we take measurements such as arm and chest size, the bulk of the size of the arms and the chest are coming from the chest and bicep. The chest measurement is mostly lat and the arm measurement is 3/5 triceps. So, fixation on the chest and biceps won’t get the biggest yields at the measuring tape. Focusing on the front, back, and sides of your body will get you the best results.

Don’t get stuck on this though. I agree that looking fit is important. I’ve stated this before. Just make the same errors that the fitness world is making. Your physical health and strength lies more in just what you see in a mirror or a camera shot. Being able to use your body properly should take precedent over merely looking like you can. Otherwise, you’ll rob yourself of the joys and inner peace of having a marvelously functional body, capable of doing anything and everything that you please.

Conditioning Consistency Wins!

I’ve said it several times before that I may be knowledgeable in matters of fitness but I’m not an expert. So, therefore, I’m not going to claim that everything I say is true. Sometimes, I’m going to state a theory and I’m not going to trot around saying that it is a fact yet. This is one of those times.

I’m a huge fight fan. I regularly watch MMA and boxing matches. Lately, it’s become popular to have behind-the-scenes shows where they show the preparation and training of the fighters to promote the impending fight. This has been the topic of many magazine articles as well. Many of the fighters training is best described as severe. Here are some of the recent examples I’ve come across:

1. Jeff Monson trained with a gentleman named Juan Carlos Santana. His intense regimen of isometrics, weight training, sled training, band workouts, and truck pushing prior to his title shot against Tim Sylvia would fatigue him so much that Santana would rehydrate him intravenously with a mild baking soda solution in order to reduce his pH so he could continue training despite the lactic acid build-up.

2. Vanderlei Silva recently moved to Las Vegas with his crew of trainers. His conditioning involved doing all his 2 hour strength training an conditioning with a weight vest, his nose plugged and breathing through a snorkel.

3. Tito Ortiz is renowned for intense, Spartan training. His training is so intense that he doesn’t consider it a training effective unless someone gets nauseated to the point of vomiting.

What do these fighters have in common? I’ve seen them all get fatigued in the fights they trained so hard to win. All of them trained to not get tired. So what’s going on here? I have two thoughts about it. One is that these people are both overtraining and not recovering from the abuse they undergo. The other is that they don’t stay in good shape when they’re not training. I think that they are both linked.

It’s common for fighters to gain a lot of weight in between bouts. Tito Ortiz is the most obvious example. He probably gains at least 30 pounds in between bouts. Felix Trinidad fought as a welterweight (147 lbs) while walking around at 180 lbs. Phil Baroni gains almost 40 lbs between bouts. Fernando Vargas would enter camp having to drop 8-12 lbs a week. So, these fighters have to drop severe amounts of weight in a short period of time, sometimes in the span of only a month. They drop as much as weight as possible so they have as much size advantage over their opponents. What they end up with is weakened body, unable to finish what they started.

Not every fighter does this. The next time you see Bernard Hopkins and Randy Couture, look at how good their conditioning is between bouts. Bernard Hopkins admits that he cheats a little in between training but he doesn’t go above 5 or 10 lbs above his fighting weight and he is 80% in condition for a fight at all times. Randy Couture routinely trains fighters when he isn’t training himself. So, he stays in good shape at all times. It’s interesting to note that both of these fighters are defying father time and are at the top level in their sports in their mid-40’s.

They definitely show that consistency in conditioning is far superior to rushing yourself into shape. It obviously shows the beating that the body takes. It’s amazing that people can push their bodies to those kind of limits. It has some training but not to get into proper condition. Staying in shape at all times trumps rushing the process.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

My Inner Drill Instructor

Okay, I've started talking about the mental aspects of training a bit lately and one mental aspect that certainly affects how successful someone will or won't be with their training revolves around their ability to motivate themselves to exercise. I agree with Matt Furey when he says that getting started takes about 50% of the effort needed to exercise. Physical training is difficult to the point of painful. We instinctively avoid difficulty and pain. So, the ability to get past the mental barrier that we all have about physical strain is key.

One thing that anyone who knows me personally knows that I have a bit of an eccentric and wild imagination. I've use that to get myself going and keep pushing myself through the pain. I've had this odd fascination with Military Drill Instructors. Maybe I missed my calling but I can picture a drill instructor hovering over me, upset at me when I don't put up my best effort and get the goals that I set for myself.

More often than not, it gets me by. It's an image that makes me remember seeing documentaries of Navy SEALS, usually fatigued beyond what I'm currently experiencing, still pushing through the pain and doing the task set before them. It's something that makes me realize that I have something left in the tank.

Okay, maybe it sound goofy to you to think of an asshole screaming at you to do more push-ups. I'm not going to pretend that my visions are going to work for everyone. Still, visualization can play a key part in your training. There is a lot more to getting your mind right to train than simply determination.

Monday, February 4, 2008

So, what's the problem with steriods?

I'm sure that much of my audience here comes from Transformetrics' Forum since I post there so often. A fellow member there doesn't view steriods with the same disgust that I do. He's a far more accepting of their use than I am. I'm not in any way trying to put him down or trying to start a flame war. He's an articulate guy and he makes good arguement for their use. Still I just don't agree with him.

A couple of his posts:

Steriods go against one of my core beliefs about physical training. I believe that the mind should work with the body. To get true strength, your mind has to focus on the exercise that the body is doing and that establishment of mind-body connection is what fuels muscular development. By using steriods, that connection is severed. Instead of intense mental focus, you just manipulate the endocrine system by taking synthetic testosterone. In this regard, you don't generate a strong body by using your head, you just need to be a daring chemist.

Think about what I just wrote though... manipulating the endocrine system. Messing with your hormone levels with synthetic testosterone. Now this gentleman and I would disagree with the health effects of taking steriods. I'll agree that it's very difficult to nail down what certain user's medical conditions are caused by steriod use or ABuse. I realize that sending your testosterone-epitestosterone ratio up to 11 to 1 is excessive. Taking it from 3 to 1 to 6 to 1 (to the upper end of naturally high) is more sensible and is what is done in many "anti-aging clinics". So what's wrong with a moderated steriod use?

The problem is that it doesn't happen very much. Very few people follow the guidlines. Since steriods have been made, the doses have been exceeded by silly degrees. Excess is the norm and not the exception. Often times, the people who take steriods have mental and emotional issues with their bodies and therefore aren't really in their right mind when they take steriods. Improper, if any, mind-body connection. Steriods only encourage this disconnection.

Besides, how many famous steriod users have we seen die in the spotlight? We always hear that they were taking other drugs, that they had pre-existing medical conditions, or they had a history of whatever they died of in their families. It's anecdotal but there are a lot of users who drop dead too early if you think about it. There's always an exuse too. Dan Duchaine was explained away with his polycystic kidney disease, even though his sisters are still living despite having the same conditions. Greg Valentino had a heart attack but that had to be heredetary. Lyle Alzado's mother died of cancer too. Chris Benoit was taking many other drugs that may have caused his murder-suicide spree.

Sure, steriods have medical uses. Still, that doesn't make them healthy or safe to use by a healthy person. Steriod medications are often administered to people whose medical conditions side effects are worse than if they don't take steriods. Just take a look at some of the things that they precribe steriods for. Pituitary gland disorders, burn victims, transplant recipients. Two of the three here probably get painkillers too but that doesn't mean that a healthy person should be taking those too.

Indeed, a healthy person has no business taking steriods to build up their bodies. If you take an objective, fact-filled, and honest look at them, there's more upside to avoiding steriods than taking them.