Saturday, May 31, 2008

Exercise vs Nutrition? WTF?

Judging by the title of my blog, I’m more of an exercise-oriented guy than a nutrition guy. In matters of health and fitness, people tend to break more in one direction than the other. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon to see a nutritionist ignore exercise or a personal trainer ignore good nutrition. I may be more of about exercise than nutrition but I don’t ignore the overwhelming importance of good nutrition in my quest to stay healthy and get stronger.

I’ve seen many who look at eating shit food as a reward for their physical efforts at the gym. I’ve seen those who just flat out ignore good eating even if they’re involved in some sort of sport or physical activity. These are both cases of people’s perception not matching the reality of the situation. When you eat junk food, you’re taking the good results of your hard work and flushing it down the toilet to a certain extent. In other words, if you did a 30 minute strength training session, you just gave back 10-15 minutes of that workout. Granted that some are different than others and handle the cheat much better than others but it’s still a set-back to your efforts.

This isn’t something that you can’t argue with. I don’t make these rules because they’re nature’s law. The food that you eat is what your body has to make tissue with. The exercise that you do is the directive action that constructs what you’ve eaten. Eating poorly is like building a skyscraper out of sod. Not exercising is like taking quality concrete and building a chicken coop out of it. You need both to make a healthy and strong body.

Friday, May 30, 2008

What makes exercises dangerous?

I've received a lot of criticism for stating that certain exercises are bad or dangerous. I've repeatedly say that I think that the weighted deadlift isn't a good exercise. I've come down harshly on some kettlebell exercises too. I hear people talk about things that could go wrong with even bodyweight exercises that could make them potentially dangerous too.

Let's just state the obvious: Any exercise can be dangerous. If you slip and lose the proper form when performing any exercise, if you do an exercise that is too advanced for you, or if you go too fast and lose control then you could injure yourself. Every physical endevour carries a risk of injury. So, what makes one safer than another?

In my not-humble, non-expert opinion, there are a few factors. One that comes to mind with the weighted deadlift is how close the exercise puts your lower back to a posture that could injure you (flexion of the lower back). If the back rounds even a little, then you could be walking away with a sore, injured back. The lower back muscles are made for extension, not flexion. When they flex, they get hurt! I'm not alone in my assesment on this one. Mike Boyle, a strength trainer for pro athletes, doesn't have his professional clients use the deadlift.

Other factors that come into play are exercises that create muscular imbalance. An exercise that overdevelops certain muscles create muscle imbalances that also lead to injury far too easily. The bench press is a prime example of this one. Granted someone could balance out the lack of serratus anterior and rhomboid work in the bench press with exercises such as the face pull but let me ask you this: why not just do pushups? That way the chest muscles get evenly build without doing two exercises. Plus, you don't need any gear to get the job done.

These are some of the reasons why I label some exercises bad or unsafe. They cross the line of risk vs. pay-off. Still, I'm not an expert and believe it or not I'm not trying to tell you what to do. If you want to do weighted deadlifts or bench presses, then do what you want. You don't need my permission or blessing. I'm just a guy making observations and suggestions. Just be careful, no matter what you do.

Beach Body?

I have many different things that interest me and they all have a common thread: If I enjoy it, I buy magazines devoted to it. I’m not really a fan of fitness magazines but I still buy them anyway. I may find more wrong with them than right with them but I don’t want to completely disregard them. You can learn something from just about anything. I've gotten in trouble more times that I'd like to admit from dismissing a "dubious" source. There’s usually one or two good pieces in fitness magazines that deliver some good information.

Then there are the articles that help get your “Beach Body.” Next to the new year, this time of the year seems to be the only time that anyone seriously cares about being in shape. The obvious implication is that you’ve slacked off through the winter and now that the summer is coming, you need to melt off the fat and tone up the muscles. After all, you can’t hide your body under a sweater anymore, there’s people to impress, and egos that need to remain intact.

What fries me about this beach body phenomenon are two things: the idea that a fit body is as seasonal as swimwear and the desire to be in shape for purely vain reasons. These are lousy attitudes that don’t do anything towards getting and keeping yourself in great shape. It’s not that they’re terrible reasons to exercise. However, by themselves, they’re woefully bad reasons. Do you ever think about living pain free? Or about how inactivity interferes with your mental function? Do you like being winded after swimming barely 300’? Do these reasons like this ever enter your mind? If they don’t, then you have a problem.

If you’re out of shape, then by all means, get yourself back into shape as fast as you can. Don’t just do it for the visceral reasons. You have every reason to get healthy and strong. Keep these in mind at all times and don’t let your body slip just because nobody else can see your body.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

T-Nation and Bodyweight Training

I thought I might have found a rare gem at T-Nation’s web site not too long ago when I came across an article entitled, “The Importance of Bodyweight Training”. It turned out to be a disappointment. It seems like others agreed. It has a two star rating at the top of the page. Rather than admitting that Bodyweight can stand alone as a legitimate strength training tool, it had fish-nor-fowl statements like this gem:

The truth is, most of us started out with bodyweight training when we were younger. As we improved, we naturally evolved to weight training for more of a challenge. At the time, weight training offered you a greater stimulus, and therefore a greater payoff.
Also, weight training gave you something to progress towards... lifting more weight. After all, you can only do so many push-ups before you get bored
I think that's the main problem with traditional, old-style bodyweight training. You had nothing to progress towards. Once you could do X number of reps, you just kept repeating that every workout

To me, this is a symptom of a larger problem in the strength training world: There isn’t any desire to try and make bodyweight work. There’s more to bodyweight training than just the pushups, pull-ups, and the sit-ups. The push-up is not an exercise but a family of exercises. I took three articles just to describe the variations on the standard pushup. I didn’t even get into the other pushups such as the superman, reverse, handstand, Hindu, dive-bomber, and pike pushups. These range from high volume to high intensity, depending on what you like to do.

The lack of desire to make bodyweight conditioning continues on in the article:

Rule #2:
"Bodyweight" doesn't mean that you can't add additional weight for resistance. You can, and probably should, once you reach your desired rep range. Weighted vests and dip belts come in handy for this

Technically, yes it does mean that you can’t add additional weight. If you add more weight other than your own body, then it’s a weighted exercise. There’s a deeper problem in this statement though: the idea that the only way to progress is adding weight. This is where the strength training world went wrong. There are other ways to improve strength without adding weight. This is where bodyweight gets parts of its effectiveness. You can manipulate weight distribution, range of motion, and decrease the leverage that your body has. They all make the exercise more difficult.

I think articles like this signal some cracks in the supremacy of weight training as the one and only strength training tool. Many weight-based strength-training coaches are starting to espouse the value of bodyweight exercises in strength training. It’s a way of keeping weights relevant. I’m not saying that the tide has turned in Bodyweight’s favor. Things like that take time. It’s only a matter of time before bodyweight takes it’s place next to weights as a legitimate training tool.

Read the Article Here:

Making Sense of Omega 3

I predicted a year ago that Vitamin D would be the next nutrient to make the supplement rounds. While its time might be coming, it seems as though Omega 3 fatty acid is currently the supplement du jour. It’s a known fact that most Americans need more omega 3 fat in their diet and they’re not currently getting it. Hosts of sicknesses are attributed to this deficiency.

While I’m far from being an expert in this field, I can convey some knowledge on the topic. All of your hormones in your body are fat-based compounds. So, fat intake will provoke certain responses in your body, good and bad. There are numerous types of fatty acids, and the ones we’re concerned with right now are Omega 3 and Omega fatty acids. These two regulate the inflammation response in the body. Omega 6 triggers inflammation while Omega 3 suppresses it. There is some disagreement on what the ideal ratio of these two fatty acids should be but most agree that it should be between a 1:1 or 1:2 ratio of Omega 3 to Omega 6.

That’s where the problem lies for most of us. While we can manufacture Omega 3 in our bodies to a limited degree, most of it has to come from our diets. Unfortunately our diet is dangerously low in Omega 3 fatty acids and most Americans have a 1:20 ratio. This influx of Omega 6 in our diet and lack of Omega 3 causes many of us to be in a constant state of inflammation. This is linked to everything from joint pain to heart disease to cancer.

Now, the obvious answer to our problems is to get more Omega 3 fatty acids into our diet. The most commonly quoted sources of it are salmon, flax seeds, walnuts, and seaweed. Then there are the fish oil supplements.

Here’s some more thoughts to ponder. While you can get Omega 3 fatty acids from plants sources, they’re generally not as good as animal sources because the body has to process them into a usable form of Omega 3. So, the healthier your body is, the better you can utilize them.

Animal sources are a bit better. They are typically more concentrated. There are a few neglected facts to add to the Omega 3 discussion. Animals get Omega 3 from the plants that they eat. It isn’t something that is inherent in their body. Fish get them from eating algae and other animals that feed on algae, such as krill and plankton. So, if they don’t eat Omega 3, they don’t have it in their body. This is why farm-raised fish can be deficient in Omega 3. The same rule applies for Beef. If beef is raised on grass rather than corn, it’ll have just as much Omega 3 as the vaunted salmon will. Unfortunately, most cows are corn or grain fed. Chickens fed with flax seeds are good sources (as are their eggs). Grain fed are not. To put it another way, the more animals eat greenery (even indirectly), the more likely they are to be Omega 3 balanced.

I’m not the biggest supplement fan because I think that supplements are frequently used to take the place of a healthy diet. In other words, they are a finger on a flooding dyke. This problem isn’t a disease like malaria that just crept up and struck. It’s the sum total of bad diet. It’s a manufactured malady. Do you remember what I said about the body’s role in utilizing plant sources of Omega 3? Fix your diet!