Sunday, June 22, 2008

My Take on Push-Ups Using...

I’ve said in the past that you can tell how long the push-up has been around by the sheer variety of variations on the standard push-up there are out there. In the past, I’ve gone through variations by modifying the position of the feet, hands and the height that the push-up is executed at. Now, I’m going to tackle the gagetry. There are a lot of items out there that you can do push-ups on to change the focus of the exercise and they run the gamut in difficulty.

The first one that I met are bars. The idea behind these is they give you a few extra inches of height. These allow you to descend farther down below your hands, giving your chest muscles more activation on the downward and upward motion. Some also complain about wrist pain when doing push-ups on their hands. Bars can solve this by straightening out your wrist. Bars are nice because they are usually pretty small and easy to travel with in a suitcase.

Moving up the ladder of difficulty is the relatively new Perfect Pushup Device. These rotating handles hit the shoulders more intensely because they allow you to move the shoulder muscles in a more natural way that hits them harder. You should expect to drop your number of repetitions by a third, minimum. Plus, they give you the extra height that bars have so you also get the increased chest activation. So, the drop in reps isn’t a bad thing because the exercise is more effectively working the chest and shoulders. I was skeptical about the Perfect Pushup when they first came out. Now, I’m such a fan that I have the standard model as well as the travel version.

The next two are difficult, advanced devices that will really give you some serious challenges. The first one (and the one that I have more experience with) are rings. Initially I made my rings for pull-ups but the allure of the instability drove me to add some longer rope, get the rings closer to the ground, and try out push-ups on them. What I found was probably the most effective way to put the focus of the push-up on the chest muscles. The extra height combined with the constant need to pull the rings inward while descending downward and upward hits all of the chest muscles like no other push-up device can. A rigid core is important too.

The newest piece of push-up equipment that's I've been working with are T-shaped handles. These delightfully nasty objects demand a high level of core tension to stabilize the body upon descent as well as some seriously strong arms and forearms to keep the handles from rolling in the hands. I've also noticed that they've helped my rep counts on pull-ups, particularly the towel pull-ups that I'm so fond of.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Fat Bug?

You have to love scientists. They’ve been trying to uncover the medical reason why people are fat. Of course, fat people have to love this. After all, it wouldn’t be their fault that they’re fat. They have some kind of medical condition. Therefore, they need medical treatment. The medical industry must love this too. Then, they can sell the treatment to obesity. Irresponsibility and dishonesty is a money-making combination that’s made in heaven (or hell, depending on how you look at it).

The concept of bacteria or viral-induced obesity has floated around for, to the best of my recollection, at least ten years. Scientists know that certain bugs (like certain strains of the flu) causing weight gain in humans and other animals. The theory goes that one in particular that causes weight gain.

Another theory has to do with low thyroid function. The thyroid gland is a part of the endocrine system located in your neck above your collar bone. It’s hormone release provokes metabolism. So, if this chunk of meat doesn’t squirt enough metabo-juice into your bloodstream, you don’t burn carbs and fat. Therefore you get fatter.

What’s most irksome about these is that they’re used as reasons or excuses (is there a difference?) for being fat. They’re reasons for being more prone to getting fat. If there is a fat bug or if a person has low thyroid function (BTW, I’ve heard that being obese suppresses thyroid function, so being fat precedes low thyroid, not the other way around.) then all this means is you’ll be more sensitive to gaining weight. Your behaviors and habits will still determine if you gain weight or not. Think about this: Richard Blackman of F.I.T fame ( had a sudden drop in thyroid function tomorrow, do you think that he’d gain 50 lbs with the way he eats?

If you’re fat, then you need to realize that you may have underlying issues with your body that make it easier to gain weight. Everyone burns calories at different rates. I could easily less healthy than I do and still keep my flat stomach. I have a friend who, after two kids, can’t eat bad two days in a row without noticing a weight gain. Remember what I just said, these are reasons for being sensitive, not reasons for being fat. Your lifestyle choices still count.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Weight lifters that I follow

No, I'm not weight lifting and I'm not planning on doing it in the near future for already-stated reasons. Still, there are people who use weights for strength training that I listen to intently. There is a core truth(s) to all strength training that everyone can benefit from, even if you don't follow all of the protocols that the teacher does. So, in no particular order, these are the weight lifters that I've learned some very valuable lessons from:

1. George Jowett. He might be my favorite physical culture writer. You would be hard-pressed to find a better author. He was an amazing writer and had a stunningly good grip on how the body works, even by today's standards and he was born 110 years ago! His teachings were based on some sound facts and a healthy dose of common sense that you can't find very often.

He was also very aware of the importance and the ability to strengthen the muscles through intense concentration of the mind. Much of his training consisted of using light weights while consciously contracting his muscles. He used the weight as a way to focus the contraction, not to provide the contraction itself. His anvil lift is a stunning testament to his training methods. What's also interesting was the respect that he garnered from his peers. His insistance on proper focus on the exercise in oder to build the muscles is as relevant to lifting weights as it is for doing push-ups.

2. Mike Boyle. As far as many (most?) strength trainers are concerned, the body is nothing more than muscles. They fail to realize that there are bones, tendons, ligaments, and cartilage. I think that this is who so many injure themselves. There are things that you can do for your muscles that will injure these structures. There's more to your body than just your muscles. Mike Boyle doesn't forget this. As a trainer to professional athletes, it's his job to make sure that they are strong and injury-free. He takes joint health, tendons, ligaments, etc into consideration when he trains someone. Strength is more than meat. It's also interesting to note that he considers push-ups to be superior health and strength builders to the bench press.

3. Vince Gironda. I would have had a much harder time gaining the 23 lbs of muscle on my body had I not found some of Vince Gironda's writings. When you read his ideas, it's easy to see that he had a keen understanding of nutrition and its importance in gaining lean body mass. I would have thought that the amount of steak and eggs he ate was insane but the truth is that you need fat in your diet if you're going to get bigger. Sure, you build muscle out of protein but your body doesn't get the signal to do anything with it until hormones get released telling the body to do so. Hormones are fat-based compounds. This is the key to gaining muscle that you don't hear very much. It's what I used to gain my muscles.

It just goes to show that you can learn something from anything or anyone. I'll continue to look even to weight-based strength trainers for some sound advice on how to get strong and healthy. Sometimes they don't have anything to offer. Other times, they have that one exercise or piece of advice that will take me to the next level.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Get Some Variety!

We probably couldn’t even begin to count the number of bodybuilders who’ve lived on boneless, skinless chicken breast and steamed rice or the amount of time those same bodybuilders spend eating such a diet. It’s not just bodybuilders that disregard the importance of a diversified diet. Many who are trying to lose weight or get into shape cling to a few foods and don’t eat anything else than that one or two meals.

Eating a lot of different foods is what we’re designed to do through evolution. One of the current theories about what drove monkeys to humans was the conversion of jungle to grassland. As this occurred, these primates learned to walk from jungle to jungle and had to eat whatever they came across. This is probably why we became omnivorous: When there’s little around to eat, they couldn’t be picky. So we evolved to eat a lot of different foods.

This evolution is now a necessity. We need a lot of different chemicals (both phyto- and zoo-) to function at an optimum level. This is where heavily oversimplified diets do us wrong. We don't get that diversity that we need to function properly. This trickles down to weight loss too. The better our bodies are nourished, the better they will break down the incoming foods. So make sure that you're getting a lot of different foods in your system.