Monday, October 27, 2008

The Drink That's Killing You?

Would you drink a fluid that could clean rust off of metal? That's a serious question. Would you grab your can of WD-40, or any other rust cleaner, off your work bench and drink it? While you're thinking about that, would you drink a fluid that (with electricity) you could use to corrode titanium? What about drinking a waste product of your body, such as urine? What about drinking spermicide? What if you drank a liquid that is everything that I just described?

Well, one of America's most beloved drinks is all of the above. That beverage is soda! I've never enjoyed soda, even when I was a kid. I don't like how it tastes or how it feels in my mouth. Most of all, I hate how lousy it makes me feel after I drink it.

My instincts serve me well too. In the past year or so, I've found out all of those interesting things that soda can do. In addition to all these nasty things, this is the way that many people load several hundred calories into their bodies, often times without even realizing it. Soda's loaded with some serious amounts of sugar.

He might be a bit of a nutcase, but Mike Brown brought up an interesting point. The fizz in soda is carbon dioxide. That happens to be the same gas that your body gets rid of every time you exhale. In other words, it's a waste product that you body actively tries to get rid of in order to function properly. What do you think you're doing to yourself when you throw it back in? Oh, it also forms an acid. Remember what happens to a tooth that's placed in soda for a few days? Yeah, it dissolves. That kind of takes the mystery out of why we're having problems with osteoporosis, doesn't it?

Plus, soda has some other lovely characteristics. A mentor of mine growing up told me that a good way to get the rust off of a shotgun that my dad let me borrow was to clean it with coke. It didn't work too bad either. It must be that phosphoric acid in the soda. That same acid is what can corrode titanium. If you pass an electric current through soda and dip titanium into it, it will permanently rust the nearly-impervious wonder metal.

Oh, and they just found out that regular soda drinkers do have a lower sperm count.

If you want to do yourself a favor for your health, cut your soda drinking back dramatically. It's a nasty drink that just wrecks your body over time and it really doesn't have any redeeming qualities to it. Seriously, if you want to get in great shape, then stop drinking it!

Friday, October 24, 2008

What Are the Best Ab Exercises?

Most of our ab exercises involve the abs moving either our upper body or lower body in an up-down motion. Lately, I've read a couple of things that made me think a bit more about what might be the best way to train the abs. Or, at the very least, ways that we don't train our abs but should be.

Recently, I read articles that stated that weight belts aren't effective at protecting the lower back from lifting injuries. One of the articles came out point blank and said that you have a weight belt on your body already: it's called your abdominal muscles. It stated that if you needed a weight belt, then you need to train your abs better.

I think there's a hole exists in some people's ab training: training our abs to contract powerfully enough to protect the lower back from injuries when doing intense work, be it our jobs or our exercise. Abs are often trained by movement but the act of locking the abs so that movement doesn't occur in the core have very legitimate real-world carry-over. It also explains why the humble push-up is such a good ab-trainer. Ab isometrics, l-sits, and ab wheel work also hits the abs powerfully in this exact manner.

Another use that doesn't get mentioned much is the role that the core should play in your breathing. I don't understand how this gets missed by people who understand how fat gets burned off your body. In order to burn fat, you have to have oxygen present. What happens if you're not getting enough oxygen into your bloodstream? You're not losing fat as fast. I've worked out with several overweight people and the ones who lost quickly are the ones who are deep, diaphragm breathers. Shallow, chest-breathers struggle. Vince Gironda believed heavily in the power of deep breathing during training. Matt Furey said it best on this topic: if you can't be heard breathing from another room while training, then you're not breathing deeply enough.

So, give this some thought when you train. Make sure that you're not getting pidgeon-holed in your ab training. Those muscles do a lot of things for your body and make sure that your training is hitting them all.

Friday, October 17, 2008


Ithasn't been a great few weeks for my body. I was in Bakersfield, California for a week or so. I was supposed to be there for longer until I did something stupid. I put my fingers of my left hand (I'm left-handed) in a pneumatic knife valve that I thought was shut off. Well, IT WASN'T! I ended up getting three of my fingers caught/crushed in it. I was lucky that I didn't lose them. Actually, I didn't even break any bones! I wasn't so lucky a day later when I dropped a 150 lbs pump part on one of them. That severely limited my exercise because anything that caused my heart to start pumping hard would make my fingers feel like they were hit with a hammer. On the upside, I did get to go home.

That injury is almost recovered and now I'm dealing with another problem. I tossed and turned all night in my sleep, ending up on my side, sleeping on my right arm. I woke up with a bad knot just below my shoulder blade. It's brutally painful and it got worse when I fell at work, breaking the fall with THAT ARM! It's starting to come back but I'm still irritated by it.

I've reprogrammed my mind to such a degree that I feel that I'm being lazy when I don't work out. It's a daily routine. It feels like I forgot to brush my teeth or taking a shower. Things happen, I suppose.

It did teach me some things though. Even when I got to a point where I could exercise, I had to work around my aches, pains, and injuries. I'm used to more intense training and doing less felt wrong. It brought me back to what I've told so many others before: anything is better than nothing. Now, I may not like dropping my thumbs out of pull-ups but with a compromised grip, it was the only way that I could do them. It was better than no pull-ups at all.

I just have to remember to adapt and maintain. It's as much about maintaining a healthy lifestyle and not getting stuck in a groove.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

"Eat Boring and Have an Exciting Body"

That title is a line that I wish that I had thought of. Anyone who cruises around must have heard of "ChickenTuna". She's the super-ripped 40 year old woman who came up with that line. It's funny how sometimes you hear something that takes on a relevancey that you didn't forsee when you hear it.

What I 'm getting at is a conversation that I had with a couple of co-workers while working out here in California. Someone brought in several boxes of doughnuts for everyone on the job site. Of course, I politely declined while others indulged. This triggered a conversation about eating right versus eating what you want to eat. One of my co-workers talked about how unexciting life if you don't eat stuff like doughnuts, smoke or drink. Then, there's no enjoyment in life.


Sure I enjoy food. I enjoy junk food, whiskey, and a cigar now and then. That doesn't bring me much enjoyment later. It just slows me down in the short term and it puts me a step backwards in the long term. I'll tell you what I do enjoy more.

1. I enjoy that I can get done a day's work without feeling like a corpse.

2. I enjoy playing with my 4 year old godson for as long as I please.

3. I enjoy that my arm muscles finally fill out shirt sleeves and my waist barely filling 30" jeans.

4. I enjoy women checking out my body.

5. I enjoy biking, Brazilian Jui Jitsu, hiking, swimming, etc

Like I said, I enjoy cheating a little here and there but I'm cognizent of the consequences. Frankly, they're just not worth it to me. It slows me down and sometimes makes me feel sick. Over time, I know where over-indulgence will lead me.

1. Overweight.

2. Lacking Energy.

3. Achy and sore all of the time.

4. Sick with a host of dengerative illnesses.

I have to ask those who think that smoking, drinking, and eating junk food is living: How can it be living if it slowly kills you? There is more to life than what we put into it to get enjoyment. Ultimately, all of that exciting eating will have to stop. Otherwise, there are steep consequences to pay. In the meantime, asking the question, "is this good for my body?" whenever we eat is a big step forward in enjoying the more viscral pleasures of being fit: an exciting body.

Do We Need to Lift Weights to Be Functionally Strong?

Not too long ago, a guy named Brent asked me a question that really got me thinking a bit. At the time, I injured my fingers and I didn't feel like responding to his post in depth because typing was difficult. So, now that my left hand is more functional, I feel compelled to give his question a more thoughtful response.

For a re-cap, read this:

Pavel covered some very insightful ideas about strength in his book "The Naked Warrior." One such idea of developing strength as a skill. In other words, you cultivate and generate it not by merely making your muscles stronger but learning to use them in a coordinated manner. This is how skinny boxers can generate such bruising KO power or pudgy guys like Babe Ruth could crush hundreds of home runs. They know how to use their muscles in a specific manner that generates power all out of proportion to their physical appearances.

So, it stands to reason that doing some lifting like Brent suggests might be beneficial. It might be too. I think that it comes down to personal preference and the physical demands that your life puts on you. If you're doing competitive lifting, then of course lifting is necessary. It's the same if you were boxing. If you want to learn to throw powerful strikes, then you need to practice them.

In my experience and with my job, I'm rarely lifting anything heavier than my own bodyweight. On the other hand, I'm frequently lifting a moderately heavy object several times. I have to lift and stack things like bags of clay, lime or concrete. I lift and carry 50' of 1.5" hydraulic hoses or cans of diesel. I frequently roll, carry, or drag hoses from 1.5" up to 6" (the 6" hoses really suck to drag, BTW) in diameter and 25-50' long. None of them weight more than I do. The only thing that I lift that comes close to my bodyweight is a 6" hydraulic submersible pump that weighs in at around 170 lbs. Then again, really shouldn't be carrying that anyway.

Most bodyweight exercises don't have you moving your full bodyweight anyway. Still, the action of moving even 128 lbs (me doing a normal push-up) several times still has excellent carry-over to real life. Moderate load moved several times over. It certainly works for me.

Still, I'm not going to verbally spank anyone for it. I'd rather you did what interests you rather than doing nothing at all. I admit that I had an urge to design and build my own sandbag. It looks like an interesting form of training. I just know for a fact that you don't need to lift to get strength that will carry over into the real world.

Oh, one other thing. TD, are you still reading? I haven't heard from you in a while and I hope you're doing well!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

T Handles VS Rings... Which makes the Push-Up Harder?

I blogged several months ago about devices and gadgets that I put my hands on to make push-ups harder. I also talked about this in a forum and I stated that I believed that rings could make the push-up harder than the T's. There was some friendly doubts about my statement and I figured that after working with both some more, it's a good time to revisit the topic.

I'll come right out and say it: superiority of one over another is murky. One problem is how each piece of equipment is set up. I built both my rings and my T's. The level of difficulty of the rings depends on how far apart you space them. The farther they are away, the harder they get. With T's, the length of the stilt and the width of the foot makes a huge difference. The higher the stilt, the harder it is. the wider the foot, the easier the push-up becomes. So, it's hard to deduce which is harder just by design.

What I think makes one easier than the other is what you're trying to work on. T's require a tremendous amount of grip strength in order to stabilize the movement. So, these are definitely superior for building up your grip, forearms, biceps and triceps. I think that these are a bit more difficult when it comes to core stabilization as well than the rings are.

Where Rings aren't as hard on the arms, they're a bear for the shoulders and the chest. I notice that they're noticeably harder on the chest muscles than the T's are, especially if you do them Atlas style. What's interesting is that if you count reps as an indicator of which one is harder, then rings are harder for me. I can do more push-ups on the T's than I can on the rings.

So, what are you looking for in your workout? Where are your weak points? That will determine which is harder. If you want to favor your arms over your chest, go with the T's. If you want to challenge your chest and shoulders, do the rings.

Friday, October 3, 2008

What is Modern Life Doing To Us?

A couple of weeks ago, I blogged about Craig Weller's excellent article about full-range squatting. His conclusion in the article was that most of us can't squat full-range (or "third world" as he calls it) because we sit down so much that we lose that range of motion. He also points out how most children easily squat all the way down. After all, how easy is it to get a child to sit down for any length of time? That may not be a bad thing after all.

Obviously, our modern habits have robbed us of much of our physical abilities. As I've been walking around at work lately, I notice how much our inactivity can cost strength in other body parts. The most obvious example was in my ankles (I also blogged about this). I noticed it at the beginning of the summer when I was working at a landfill. One thing about landfills is that they are hilly. If you ever go to one, you'll notice that you spend a hefty chunk of time going up and down hills all day. Obviously, my calf size and strength improved.

Then I left that job, spent some time on flat ground, and now I'm at a job working on cleaning an above-ground tank. I'm constantly going up and down stairs. I again notice more defined calves. Think about something: How often do people avoid any sort incline like it was a plague? How many of us complain about calf development?

Obviously, exercise can help with this problem but I think that sort of misses the bigger picture. We can only exercise so much per day. I think that we need to eschew some of the things that make life easier for the sake of keeping our bodies more fit. Our bodies run contrary to machines because they need to move in order to stay in top order. So, the more movement that we can sneak into our daily lives, the better off that we'll be. If we could make an effort to squat down low to pick something up then we might find that our backs don't hurt nearly as often. Maybe we wouldn't be so winded and sore walking up a hill if we quit using elevators so damn much. There's nothing wrong and a lot right about doing some things in a more primative manner.