Saturday, January 31, 2009

Train Like the Animals?

One of the most commonly used ways to sell Bodyweight-based exercises is selling it as exercises that the animals do to get strong. It dates back, at least, to Charles Atlas. According to the legend, Atlas watched animals tense their muscles powerfully at zoos as the inspiration for his strength training methods. It must have worked pretty well since Dynamic Tension is probably the best selling mail-order bodybuilding course ever.

The truth probably is more along the lines that Fredrick Tilney came up with much of the course and Charles Roman came up with the story for good ad copy. Still, it doesn't stop many, many others from using the reasoning that their BW-based exercise is more natural because it mimicks movements that animals use to get strong. I usually recognize marketing hype when I see it. Still, I recently read one such web site who yet again claimed to develop strength using animal-like exercises. It got me thinking that maybe this has ad copy has some truth to it.

One thing that I know for a fact that most other primates do on a nearly constant basis is climb things. Indeed, if you want to build some brutal upper body strength, there is nothing better to do than exercises like rope climbing, rock climbing, pull-ups, chin-ups, and monkey bars. They are advanced exercises but I dare anyone to find exercises that will build such latent (and *GASP* functional) strength as primate-like movements. I've repeated it before and I'll say it again, strong people do pull-ups. Strong animals do too.

Another that recently came to my attention is the notion that jogging may be a bad exercise because it might be unnatural. Animals either run at full speed or they walk. They don't typically move at a pace that is in between the two. If you look at the way that your muscles are constructed of fast and slow twitch fibers, there is some good grounds for believing this. Plus, look at people who jog. Often times, they are physically unimpressive and incapable of doing much else than jogging. I've never really enjoyed jogging. I do like to walk and I love sprint-based exercises. I don't feel like my body is missing out on anything. In fact, I tried jogging before work for a couple of weeks and it left me feeling weaker the rest of the day. So, I think that there is some sound thinking to this.

Still, there are a number of things that make this whole concept of doing animal exercises to get animal strength is hype. For one thing, it's just strange to think that animals do something that seems to be a distinctively human behavior like exercise. Plus, animals are mechanically, chemically, and genetically different from us, often times very differently. Some of these animals are built much, much bigger than us. It's not a stretch to believe that they are stronger based on the size difference, not what kind of movement that they're doing.

Then again, one thing that I've learned in life is that you can learned things from the most unlikely sources. Humans have learned many things from watching animals in the past. While it might be good ad copy, I don't think that we can discount the possiblity that we can get powerful from following animal's lead. I can't speak for anyone else but I've gotten stronger by following their examples.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Helio Gracie, RIP

Thanks for everything, Helio. God bless you.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Thinking into Your Workout

Not too long ago, the question about working out with a partner came up at Rosstraining’s forum. As it turned out, the overwhelming majority who responded to the poll stated that they worked out alone. Most of the reasons revolved around one central theme: the ability to concentrate. They wanted to work out without any distractions. That’s a sharp contrast to those people who love to run on treadmills in gyms while reading People Magazine or watching Television.

Those of us who routinely succeed at the fitness goals that we set know the importance of a focused mind when training. Some people believe this only a physical endeavor. There is a reason that these people usually don't reach their goals. They don't realize that they cannot reach them without thinking into the work. You need to focus on what you’re doing and think into the muscles that you’re working.

George Jowett called his muscles slaves for a good reason: They did exactly what his mind told him to do. He, along with many others who came before and after him, noticed that the more thought he put into his muscles, the stronger he became. He surmised that “nervous energy” was one of the keys to strength.

As it turns out, science has proven him correct. Back in 1992, two neurosceintists
did a study where they took test subjects, made one flex their pinky finger against resistance while the other THOUGHT about flexing their pinky (but not moving it at all). The thinker increased the strength nearly as much as the doer!

So, putting mind into muscle is more than just half-baked, metaphysical Bullshit. It' has sound basis in fact. Your mind and your mindset is crucial to the success or failure of your workout. You'll put more power to your muscles by thinking into them and believing that you can do what you put your mind into doing. I've elaborated on this in the past and I'll continue to do so in the future because I can't stress enough how important a focused mind is to meeting your goals.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Vitamins got an F???

Not too long ago, a nice lady wrote a glowing comment about my blog. She had a lot of questions about vitamins. Honestly, the more I study and learn, I'm not much of a fan of vitamins. I'm a fan of WHOLE FOODS. We seem to think about what our body needs to function properly in terms of specific minerals and compounds. So, we strive to isolate and load (overload?)up on them.

So, it came as no surprise to me when the other day, USA Today ran a story stating that Vitamins got an F in cancer prevention.

There's a fallacy to the perception that we can improve our health and strength by taking isolated vitamin and mineral supplements. The reality is that our bodies are a miraculously complex and need a mind-boggling variety of chemicals to function properly. Those who care about the truth (and aren't trying to peddle a supplement) are starting to realize that for our bodies to excel, we need several compounds, vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, zoochemicals, antioxidants, etc to accomplish this.

Take your bones for example. Most of us know that we need calcium for strong bones. Did you know that you also need phosphorus, manganese, magnesium, fluoride, Vitamin D, and even Vitamin C to make our bones strong? You probably also know that we need fluoride because too little makes our bones soft and prone to breakage. Did you know that too much causes BRITTLE bones and make our bones easier to break? How much is too much? The honest scientist will tell you that it depends. There are wild variations. My calcium, phosphorus, manganese, magnesium, fluoride, Vitamins D and C needs are much different from, say, a menopausal woman. Her needs are different than a 5 year old boy. His needs are different than mine too. My dad's (who outweighs me by 85 lbs) is different than mine too.

So, how on earth does any well-intentioned scientist create a bone-building supplement for the masses taking all of this into consideration? Rheo Blair tried to do somethings similar with protein supplements. He spent years trying to blend up the perfect protein shake that would replicate human breast milk in its anabolic effects. He never got there. Even today, nobody's really gotten close.

So this whole notion of dividing foods into it's parts and then trying to mass produce the parts for superior health is mostly a pipe dream. God, the almighty source of infinite wisdom, knows what to do far better than we ever could. So, if your bones are soft, drink some milk, eat your almonds, macadamia nuts, and spinach. Don't rely on a supplement to get you there.

Monday, January 12, 2009

"Bigger, Stronger, Faster", a Review

I couldn't wait to let my eyes feast on this movie. Unfortunately, it had a limited release. Vermont translation: I would have to wait until it came out on DVD. Since then, I watched it three times and it certainly lived up to the reviews that I read.

When it comes to movies like this, I think that calling them documentaries is a bit generous. A documentary should be independant of the person's viewpoints. This generation of "documentaries" has a fair amount of subjective input. If anything, I'd call them video opinion essays.

Whatever it is, it's a great movie. It gives a remarkably good look at our culture's outlook on performance-enhancing drugs, right down to our kid's use, the hysteria against it, the triggers of the rise of PED's, the developments, the past, the future all framed by the Director/star/narrator Chris Bell's agonizing about his reluctance to use steroids even while his two brothers do. It asks some great questions about our perceptions on the topics and offers some evidence that will make you think about your beliefs on the topic.

There are things that I don't like about the movie. I realize that the hard studies about the side effects of steroids haven't been done yet. Still, I think that this movie leans towards steroids being safe to use for recreational purposes. I don't agree with the assessment of America being a collection of cheaters always looking for an edge. I think that is an issue that all competetive people grapple with and isn't limited to the United States.

Still, this movie does it's job very well. It's going to make you think and even re-think your views about steroid use and performance enhancement in general. The movie has a sort of whimsical, self-depreciating value to it. It gives it a sort of personal touch. If you haven't seen it, then you owe it to yourself to rent a copy and check it out.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

The trip that you never come back from

I have a good friend who has struggled with his weight for most of his life. He recently informed that he's trying to get back on the wagon and with dieting alone, he's already dropped several pounds. I'm happy for his progress but I was disappointed when I saw him walking out the door with a bag of KFC take-out. Unfortunately, I don't think he's going to stick with it.

I'm not trying to sound like a naysayer but I don't think he, like many others, has ever been truly serious about losing the weight. Part of the problem is the notion of going on a diet. If you want to get fit and stay healthy then there's nothing temporary about it. It's a permanent change and you're never going back. Getting healthy isn't a trip or a vacation. It doesn't have an endpoint where you can go back to the way that you used to eat. If anything, it's an exile. It's a trip that you never come back from.

One of the cruel tricks that your fat cells play on your plans is that you can always make new ones but you never get rid of the old ones. When you get into shape, you just deplete them of their stores. If you fall off the wagon, they are still there, ready to absorb the incoming fat. So, the price you pay for building up those fat cells is eternal vigilance. You will always have to watch how much you eat.

Oh, and don't be surprised by how little cheat food it takes to provoke fat gain. Remember my other friend that I've blogged about? After two kids, she can notice her pants getting tight after just two bad days of eating. You don't get to decide what is enough bad food that you can eat and get away with. Your body does that for you.

Plus, don't even think for a second that you can lose weight without exercise. That is a lazy, half-ass way of thinking that will only work for so long. Even if you take off the weight, I'll bet that you'll be left with a body that will disappoint you. Plus, extra muscle gain and conditioning goes a long way towards keeping a healthy body weight. While muscle-building and strengthening exercises don't burn copious amounts of fat, they do help use up the calories that you're taking in. It takes far more calories to maintain a pound of healthy muscle mass than it does to maintain a pound of fat cells.

So, don't look at this lifestyle change as a temporary fix. You'll always fail that way. Get yourself into a place where you realize that the changes that you make in the way that you live are going to be permanent. There's no shortcut and there's no endpoint. It's like the title of this entry says: you're never going back. You don't have to like it, but I can guarantee that sooner or later, it won't matter. You won't have to like it, you'll have to do it!