Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Traveling, Work and Pleasure!

I thought that I´d let you know that I´m going to be doing a lot of traveling for the next couple of weeks. I´m currently in Peru visting family and then I´m off to Portland, Oregon. So, I may not be posting for a couple of weeks.

Please check back with me After May 5th and I´ll have some new blogs for you then!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Overtraining? Overtraining!

Since I became a regular Rosstraining forum member, the question about overtraining must have come up at least once a week on a new thread topic. I know a little about the topic since I've overtrained a few times in my life. I have one blanket answer for most people who ask if they've overtrained: If you have to ask, then you're not overtrained. More often than not, these people just need to back off a little, eat a good meal, and get a good night's rest. What they've done isn't overtraining.

In fact, there are some people who don't believe that there is such a thing as overtraining. I think it was the Barbarian Brothers who said that overtraining is simply not enough healthy food and not enough sleep. In other words, it's a symntom of not taking care of yourself properly outside of the gym. I'd love to think that they're right but many pro athletes live a different life and abide by different strength training protocols than we do. I've heard from such people that when you're trying to gain muscle mass, you need to sleep 8-10 hours a day in order to recover from the stress that you're putting on your body. That's a practical reality if all you have to do with is to train your body for a living. Most of us don't have that kind of luxury.

Perhaps all "overtraining" doesn't exist in some people's lives but for the majority of us who push our body past the limits of what 7 hours of sleep and 3,000 calorie diets can fix, overtraining is a grim reality. If you're still reading and wondering what overtraining is like, then I'll level with you: It feels like a seriously nasty case of the flu. It's goes beyond fatigue and it feels like sickness. Your body will pound with pain. You might feel nauseous. Your ability to focus or concentrate goes down the tubes. All you really feel like doing is sleeping. I'll give you tip when you feel like this: DON'T EVEN THINK OF EATING JUNK FOOD. I exascerbated a bad case of overtraining into the worst case of overtraining I've ever had by eating a delicious (but high salt, sugar and fat) Brazilian Churrascaria Barbeque brunch. I proceeded to go home, take a 5 hour nap, eating a lighter, healthier dinner, going to bed at 7:00 pm, and sleeping another 10 hours.

Don't take this a bragging. It's nothing to brag about. In fact, it's just plain stupid. It's not a sign of toughness or of dedication. It's just a sign of ignorance. When you overtrain, you're exceeding your body's ability to repair itself after training. Overtraining could be looked at as a case of self-induced muscle wasting.

Remember when you strength train, you're tearing down your muscles and forcing them to rebuild themselvess in a stronger manner. You have to do this incrimentally. You don't gain anything by exceeding the rate that your body can repair itself. Don't be fooled into thinking that you can ignore the need to eat well and rest. If you're ever going to get stronger, you need to train with your head as much as you train with your heart. My Brazilian Jui Jitsu teacher said something about a good training session that can easily apply to strength training as well: You should feel your training for no more than two hours after it's done. You should be able to function normally for the rest of the day. If all you want to do is nothing, then you've overdone it.

The 15-20 Minute Workout

Commited physical culturists aren't any different than anyone else who has a lot to do and often times have a limited amount to exercise. However, as one who is devoted to doing some kind of organized exercise as often as possible, I don't look at having only 15-20 minutes to train as a death sentence to training at all. I take that alloted time that I have and figure out a way to make it work most effectively for me. Otherwise, I'd probably never train when work gets busy. It goes back to my father-in-law's favorite saying: "don't give me problems, give me solutions!"

One of the keys to making a short period of time a sweaty, torturous nightmare for your muscles is intensity. You've got to keep things going and going hard to get the most out of the time that you have. You can do this by minimizing breaks. If I know that I'm short on time for a workout, I'll do my best to make sure that I'm hydrated before I start training. That way, I don't need water as much and therefore won't be tempted to use that break to procrastinate.

Intensity in exercise selection makes a big difference. While this might lead you to think that I prefer higher intensity, low rep calisthenics, you'd be partially right. I've found that my training feels more complete if I throw in just a little bit of higher-rep exercises. I find that the combination of max strength and strength endurance is just a killer. When time is crunched, I like doing exercises that move as many joints as possible and move the body through different planes.

Generally, I've refrained from giving routines, I think that you could get some good use out of doing some of these routines. All of them should take you no more than 20minutes. As always, feel free to adapt them to your needs.

Workout #1
Jump Rope, 3 minutes
Hindu Squats, 150 reps
Jump Rope, 1 minute
Hindu push-ups, 75 reps
Jump Rope, 1 minute
Wrestlers Bridge, 3 minutes

Workout #2
50 8 count Bodybuilders or Burpees
Neck rotation exercises from headstand position, 10 reps each
Straight bridge, 1 minute
Ab wheel roll-outs, 10 reps
Neck rotation, 10 reps
Gym Bridge, 1.5 minutes
Ab Wheel roll-outs, 10 reps
Neck rotation exercises, 10 reps
Wrestlers bridge, 2 minutes
ab wheel roll-outs, 10 reps

Workout #3
Pistols, 5 reps each leg
Spider/T-plank Push-ups, 30 reps
Inchworms, 5 reps (you could sub the ab wheel)
pull-up/hanging leg raise combo, 8 reps
Repeat circuit 3 times

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Scorn and Ridicule

Fitness-oriented blogs tend to break down into two categories: Blogs that people use to list their daily routines and diet and blogs where people rant on about what's wrong in the fitness world. Inevitabley, the ranters will touch on someone at their gym who verbally, by body language, derides their efforts in spite of them having no business deriding anything anyone else does. The ranter (correctly, I might add) is pissed about how these people who lack the -tions (motivaTION, dedicaTION, inspiraTION, etc) to get anything meaningful done in the gym. Now, in a perfect world, we would all reocgnize those who work hard and hold them in high regard, compliment them on their good work done, be inspired by their example and go about in same manner.

It would be nice if we were all eagles in the gym flying high together but the reality is that there are very few eagles in life and quite a few turkeys. People who don't chose to soar but stick close to the ground where it's safe with the others and easy will do little more than pick your efforts apart. Too many people would rather spend their time giving you shit behind your back and to your face about how hard you work, call you a fanatic and obsessed, and that you need to eat a cheeseburger and fries more often. Their definition of fairness is to make everyone as miserable as they are.

If you're ever going to succeed, you need to free yourself from worrying so much about what they think. The turkeys will always have something negative to say about anything that gets you to an elite level of fitness. If you worry about doing things they won't approve of, then you'll fail. If you sit around waiting for them to follow you on the right path, you'll never get started on it yourself.

Years ago, I learned about a book through Matt Furey called, "Thick Face, Black Heart". Basically, the idea of the book was that to succeed, your heart has to be totally commited to do your goal at the expense of all else. There could be no grey area. There was only getting it done and nothing else. Your face had to be thick and strong to withstand the scorn that you'd receive while you were setting out to achieve your goal. In a sense, your face is your shield to the world that tells you that you can't do what you set out to do.

So, don't be moved by criticism of your actions. Don't wait around for those who criticize to follow your lead. If they want to join you in a persuit of being as strong and healthy as possible, then proceed accordingly. If they don't, keep soaring. This is yet another example of how important your mind is with reaching your fitness goals.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Screw The Bench Press!

Okay, if I have to endure one more article out there dealing with bench press maladies, I'm going to shoot something! I'm serious! I just can't understand how this exercise is so damn popular when it seems like so many know that it's one of the big culprits behind "winged scapula", the reason why some people who live on the bench can't lift their arms over their head without altering their posture to do it, if they can do it at all! Isn't that a pretty fundamental human arm movement?

Here's another article that, in part, deals with this situation...

Okay, he blames one of the photos that I posted this on hunching over to look at a computer. Who's he really kidding? I could be wrong about benching doing this, but I don't think that I am.

Okay, cooler, more rational head now...

I know that any exercise can be done incorrectly and cause an injury. You could easily give yourself a mother lode of tendinitis if you did push-ups in reps that exceed your abilities. You could fall on your head while doing handstand push-ups. You can also get tendinitis in your elbows or pull your biceps while doing chin-ups. Still, I believe there's something else wrong with the bench press. The shoulder problems don't seem to be coming from over-ambitious application of effort and workload while benching. The bench press isn't working the chest and shoulder muscles evenly.

I'll freely admit that I don't know about all the different muscle imbalances that exist and that it's possible that you could give yourself muscle imbalances from push-ups. Theoretically, anything's possible. In reality, how much is it actually happening though? It sure seems like it happens way more with benching than it does with push-ups. It's anecdotal as hell, I admit, but like I said, it's getting hard to ignore the volume of articles written to address imbalances from benching.

One thing that I'm reasonably certain on is that these problems with the bench press could probably be solved by balancing out the workout with movements such as handstand push-ups and military presses as the author of that article suggested. I've seen other articles about using the face pull and the push-up to get some serratus anterior work. Still, it's seems a waste of precious workout time when you could do some pull-ups/chin-ups and push-ups and get the same effect. I don't think that the bench press is really that precious. Training should be about getting a strong healthy body, not one that conforms to some Adonis complex-obsessed society. The bench press seems to be the exercise that embraces the latter.

Friday, April 3, 2009

What Don't You Need to Get in Shape

It's important to keep reading, researching and learning about things. One thing that I've started to notice when I read people who are (or appear to be) more knowledgable than I am about fitness and strength training is how much of the training experience that we take for granted as needed really isn't necessary. Often times, it might even be detrimental in some ways. It's generally assumed that when you train, you need to dress up in a gym outfit and go to a gym to do your strength training. The purpose of this blog from the start is to prove and demonstrate that you don't need weights to get strong. So, in the spirit of establishing what we can do without if necessary, here are some things that I think that you may not need either when you're training.

1. SHOES This thought crash landed in my head a few weeks ago when I checked out T-Nation's latest articles. Henry Clay wrote a great article about barefoot training that really got me thinking that we might be weakening our feet, and in turn, our whole body by wearing shoes when we train. Yes, wearing shoes in some instances is necessary. Often times I have to train where I work and I wouldnt' dare walk around barefoot where I work. After finishing this article, I was convinced that he was correct. One thing that I've been working on lately is my Pistols. I came to the realization that I should be able to do these in rep counts far higher than I'm doing right now. I realized how important using my feet in the exercise really were. After reading Clay's article, I realize why Pavel wears Chucks while demonstrating these in "The Naked Warrior."

Oh, and if you care to see how much we could do with our feet but don't, then just consider Jessica Cox. She's a motivational speaker who was born without arms. Instead, she uses her feet as her hands. She can do everything from combing her hair and cooking to driving a car and flying an airplane with her legs and feet. What's also interesting to note is she has some pretty good leg and glute development. I think that says something about the importance of having strong feet in relation to the rest of your lower body.

Here's the T-Nation article:

2. THE BUILDING Should we really be working out indoors? Yeah, I work out indoors pretty frequently, more than I work out outdoors. I typically prefer it because I can manipulate my environment indoors a little easier than I can outside. Still, I realize that I don't need to work out indoors. I don't need to be in my gym to get in great shape. If anything, it's probably better to train outdoors than it is indoors. The air is much cleaner outside than inside. A building could easily be seen as a trap for all of the pollution from the outside world. Dust, pollen, pollution, etc all gets caught inside and unless cleaned regularly, stays there.

Another issuse that's been popping up is America's chronic Vitamin D deficiency. This causes serious weakness in the bones. It's also been suggested that strength trainers need more Vitamin D than the average person since they place above-average strain on thier bones when they're training. Some have suggested Vitamin D supplementation. I think that's totally unnecessary since it's well-known that your body will produce all the Vitamin D that it needs... provided that you get exposed to the sun. You're not going to get that if you're in a building.

3. CLIMATE CONTROL I'm just stunned by how soft some people are. They refuse to work out if it's too hot or too cold. This goes hand-in-hand as to why they like to work out indoors. That way, it's a nice, steady 60-70 degrees all of the time. It's too bad because there are advantages to working out in both hot and cold conditions (within reason, of course).

I'm guessing that more people hate the cold than they hate heat and refuse to exit their comfy gym due to below-freezing temperatures. They also think that training in the heat helps them lose weight. You know, burning calories must be easier when it's hot. Heat...burn...get it? I've got news for those thinkers though: that's wrong. You lose WATER WEIGHT in heat, not fat. If you want an climate that promotes calorie burn, then you need to train in the cold. Anyone who spends any amount of time outside will tell you that you'll fry through calories faster because your body has to work just to keep its temperature up. 40% of your heat comes from muscles expending energy. So, your muscles will work harder to just to keep warm in addition to the work that your doing. Plus, the only way you're going to feel warm in the cold is to keep moving. That certainly never hurt any efforts to lose weight.

On the other side of the weather extreme, I think that heat has it's benefits too. I firmly believe that a really good, hard sweat is great for cleaning out the skin. Trust me, my job is smelly and when I sweat during a workout, I can really smell the filth coming out of my pores! It's also a good test of mental strength. It takes serious effort to work out in 90 degree, 90% humidity weather. Then, there's that Vitamin D issue again.

The whole point of this blog is to make sure that you don't get stuck on what you need to work out. Liberate yourself from the notion that you need all kinds of stuff get get into great shape and exceed goals that you set for yourself.

Freestylin' Strength Training!

In the past few days of excessive internet use, I've come across two sides of a strength training mindsets. The first one was when Zach Evan Esch accepted my friend request on Facebook. I started reading some of his material and watching his video blogs and I we both have had the same issue with strength training: not having the typical strength training set-up to work out in. The other side came from a kid who questioned how to get some upper body pulling strength. Trouble was, he had nowhere to do pull-ups or chin-ups and was asking for alternatives. He said he would do them once he got himself a doorway chin-up bar.

That just struck me as so unlikely. I routinely go to places where I don't have the luxury of a straightforward chin-up bar. I don't let that stop me from doing my pulls and chins. There are dozens of ways to improvise one. Believe me, I know from experience. Lack of "proper" equipment never stopped Evan Esh either. When he was a kid and he couldn't afford a barbell set, he just built a sandbag, lifted stones in his parents back yard and trained BW.

The beauty of BW-based strength training is that you don't really need stuff to do it. The stuff you need can frequently be improvised. So, where ever you stand, you're always at a gym. It's up to you to figure out how to make your environment work for you. It's the freestyle rapping of the strength training world.

This is part of the reason why some of us so lovingly study "old school strength training". It was very much a lesson in improvisation. Up until the middle of the 20th century, barbells and dumbells were expensive and rare. So, they improvised. Do you really think that some Russian physcial culturist REALLY developed the kettlebell after doing serious and secret studies? Or, do you think that someone got the idea to put improvise handle on a cannon ball and exercise with it because that's all that they had? My uncle has a very old (like mid 1800's old) livestock scale at his farm. The counterbalancing weights are heavy iron plates. Gee, I wonder where the idea for plate-loaded barbells and dumbells came from?

It's problably not the foremost reason why people quit training but I suspect that the ability to improvise has been a contriubting factor. It's a shame because physical culture, like everything else, was build by imaginative, driven people with the gift of improvisation. Indeed, if you can learn to get workout with the most rudimentary stuff around you, then perhaps you won't slip off the wagon when you visit family, go on vacation, or get get to the gym before it closes. It's an attitude and a mindset that will serve you well. It goes back to something that I've said several times in the past couple of weeks: it's all about mindset.