Sunday, January 29, 2012

If you're cheating, you're not trying

I heard an interesting, pseudoscentific term a week ago: Blue Monday Using a mathematical equation, someone figured out a way to determine the most miserable day of the year. Certainly January 16, 2012 was a really shitty day for me. Part of this calculation is the elapsed time after failing to meet New Years Resolutions.

You mean, like trying to lose weight? Around this time of year, questions start flying about when it's permissible to eat "cheat meals". The good intentions allegedly reaches it's end with the Super Bowl. It's been alleged that the junk food tradition accompanying the game is a conspiracy to permanently break the most popular New Years Resolution, keeping everyone fat.

So, what do I think about cheat meals?

This topic is getting as stale as asking about the best workout music. The problem is that people turn it into a question of cheating or not cheating. Then, once if becomes affirmed, then it's when and how often. I yawn just thinking about it.

This is actually simpler math than the Blue Monday calculation: addition and subtraction. What should we add? Well, we're going to add junk food. Have you ever considered that there are junk foods that should never be eaten? There's a huge difference between a cheeseburger from here and this...

I've done my best to make a policy of not eating things that contain ingredients that I can't pronounce or identify. When I make a pizza for dinner, I can tell you what's in the crust, the sauce, and even the bacon(yes, I make my own bacon. Pancetta, technically). I can usually drive to the farm where the cheese was made. That's a far cry from pizza like this...I'm too lazy to do a Google search. Can someone tell me what Sodium, that stuff.

So, when we add pizza, cheeseburgers, and similar unhealthy fare to our diets on our designated special days, does that mean that we absolutely have to subtract everything resembling healthy food from our diet for the day as well? Is it a crime against humanity to have a salad with the pizza? Could you bring yourself to throw some diced jalapenos (which have more Vitamin C, by weight, than oranges.) and serve the whole thing on a whole wheat bun? Last time I checked, this was all permissible.

Let's cut the bullshit though. If you did resolve to lose some weight and you're already asking about when you can cheat, you're just setting yourself up for a failure. I could spout off about tips to eat better but the reality is that you need to get stubborn with yourself. Those of us committed to keeping a healthy weight get urges like the rest of humanity. We're just disciplined enough to fight off enough of them to stay healthy. At this point, don't even fucking think about when you can cheat and eat if your resolution is to lean out. You might have to skip the wings at Super Bowl but you'll feel, and look, better for it.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Replace Functional. Right idea, wrong word

If you wandered over here from my Facebook page, then you know that I enthusiastically bought "Muscle, Smoke and Mirrors vol II" as soon as I heard it was available for sale. It's been an oddly enthralling read. I've never been interested in bodybuilding but I've deeply enjoyed reading all of the goings-on in the transitional 1970's. Those years are the nearly-sole focus of this 700-plus page book.

You can't talk about those years without bringing up Arthur Jones. The Nautilus story takes up a significant chunk of the book. So, as I was reading about this "sport" that I don't have much interest in during years I wasn't born, I came across a part about how Arthur Jones lamented that his lats were too small. As he saw it, the problem was his hands were holding back his quest to get his Lattisimus Dorsi bigger. So, he set out to make a machine to take his hands out of the equation.

He felt as though he succeeded wildly, proudly proclaiming in all his brashness that he could put "lats on a rake" ... all that was necessary was a machine to take the hands out of the process.

That kind of thinking leaves me with one though...

Maybe, in addition to being a borderline maniac, Arthur Jones was an engineering genius. I run into that all of the time with work. There's lots of civil engineers that are really smart... and impractical as the day is long.

A while back when I decided to start reading about human anatomy, a very common way to describe the Lats was, "the climbing muscle," due to how heavily we all use the lat when we climb shit. So, riddle me this: how on earth do you climb anything if you don't use your hands? Forget the climbing for a second. How much can we do with the lats without the hands?
and this helps with what exactly?

I used a word a minute ago that we don't see too often in muscle training: impractical. I don't think that we use this term enough. Instead, we see exercises referred to as either, "functional," or not. Maybe that's a piss-poor label. Functional exercise is something that helps you achieve a goal. So, any exercise is functional. That's not what we're referring to and lots of people make themselves look silly by using this phrase, even if they're getting at something they're not properly defining.

Impractical is what we're getting at. There are lots of stuff you can do to make big, strong muscles but it's an open question as to whether it's worth doing in the first place. Like I said before, what can you do with your lats with in real life that doesn't require the use of your hands? So, what the hell good is a machine that sets you up to work out in ways you'll never move outside of a gym?

So, it's worth thinking about the way you're moving when you're in your respective gym. A little practicality would be a nice change of pace in people's methods of working out. While you're trying to be practical, dump the mislabeling phenomenon known as "functional training."Owner of some of the best Lats in history. So, maybe there is something practical about building big lats: it drives the babes nuts!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Time and The Place Part III: Joys of Wintertime Training!

I've got a nifty farmer's walk variation I started doing a few months ago. I load up my Ironmaster KB with 100 lbs (or more) of weight. I shoulder a sandbag on one side, grab the kettlebell with the opposite hand and march. Obviously, I've got to alternate sides. So, in between walking around awkwardly, I clean and press the sandbag.

There's just one problem. The only place I can do this GPP is outside. I don't have enough ceiling indoors to put the sandbag overhead and my wife won't let me walk around the house with 190 lbs of weight that I have a tendency to violently drop when throughly exhausted.

She's weird.

So, I go outside... In the blowing snow and rapidly dropping temperatures. Welcome to a traditional Northeastern weather. Then again, it's only a problem if you make it a problem. The fact is that I had no choice and I just had to make things work with the environment that I live. It may be bordering inhospitable but there's upsides to this climate. That is, if you're not weird enough look at the upside of the situation.

One thing that became rapidly apparent when I was walking with big weights in snow is that this is noticeably more difficult. Even six inches made things a lot harder. We all know snow makes a great way to increase resistance to training that requires walking. I never thought to do other stuff beyond snow sprints. I'm now intrigued...Dan John's got something here...

Yeah, it's cold now, and that can be uncomfortable. It can also be best fat-burning environment to train in. One discovery that have fat-fighting doctors and scientists abuzz is the somewhat recent discover of brown fat (brown adipose tissue) in adult human bodies. The quick and dirty explanation of brown fat is that it's a form of tissue that stores and burns calories for no other reason than to regulate body temperature. Normal fat (white adipose tissue) simply stores fat. Muscle tissue gives off heat as a bi-product. Brown fat's product is heat. It's arranged near major veins and it's designed to heat up blood going back to the heart, near the base of the neck and around the kidneys.
Science has known for years that babies have considerable deposits of this stuff because they can't move enough to generate their own heat from their muscles. It was always assumed that it goes away as a human ages into adulthood. In reality, the cells stay there. They never replicate and they never change to anything else. Some dim-witted exPURTS want to come up with a way to chemically stimulate brown fat to burn more fat. I guess they're not terribly worried about the effects of hyperthermia on the heart.

Instead, why not just force brown fat to warm up a cooler body by-YOU GUESSED IT-doing some of your training outdoors in the cold? Don't take this opportunity be be a fucking frozen retard . I like to wear enough clothing so that I feel cold as soon as I step outside but I feel warm after a few minutes. Moisture-wicking clothing, as well as stuff to keep the snow out, is important. If I work out with lots of intensity, I won't stay outside much longer than 40 minutes.

One major consideration when working out, or otherwise living, in the cold climates is hydration. It's very easy to dry out because drinking fluids makes you piss every other second. It's still necessary to drink water. I just do small amounts more often. That way, I don't look like I'm trying to mark my territory.

Yeah, winter time isn't the most comfortable time of year. Yes, training indoors is more comfortable but then again when was strength training about being comfortable? Intelligent strength training happens when you work hard and smart. Doing our thing outdoors can fit into that equation, even if the rest of the world thinks we look nuts while doing it in the snow. We just end up being tougher than the rest and as far as I'm concerned, that's what it's all about.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Working out When Sick

The shots are being administered. The cold remedies are moved front and center of the drug stores. Some of us are coughing and sneezing. Others are wearing masks and running around like SARS just broke out. It's flu season and sooner or later, someone's going to bring up the second-most pointlessly asked question...

"Is it okay to work out when you're sick?"

If you asked me, I'd say...
It depends

You couldn't ask for a more intuitive and though provoking answer, could you? While these people are at it, they might as well ask about the best workout music (that being the most pointless question).

I'll read any book that has words in it. That even includes British Survival Guides. I recall in that book about making sure that if you're in a group survival situation that it's important that every person has a job, no matter how ill or injured they are. The reason for that is to keep boredom at bay. An idle mind with a sick body will kill rapidly and any little thing that can keep someone stimulated and feeling important could be a life saver.

Face the facts: if you sit around and think about how sick you are, chances are good you'll be sick longer. I know that I can only tolerate the monotony of watching TV in my bed clothes while I try desperately to get the taste of cough drops out of my mouth with fizzy, sludgy mixtures of Airborne and orange juice for so long.

Yes, this blog entry came to mind when I thought I might have a cold. I usually go to the doctors just to make sure it's not strep throat (which I used to get a lot when I was a kid). Just being at the doctor's office made me feel sicker even though
the only thing that was bothersome was my throat. Other than that, I was fine. It's one of those times where the more I thought about being sick, the more sick I felt.

If I can work, then I'll work out. I'm not trying to set any records here. Working out is, after all, a controlled breakdown of the body. I'll just do something to keep busy but not bust balls. I'll keep the reps low, rest more between each set, and drink more water than I usually would. I followed this advice with a work out after going to the doctor's office. I felt fine the next day.

The scale of mental health versus physical health need to be carefully evaluated on more serious things than the flu. I'll never forget the sensation of trying to use my CoC's when I had the shingles earlier last year. Sensation is too gentle of a word. For those who've never had them, this is the best description of the pain: Life-threatening electrocution! So, that time, I had to deal with being one with the couch. Use some good sense on more extreme cases of illness.

Sickness and exercise is one of those moments where you need to be honest with yourself. A very modest amount of self reflection should give you the answer to your questions on this one. It doesn't require a key stroke ride to your favorite forum of internet-strength Gods. Chances are, you already know the answer to this question. Act accordingly.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Training Wheels for Real Training

There are a lot of reasons why we all keep strength training. The most universal reasons that we all do it is the soul-moving qualities that come with overcoming hard, physical challenges. We also learn to appreciate the importance of being physically capable. Life just sucks when we're weak and that fact can only be avoided for so long. I could keep going on and on about why it's awesome to pursue physical strength for reasons beyond just the physical realm but smarter, more insightful people have poured over that in countless blog entries all over all of the internets. I do have a question though. It's one that a few of my Friends have taken up the keyboard for answers and action on the question at hand:
Why does real strength training have to be so gender-specific?

Indeed, there are no good answers to this question outside of a really fucked up notion of beauty that claims that any sort of real strength builder strike down the mere identity of women and render them men at the slightest touch of a pull-up bar or a barbbell. Anyone who cares to do some honest research into the topic, beyond Traci Anderson and women's fitness magazines, will realize this.

Now, I freely admit that my opening paragraph should apply equally to both sexes should be free from judgement about how someone will look when they train to excel. It shouldn't matter how a person looks nearly as much as it does...but that's the way that the cards have been dealt. It's the somewhat unfortunate fact of life.

The last time I wrote on this topic, I said the following:

Maybe that's what we should be doing to begin with here: promoting real strength training for real health for the sake of being able to do real-life movement. Then, after we've got that mastered, maybe we can all learn to appreciate a healthy, strong body and learn to find it desirable, maybe even attractive.

So, that leaves me with one thought. If the notion of promoting a look that looks like strong-health as attractive, then what would someone use? The thought that crossed my mind is: do most people even know what that looks like anymore?

I freely admit that there isn't usually a dramatic difference in how a strong woman and an ordinary woman look. There are tell-tale signs. There are things that you don't usually see on women who do some sort of real strength training. These are things that I don't think most people probably wouldn't find attractive. Using the notion that what's attractive is what's strong and healthy, I think that these are points that we can all agree on.

Let's start easy: the muffin top. While I'll freely admit that this is more diet-related than exercise-related, I've always maintained that good training is the ultimate feedback on how good your diet is. Five rounds of The Magic 50, Girondas 8x8, some a nice super-set of pull-ups and push-ups will tell you that your binge eating the day before was really stupid far faster than walking on any contraption ever would. That ultimately translates to a far better body. Besides, doing workouts like this for a sustained period of time won't allow for lots of body fat. To succeed at this stuff, you have to lean out!

Moving onto an actual show of muscle on a woman, I'd have to single out the skinny thighs. I think that men instinctively show off their upper bodies because they know that's what defines them as powerful men. Women have the power in the legs on a pound-for-pound basis more then men do. It's one of the few places where women can have some muscle definition and show it off without the "man" label. First image found on Google when I typed, "model legs".

So, there's no reason for women's legs to only meet at the knees. It could be said that it's actually incredibly feminine to have this display of strength on a woman!

Another, more subtle problem area that bothers me about women is the winged shouldler blades. How many times do we see this look on women...For some reason, ribs poking out the sides is prime tabloid material for actresses who are to skinny but this one somehow gets a pass. It's still bones sticking out of the skin where they shouldn't be sticking out! Furthermore, it's an unhealthy posture issue that begs for some stronger muscles in the right places.

I cringe to even bring up using attraction as a method of selling strength training to the other sex. Ever-changing notions of beauty have lead generations of women to do some very bizarre, and dangerously unhealthy things to their bodies. The reason why even mention it is that it worked so well for men 120 years ago.

I believe it was Lionel Strongfort who commented that for every person who wanted to be strong like Eugen Sandow, 20 just wanted to look like him. Indeed, if you do a Google Image search of Sandow, you'll find that most of the pictures of him out that exist have him showing off his body more than his lifting prowess. We can argue about the limitations of how much sex appeal should sell strength training all day but it's hard to deny that it works and it certainly has it's place. If anything, it's like training wheels: Something that gets you started on the road to better things. Things like the stuff I described at the beginning of this entry.