We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
Our Recent Essays Behind the Front Page
Saturday, July 14. 2018
As I have confessed, I am a small-boned (now 5'11", once 6', 165 lb) late-middle aged guy who imagines he is still 25, without the genes for a mighty physique, with the genes for a dad bod - ie sloppy gut, but blessed with the genes or temperament for perseverance. I'll share my fitness goals for the next 5-6 months:
- Dead around 275-300 one rep
For some, those might be modest goals, but not for me.
What are your 6 month fitness goals?
Thursday, July 12. 2018
Leave your ego at the door. Two good guys discuss weight lifting, whisky, and the confidence that comes from physical fitness. (h/t, reader)
Wednesday, July 11. 2018
There is a darn good reason why people avoid heavy lifting, whether they are cardio fitness nuts or just people looking for work. Heavy lifting is stressful, unpleasant - other than facing the challenge.
Many people avoid stress, some to the point of avoiding life itself. The thing is, painful stress, whether emotional, physical, or intellectual, is what builds strength and effectiveness for life.
If you lift enough, at some point that 60 lb. bag of cement mix will feel light as a feather. Same goes for all other stressors.
Friday, July 6. 2018
Why do people with any fat stores ever feel hungry, or eat anything at all, considering they may have 1-5 month's worth of energy stored as fat? (We term the hunger experienced by overweight people "False Hunger," because it is.) Except in the truly malnourished or extremely fit, low body-fat athletes, hunger is rarely a signal of an energy deficit or of any nutritional need.
Think about it. Even normal-weight (neither overweight nor underweight) people carry 8-10 weeks of energy stored in fat if they can only access it.
You can consider appetite in the pudgy or overweight, not to mention the obese, to be a design flaw based on the hunting and gathering, and, earlier, just plain gathering condition of human existence, same as the other great apes who only become overweight in captivity. Agriculture and food abundance, along with sedentary life, exposed the design flaw for people who overnourish themselves. Of course, physical inadequacy is another side effect.
Here are a few issues (below) -
Continue reading "Why do overweight people ever feel hunger?"
Thursday, July 5. 2018
Whether you are doing an hour of weights, calis, or HIIT cardio, I think most of us ordinary exercisers reach the point in a given effort when something says "OK, I'm done," but a better voice says (in my case) "Don't be a pussy - push through and do more." I find that self-insults work well for me, as do either insults or encouragement from others.
Distance runners talk about hitting "the wall," but persisting through the wall and finding more energy on the other side. These experiences are both mental and physiological, having to do with the energy sources your muscles or your heart are using and the amount of power your body can enlist.
Yesterday I did elliptical semi-HIIT, semi-long slow on the elliptical (because Wimbledon) on TV. When I do this on elliptical (always using arms too to make it full-body) I do 30-second sprints with 60-second slows, or for variety, I will keep a steady RPM pace while upping the resistance from 1 to 10, increasing every minute and then dropping back down the same way.
After 35 minutes of low-resistance 30-second sprints, I was done. Or thought I was. I called myself a wimp, took a minute slow on level 1, and then got right back in the game to complete the hour going up and down the resistance levels. I have similar experiences in my calis classes.
On the other hand, we all have real limits and it is amusing and educational to confront them in regular life and in physical exertion. Well, depressing too. All we have to do is to check whether it is a real limit or a mental determination speed bump.
On my 5th set of deads this morning (increasing weight and decreasing reps for each set) I found I could not get 3 reps at 245. Genius trainer said "Quick, reset your grip and go again." I think I engaged all my will and force but the goddam thing felt glued to the floor. With a minute's rest, I could have done the third, but that's not the way it works. For you strong guys and gals, this would not be too difficult but I am not you. A fit, skinny, no-bulk gal I know does 3 reps of 300. She is only 35, though.
I think it was a true physical limit at that point in my dead routine, because I engage everything so as not to disappoint my trainer's expectations and demands. However, for that moment, I am fairly confident that I was done. Sucks to disappoint a mentor.
When I think about it, I most frequently encounter genuine limits in jump rope and in pull-ups. Also, the sprints on the combat bike. Even the f-word just doesn't help at all.
I wonder how our readers feel when things go from manageable to tough to hard to painful to walls to breakthoughs to actually confronting real limitations.
Sunday, July 1. 2018
Pic is my medicine ball on our Cape Cod driveway. Garbage cans out - a decorative touch.
If you have invested time, money, sweat, and tears into a fitness regimen, it is depressing to learn that your level of conditioning will deteriorate measurably within 7-10 days if all you do is walk around for hours. Many people go for morning jogs but there are plenty of other morning calisthenics that can be done anywhere.
I have done it all, in hotel gyms, in the sandy driveway on Cape Cod, and elsewhere all over the place. Even in Maine. A light protein and banana shake after. There is no more invigorating way to begin an active day outdoors.
One observation: We Americans are fitness nuts by comparison to the rest of the world. It's cultural and, to some extent, class-related We (frequently) overweight Americans try to stay fit and vigorous until something strikes us down. In Europe, not much. In Asia, very little. How often do you see gyms or street runners in those places? An exception might be Switzerland, where I am told gyms are sprouting up on every corner in every town. Especially in Zurich, or course, because Zurich is like a mini-NYC but without the charm.
For a business meeting, a business speech, or a job interview, there is nothing like an hour of calis to prepare.
A few ideas below the fold -
Continue reading "Staying Fit on Vacation"
Use it or lose it. Strength and power diminish measurably after 7-10 days, cardio fitness after one week without stressing your heart hard. The older you are, the quicker the loss.
Tuesday, June 26. 2018
They say "Curls for Girls" and "Sun's Out, Guns Out" because, for guys, strong arms are a sign of vigor, health, and fitness to females, and of dominance to males. For gals, toned beats flabby all the time as a sign of health. It's primitive, but physicality matters because we are animals.
Biceps (and brachialis) are a bit more about vanity than functionality, but we want all of our skeletal muscles to be firm and fit. Triceps are much more functional, but what the heck. Good to be strong all over.
I tend to do one or two sets/week of curls more as "maintenance" than as strength-building. Can't do everything in the allotted time, and curls are "accessory." Furthermore, all upper body exertions stress arms so there is no real need to mess with them.
My point here is to mix overhand curls (whether dumbells, straight bar, or crooked bar) with the usual underhand grip. The overhand grip stresses the heck out of your forearms, so it's a good mix.
Grip (ie, forearm strength) tends to be the weak link in many exertions (ie, deadlifts). Another good forearm stressor is max-heavy Farmer's Walks (squeeze those kettlebell handles like your life depended on it). We like functional multi-muscle group exercises, and that darn Farmer'sWalk stresses everything from legs to forearms and everything in between.
Tip for curls - lower you arms to a count of 3 or 4. Don't just let gravity do it. The "negative" is as important as the pull. That applies to most weight work.
Wednesday, June 20. 2018
For whatever reasons, there are people who refuse to move weights in the gym and who refuse the tedium of cardio exercise (which, in my view, should never be tedious with the right amount of sprinting intervals).
Everybody benefits from heavy weights, but moving weight is hard - not fun at all.
For those people who refuse weights I recommend 5-6 one-hour calisthenics classes weekly. These classes have all sorts of labels, and some are more challenging than others. However, for general fitness, they are good and highly stressful. The stress is necessary. While we prefer the Maggie's formula of 2 days weights, 2 days calis, and 2 days cardio, for those who will not do that, the cali classes are a good alternative. More variety, group enthusiasm, jolly people, stupid "music", all that. My group is a jolly but very focused and determined team. Everybody does his/her best and, for some of us, it's not impressive.
These classes are not for building strength. They are for building energy, building cardio, building endurance, building agility, and putting all of your muscles to work. Since they tend to be free with gym membership, lots of people do them daily, before work. The classes I do are 50/50 sex -wise, and 50/50 over/under 45 years old. Yes, there are pretty gals to look at but you can't because you are just trying to keep up. Are sweaty gals sexy? Totally.
You can tell the newbies from the veterans. 45-60 minutes is exhausting. I was once a newbie. The people who struggle through it for the first few months at 5-6 days/week and stick with it show remarkable fitness gains. Most newcomers do not stick with it because it seems like too much at first. It can be, at first.
It really might be all anybody needs if muscle- and bone-building are not your goals. I happen to love-hate my weights days and my cardio routines but I get a kick out of the challenge of classes and look forward to them. Cali classes do enough HIIT cardio for anybody's cardio needs, really.
Best part? When the hour is done. Everybody applauds the trainer and then you can collapse on the floor in your puddle of sweat.
Wednesday, June 13. 2018
Do many adult humans reveal, in their behavior, a preference for a life with minimal exertion? Some days I feel that preference, some days I don't. That's why I need to apply some force to myself to consistently measure up to my expectations. I don't know about you, but I tend to despise myself when I disappoint myself, make excuses for myself, or rationalize. That's the Yankee way, harsh conscience and a reasonable dose of self-contempt.
People vary a lot in their innate energy and vitality, but I do know that hard exercise increases them for everybody. I'll offer readers a tip: Just Do It. Some mornings at 4:15 I feel "too tired" to face a hard workout at 5. After a cup of covfefe or two while checking Drudge, and then a 5-10 minute warm-up, I'm ready to challenge myself for 60 or 80 minutes. Another tip: An exercise partner or a trainer to push you is a yuge help. I can always do more with a bit of encouragement. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak...and vice-versa.
If you are considering making a commitment to exercise (which I prefer to term "exertion" because "exercise" can mean anything other than sleeping or sitting, while exertion implies pushing the limits to stress, discomfort and sometimes pain), the first step is to define one's goals. The goal(s) determine the path.
Common exercise goals include the following:
- Weight loss
I'll take Weight Loss off the list, because the only exertion for that is using your right arm to stop your left arm from opening the door of the ice-box.
Each goal requires a different approach. Our fitness posts on Maggie's are all oriented around General Conditioning for Life because it is what we know something about.
More below the fold -
Continue reading "Exercise Goals, Exertion, etc."
Thursday, June 7. 2018
Can you run 1.5 miles in under 12-13 minutes? From the Mayo Clinic, "good" fitness levels for non-athletes based on age and sex.
Those test levels are quite modest for active people. Everybody can aspire to better, but the doctors have learned to be modest in their expectations of us.
My only objection is to their including BMI on the list, which is a bad index for excess body fat. Is your waist size an ok measure of your body fat? Yes it is. Your waist size is not your belt size or jeans size, especially if you wear them on your hips which most people do these days. Your waist is above your belly button, the narrow space below your rib cage and above your hips (if you have a narrow space there).
How to Measure Your Waist
Sunday, June 3. 2018
HIIT is for cardio conditioning and general fitness. It builds energy and endurance, not strength. Why endurance? Because if you can do sequences of sprints, any cardio stress of lesser intensity becomes easy.
We have mentioned High Intensity Interval Training frequently in our fitness posts. The Times notes that not only is it a more efficient and effective approach to cardio fitness training but it is also more satisfying. It is not boring.
Athletes have used HIIT for decades for cardio conditioning. The Times correctly notes that you hate it while doing it (it burns, it hurts, you are winded, your eyes are blinded by sweat, you want to give up), but after a session you are glad you did it.
HIIT in the form of calisthenics or plain cardio means anaerobic sprints of any sort with max effort from 20-60 seconds interrupted by 30 seconds to 3 minutes of active recovery. Re cardio, we also include one hour of aerobic endurance cardio in our plan as an "active recovery" day from your week's efforts. Even that should not be "slow," though - should be pushing it aerobically.
The now-famous Maggie's General Fitness Program (2 days heavy weights or other strength training, 2 days cardio, 2 days calisthenics) includes HIIT in some of the calisthenics and some of the cardio sessions. Calisthenics with an HIIT format kills two birds with one stone.
As we remind interested readers, the Maggie's 6-7 hr/wk program has to be worked up to gradually for people over 40.
Some examples of HIIT calis and HIIT regular cadio below the fold -
Continue reading "The New York Times discovers HIIT Cardio"
Wednesday, May 30. 2018
The two "ups" are the classic back exercises. The other basic upper back exercise is bent-over rows. (Arms, pecs, and shoulders are secondary for both.) You can consider pull ups calisthenics because they are body-weight, but, approached right, they are strength-builders. Like push-ups can be. I do them on calisthenics days, once or twice/week.
Few fitness beginners can do many, or even one, pull up, and having excess weight makes it even harder. That's why gyms have assist machines, and bands for the pull up bars. Check your ego at the door, because we all suck. You begin with assists, and gradually reduce the amount of assist. (Pull-down cables are ok for upper back maintenance, but pull ups are the gold standard for fitness.)
If an ordinary guy over 35 can do 10 unassisted pull-ups, that's pretty good. Most gals need to use the assists, due to less upper-body muscle development. Some fit guys strap on weights to make their pull ups more challenging, but that ain't me. I see guys in their 70s doing a few sets of 10 as part of their strength rotations. That's cool. Some people will not give up on vigor and strength because they are part of the basic American values. In Euroland, people do not work out like Americans, but my pal in Switzerland tells me gyms are growing like weeds in Zurich where everybody has a desk job.
Funny thing about those 5 a.m. guys in their 70s is that after their workouts they shower and dress and leave for work in their suits and ties at 6:15 am, looking magnificent and powerful. It's a positive attitude towards life and I intend it for me. Not quitters. Quitting is not the Yankee way, not the Yankee ethic for men or women.
Mentally, the way to think about these ups is thrusting your elbows down rather than focusing on your arms. Best way to work on pull-ups (or chin-ups) for strength? Determine the amount of assist you need to do 5 - not quite 6 - good reps. With rests, do 5 sets each session. Over time, reduce the assist, still doing 5 sets of 5. When you can get to 5 sets of 5 with minimal assist (say, 20-40 lbs), work up to 8-10 reps. Then quit the assists and work up to whatever you can do. Nobody wants to be a twink.
If you're doing something like the Maggie's general fitness program, you will not have time to work on this more than once or twice/wk. A good challenge, though. We all need challenges or we decay.
This below is a bit technical. For me, sometimes pullups and sometimes chin ups. Doesn;t matter to me.
Trigger warning: these two guys have damn little body fat so they might make you feel bad about yourself. Too skinny, in my opinion, but clearly strong and healthy. What makes them useful specimens is that you can see the anatomy.
Saturday, May 26. 2018
Bulldog and I are planning a bouldering day for the near future. Well, full-day rough hiking with enough challenging bouldering and rock scrambling to keep everybody on our local hiking team happy, challenged, and entertained.
Friends and family. No ropes required but a positive, can-do attitude is required. I am planning the routes and want to make it as fatiguing and stressful as possible.
To keep the wives happy, we'll throw in a brunch at Mohonk. One hour, only, is what we guys will permit because we want to move, not sit and eat oysters, filet, halibut, Kobe beef, Nantucket scallops, fine wines, and a hundred other decadent delights.
Why get in shape if you don't use it to the max? Rock scrambling is great fun, and sometimes scary and that is what builds character. Or so my Dad said. "Face all of your fears. That's how you become a man." Like his beloved Shakespeare, he viewed fearfulness as a kind of death.
He was in two wars but he never spoke of it. Never once. US Army.
Wednesday, May 23. 2018
Lifelong exercise can slow aging of heart, blood vessels
"Conditioning" is the process of forcing your body (including brain and central nervous system) to adapt to new or greater physical demands. The other term, "training", typically refers to working towards a more specific goal (eg sprinting, tennis, or body-building).
Everybody knows what "good condition" looks like: looking good, moving well, trim physique, decent muscle-development, high energy and vitality, good athleticism and agility, good posture, cheerful eagerness to take on any sort of physical challenges, etc. But what is it made of?
When we posted about Fitness for Newbies, we tried to emphasize the gradual nature of advancing a fitness program. The body responds positively to good, graduated stresses at any age, but adaptation is slow so if you get over your skis it will be counterproductive in all sorts of ways. Worse, adaptation is slower at 40 than at 20.
The reason it is slow is because it is so complex on the cellular, anatomical, and biochemical level (not to mention the psychological level which is often the most formidable hurdle). The sort of program we endorse demands adaptation - change - at multiple levels: neuromuscular connections, cellular energy production and other aspects of metabolism, endocrine, muscle and tendon construction, bone strengthening, cardio-pulmonary from capillary construction to increasing cardiac output, perhaps fat loss, and so on. To learn about it is an education in basic physiology. Very interesting to me. There's a section in the textbook.
Another reason it's complicated is because each form of exercise (resistance, calisthenics, plyometrics, anaerobic cardio, and aerobic cardio) has a different and sometimes conflicting effect on the conditioning processes in the paragraph above. For one example, conditioning for endurance (aerobic) cardio conflicts with strength-building processes. This is why training for specific athletic activities/sports varies so much from sport to sport (at the higher levels, anyway). Our Maggie's program is for Fitness for Life and recreational activities in general - and might be wrong for specialized athletes (until they retire). Thus we aim to override any conflicts and just include every component of fitness and athleticism.
Four other points about Conditioning:
- Consistency is essential in a conditioning program. That's why we say 6 days/wk of workouts is ideal. Physical condition decays much more rapidly than it accumulates. You can't put it in the bank.
- Gradually stepping up the variety and intensity of challenges is essential. When upping the challenges stops, conditioning processes stop. Conditioning processes do no more than is demanded of them. For example, jogging 3 miles every day will do nothing more for you than to maintain your ability to jog 3 miles/day. That is one-dimensional fitness just as only lifting is one-dimensional.
- The right nutrition matters. Has to be right for your goals. We have discussed this ad nauseum.
- Decent rest is essential for physical recovery from high exertion. That means sleep - and one day/wk without high-intensity exertion (hiking and recreational sports are fine). The exertion stimulates the conditioning processes but the rest times are when those good growth and repair processes occur. Every several months, a week off from exertion seems to be fine or even good but in my case a week away from hard exertion feels terrible mentally and physically so I hate it. However, a day off, say, with just a hike or light cardio, seems to leave me full of beans the next day and ready to kill my deadlifts.
Basic tests for physical conditioning for ordinary people below the fold -
Continue reading "What is "Physical Conditioning" and why is it so slow?"
Sunday, May 20. 2018
Contrary to common belief, core exercises do not give you 6-pack abs. 6-pack abs are mainly a product of low body fat.
The key to effective planks is to make them isometrically-active. That means pulling your tummy in and tightening your glutes during the time of the plank. That's a rigid plank, not a relaxed plank.
Wednesday, May 16. 2018
You're 30 or 35 or 40 or 50 or 60 (or 70) and you have decided that it's either now or never to make a serious commitment to fixing or maintaining physical fitness.
I don't blame anybody who refuses to do that, because it is unpleasant and requires discipline and effort well-beyond comfort. Effort means effort, pushing every mental and physical limit. I have learned more about the meaning of that word in the gym than I ever learned in regular life. If pleasure and comfort is what your life is about, fine. We reject those decadent values because
Friends have asked me for advice on how to get started, so I wrote down a program, in stages, for ordinary mostly-sedentary (ie less than 5-6 hrs/wk of challenging exertion) people. Non-athletes. There is plenty of exercise advice available, and everybody has an opinion so I expect debate, but I believe my advice is rational, non-faddish, well-balanced, efficient, and practical. Don't rush it - if over 30, it takes time to adapt to demand so it's best to go step by step instead of rushing in and either get injured or burning out. Slow and steady.
Four stages for beginners, below the fold -
Continue reading "The Maggie's Farm detailed advice for committed fitness newbies: Getting Started"
Friday, May 11. 2018
It has become standard to recommend exercise as at least one component of the treatment of depression.
Now it appears that moving heavy weight is the best antidepression form of exercise.
Thursday, May 10. 2018
Fitness training is about strength, agility, athleticism, endurance, speed, power. Good things like that. I am a strong believer in maintaining maximum functionality with a fitness program, but mixed and balanced exercises (ie calisthenics, weights, and some cardio) done at a rational level (5-6 hrs/wk, not including walking, sports, hiking, etc) will likely have no effect on your body fat. That's not why you do it.
As the guy in this article notes (and as I have noticed countless times), after a year or two of nothing but daily cardio machines, running, or swimming, most people in the gym are just as pudgy as when they began. Sometimes more. Just putting in their time but ignoring their food intake and their exercise intensity.
To get rid of body fat, you must manage your daily nutrition. Do not rely on exercise or cardio, especially "long, slow cardio" to do it. It will not. (In fact, an excess of cardio exercise, anaerobic or aerobic, might be a bad idea for many people, if not a waste of time.)
Fitness and nutrition are separate but somewhat overlapping topics.
Wednesday, May 9. 2018
Jump rope is great cardio. I get winded after a couple of minutes. I figure jumping is 80% cardio and 20% strength, so you could consider it a calisthenic. I find it extremely fatiguing, but it's fun to learn all the moves. I still can not to double-unders, but I'm fine with one-foot, jacks, running man, split step, etc.
I try to practice my jump moves at least 3 times/week, trying to get better and to improve my endurance with it.
You can see how this graceful gal does a little active recovery by swinging the rope. She is fast. Her criss-cross is cool. How is that done?
This is good - side swing to jump
Tuesday, May 8. 2018
It has become common for people to foam-roll their muscles before weights or calisthenics nowadays. Generally-speaking, before their warm-ups and stretches. It's a brief massage, "myofascial release" as it is termed but that sounds dubious to me. Sometimes it hurts, but in a good way. Sometimes people do it after a workout.
I have no idea whether it does any good, but I do it anyway: back, butt, quads, hammies, sides of upper legs, and calves. I don't do my arms. Takes less than 5 minutes, feels good.
Amazon sells them but all gyms have stacks of them.
Sunday, May 6. 2018
The idea that government knows how we ought to eat is absurd. Many of us assume that government is stupid, but even your Mom doesn't know.
Nobody can say what a "healthy" nutrition plan is because humans and all higher primates are omnivorous. That means humans can thrive on almost anything as long as it contains sufficient calories to support life. I've seen enough kids grow big and strong enough to play varsity football on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on Wonder Bread to be convinced of that.
Yes, that "low fat" high carb advice was totally wrong, terrible advice for almost everybody. As was the "low salt" advice (for most people). How Big Government Backed Bad Science and Made Americans Fat
Because of the ambiguity of being omnivorous, everybody has an opinion about what is best. "Clean diet," paleo diet, low-fat diet, high-fat diet, vegetarian diet, vegan diet, Mediterranian diet, bla bla bla. My advice is to eat moderate amounts of everything. Small meals are best for health, fitness, energy, and mental clarity.
With a few comments:
- If overweight and if you do not want to be, cut the carbs and cut the volume. Don't be a pig. If fat and happy, that's fine with me because I am neither your doctor, parent, or spouse.
Saturday, May 5. 2018
These are common myths which need debunking, especially the ones about women "bulking up" with weight training, and about "too old for weights."
Thursday, May 3. 2018
The classic textbook of the field: Essentials of Conditioning and Strength Training.
It's full of fun facts and techniques without being overly technical. Good high school bio should suffice with a gross anatomy refresher. A little biochem won't hurt either but you get the Krebs Cycle in basic bio.
Did you know that physical conditioning includes mitochondrial growth? It does, over time. It's remarkable to learn the ways the body rises to meet stresses slowly but surely.
(Page 1 of 10, totaling 250 entries) » next page