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
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.
- 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.
Since a study came out a few years ago, based on BMI, that heavy people live longer and healthier than thinner people, many heavy people applauded the news.
Of course, that study was nonsense. Overweight people are prone to countless ailments from arthritis to heart disease to breast cancer to Alzheimer's. BMI is not a crude measure, it is a useless measure. Just one of many reasons is that anybody with decent muscle development will come out as overweight on BMI. It turned out that those "heavy but healthy" statistics were due to the number of well-developed individuals in the study which BMI rated as overweight.
In fact, it turns out that higher muscle mass correlates with reduced risk of illness and death. (Well, risk of death is 100% but they mean sooner rather than later.)
A meaningful gauge of being overweight for your build and fitness is your Body Fat percentage. The simplest way to do this is to have somebody use the body fat caliper method on you. That does not measure intra-abdominal fat deposits, but it assumes a correlation. Your doctor's nurse knows how to do that. There are other ways too. (An easier way is to study yourself naked in a mirror.)
This site has two charts, one depicting "ideal" fat percentages based on fitness, and the second based on age. As an athletic female, I like to be around 25-30%. Seems disgusting for your body to be 30% lard, doesn't it? It can be fine for a slender lady, though.
Just for fun, no ab exercises will give you 6-pack abs. Killer abs are all about fat. "Good abs" are visible in men at around 8% body fat, and in women around 12%. Those are either highly-athletic (ie well-beyond "fit" percentages) or otherwise verging on anorectic. I will not recommend any %s lower than those, even for models and ballet dancers, and, generally, feel that those %s are too low for regular fit people. 20% is fine for a regular fit male who plays sports and works out.
Below the fold, photos for comparison of men and women with varying body fat percentages.
Continue reading "Overweight but healthy? Sorry."
Sunday, April 29. 2018
Our recommendation is that 1/3 of fitness training/conditioning (ie about 2 hrs/wk) be basic weight-training with gradually-increasing weights as tolerated. (Our simple plan is 2 hrs mixed cardio, 2 hrs calisthenics, 2 hrs weights, even though there is plenty of overlap to make it all synergistic.)
Friday, April 27. 2018
We had a comprehensive post on the mostly- "cardio" component (which is ideally about 1/3 of a fitness/conditioning program) earlier this week. A few related points from a somewhat different point of view:
- High-intensity cardio training is more about building Athleticism rather than the General Fitness for Life that most people desire. We use the term Athleticism to refer to the high levels of general fitness. More hard core. Many of our fitness posts here tend to have Athleticism goals - but why not set high goals? High goals and failure build character, right? My Dad taught me that.
- Generally speaking, cardio training can refer to anything that elevates the heart rate above walking, whether for short bursts of max intensity or for an hour of, for example, jogging or a few hours of hill-hiking. It's all relative though, depending on one's level of conditioning. For some elderly or overweight, a 3-5 mile hike might count as cardio exercise. For many, a 10-mile hike or a 3-mile jog is pure recreation and not cardio exertion at all.
Much more on the topic, from my point of view, below the fold -
Continue reading "Cardio exercise: a different view"
Tuesday, April 24. 2018
Since it was a bit of a hiking weekend, I decided to consider the topic from a health and fitness standpoint rather than from a fun and adventure standpoint. What I will say generally applies to all aerobic activities (ie rowing, biking, swimming, etc).
- First off, most articles we search discuss these topics in terms of weight loss and calorie-burning. That is nonsense. Unless you devote several hours/day to these things with a carb-restricted diet, they will do nothing for your fat. Let's take that off the table and accept that body fat is about nutritional choices and nothing else.
- Second, we are talking about things which are often referred to as "cardio" fitness and cardio training. They really are not cardio training without the high heart rate which can not be attained for healthy people through walking or jogging. Similarly for skeletal muscle strength. For general endurance, good. True "cardio training" entails repeated anaerobic sprints of almost any activity (often termed HIIT. You can do HIIT with kettlebell swings, wall ball slams, road-sprints, sprint pool laps, or anything that stresses the heck out of you for 30-60 seconds). 15-20 minutes (including rests) of HIIT accomplishes far more for cardio fitness than an hour of aerobic activity.
Third, recreational hiking, jogging, swimming, biking, rowing are more the happy rewards of fitness than stimuli to increased fitness. I can hike 10 miles because I am somewhat fit, not to become fit. Nonetheless, they are the sorts of things that distinguish an "active" person from a "sedentary". "Sedentary" roughly refers to a person with less than 8-10 hours/week of intentional, vigorous physical activity (not strolling, or housework or easy stuff), or less than 6 hours of high-intensity physical activity/week. A good measure of "high-intensity" is that you are short of breath most of the time.
- Except for newbies, the elderly, or the infirm, the above relatively low-intensity aerobic activities (I hesitate to term them "exercise" because they lack the high exertion component) are just fine for maintaining mobility and endurance for casual activities. They do not increase fitness once you can do them. Any healthy person can walk 10 miles, jog 3-5 miles, or swim a mile of laps. Still, aerobic endurance is a handy thing for life enjoyment.
- Walking and jogging put the same lower-body muscles to use. Both are easy on the hamstrings, which can lead to a muscle imbalance if jogging is your only activity. Anyway, these are not strength-builders or meaningful cardio training (because there is not a high-enough cardio stress once you have adapted to them).
- Jogging on cement or asphalt on a daily basis will come back to your joints at some point. For "long, slow", once/week is enough for a fit person who works out daily in other ways along with recreational physical activities such as sports. Running is speedy jogging with a long stride and sprinting is sprinting.
More on the topic below the fold -
Continue reading "What good is walking or jogging? Or other aerobic activities?"
Thursday, April 19. 2018
My friend's son benched 505 last week. He is a serious lifter, a hunk of granite. Going for your one-rep max in powerlifts (bench, squat, deadlifts) is not a great idea for us "functional fitness" people. There is no need at all to do it except as a feat. For general fitness, keeping powerlift reps in the 3-10 range is correct for heavier weights.
You can guess your one-rep max by extrapolating from your 3 or 4-rep max. I do not have a lifter build (have a runner's build), but I go for barbell deadlift one-reps about twice a year, just for kicks and to be stupid. I discovered that I can not deadlift 275 lbs this week - just up to my knees. Damn. I know a gal who deads 300 lbs. Strong, fit gal with no visible muscle mass. Perhaps I did not warm up for it right...
With the powerlifts, always warm up light and work up, usually 5 total sets with a good rest between sets. If you want to be stupid like me once in a while, How to Warm Up for a One-Rep Max
If you like to use a trap bar for deadlifts (I do, occasionally), you can move much more weight than with the barbell. I have never tried a one-rep max with the trap bar.
Below the fold, a few words on other, non-powerlift pure strength exercises -
Continue reading "One-rep max (and strength in general)"
Wednesday, April 18. 2018
People have different goals for physical training. Aspiring or real athletes have a training program designed for their specific sport. Training for tennis is different than rowing training. Endurance training is an entirely different thing. Some people (very few, though) in the gym only care about lifting heavy and nothing else. Good for them. They have a goal. Some people simply jog on the treadmill every day, sit on the exercise bike reading the news, or swim laps, etc. Putting in the time. I don't know why they do that (the elderly excepted), but they are convinced it's good for them and they are doing something besides sitting so that's good.
However, most people just want what we discuss here: Fitness for Life. That means fitness for recreational sports and activities, an energetic and vigorous approach to life with enough strength to handle tough things and enough endurance to never feel tired or lazy. Not to mention the considerable mental benefits.
I think many people (as I did) suddenly hit a point at which one is forced to face the limits of energy, or strength, endurance, vitality, agility, power - whatever. It is depressing. That is the Come To Jesus moment.
That is why we focus our fitness posts on general, functional, fitness rather than on specialized forms of training. The physical basics: Cardio, Calisthenics, Muscle and bone Strength.
Tuesday, April 17. 2018
That is about dietary fat. If you are concerned about hyperlipidemia, let your doc treat it if it concerns you. There are many alternatives for that.
To lose body fat, only a low carb diet works. Your body converts all carbs to sugar and then stores the excess sugar as fat. Dietary fat doesn't make people fat. Everybody knows what carbs are: sweets, fruits, dessert, root vegetables, juices, beer, grains, grain products eg pasta and bread, beans, corn, etc. The comfort foods.
To gain or maintain weight, eat plenty of everything including apple pie, ice cream, beer, Big Macs - and 70-100 gms of protein daily if you do heavy exercise (eg weights).
Can you lose weight with an hour of daily exercise? It depends on the intensity of that hour, but it's not a realistic effect for most. Still, it is worth doing for countless other good reasons including mental well-being and energy. Intense exercise tends to reduce appetite, so there's that too.
Powerline's Scott Johnson got the memo.
Saturday, April 14. 2018
Tuesday, April 10. 2018
Is jumping a hard impact on joints? Nope. Properly done, the steps are lighter than those of ordinary walking which pounds your heels. Ankle hops, not real jumps.
Since I have been jumping at my gym, I see more and more guys doing it. Few gals do it, maybe because of the boing-boing. One of the guys, a tall slender black dude, is a jump rope artist. He is like a dancer, varying his form from singles to doubles to side steps to scissor steps to running man to single-leg hops, seemingly effortlessly with small efficient steps. I want to get there, but I never will.
At this point, I can do singles for fairly long (but I rarely do them for more than a couple of minutes at a time), Running Man, and I am beginning to get relaxed with scissor step and the jack step. It's all about rhythm, cool and relaxed, just letting the rope go on autopilot.
Here's the scissor step. If you have learned Running Man, it's pretty easy to get the hang of it. She is pretty good, but I think the steps ideally are smaller and lighter. For good form, note how her arms and hands never change position.
(Jump Rope Jacks below the fold -)
Continue reading "Jump Rope Fun"
Thursday, April 5. 2018
From what is known now, only intense physical effort can delay it (ie heavy weights, sprints, maybe high-volume anaerobic calisthenics, and the like. Comfortable or aerobic exercise doesn't help). Many claim it can be reversed to some extent, and I think it can.
That is from a somewhat grim article explaining physical performance and ageing, mainly focused on running but applicable to all physical activity. Yes, high-intensity exertion does raise levels of growth hormone, and that is good.
They also recommend supplemental creatine for middle-aged, and above, heavy daily exercisers. There is good evidence for its helpfulness. Especially for those over age 30, supplemental creatine (naturally found mostly in red meat and especially in rare red meat) permits a higher level of intensity of exertion for sprinting and weight-lifting, resulting in more muscle stress, resulting in stronger muscle repair (protein synthesis) during a recovery day or two.
Strength Training Helps to Stop Age Related Muscle Loss. Mind you, "training" means it is unpleasant and highly aversive for good reason: it's hateful, stressful work requiring delayed gratification, not recreation. Not for everybody (obviously).
Wednesday, April 4. 2018
HIIT (High-intensity interval training) comes in many forms. As usual, everybody has his opinion about it. The general format is 30-60-second full-out sprints followed by active recovery (slow) intervals at a 1:1 or 1:2 time ratio. For me, the !:2 works best. For example, when I do HIIT on the treadmill I do 60-second sprints followed by 2-minute slow walks but I probably should do 30-sec sprints with 60-sec walks. Trouble is that it takes several seconds to get anything up to max speed.
- Speed? Obviously the pace of a "sprint" depends on fitness level. All that matters is that you give it everything you've got. Pace will improve over weeks.
- Warm-up? A 5-10-minute warm up before an HIIT session is recommended. My habit is a 10-minute low-resistance elliptical before I do any exercise at all. Gets everything warmed-up without fatigue and reduces risk of cramps or sprains.
- How many HIIT reps? Generally 5-10 is the limit. Stop when the quality of the sprints deteriorate noticeably. I aim for 10, but it depends on the day.
- Jump right in to HIIT? No, not if over age 40. Crawl, walk, then run.
- Does a tough hour of calisthenics count as HIIT? Sort-of, but not entirely. Thing is, people usually do not do calisthenics at max pace. They pace themselves (as do I) to be able to complete the routine. 60 seconds of max intensity/speed of jumping jacks is very tough. 60 seconds of warm-up jumping jacks is not so tough.
- How often can you do HIIT? As often as you want, but you won't have time for your other exercises if you do them daily.
- Does HIIT build strength? Really only cardiac strength. Keeps the muscles working and functional, though.
- Are things like Soul Cycle HIIT? Yes, they are.
- Does HIIT build endurance? Yes, generally-speaking. While some different energy systems and muscle fibers are activated by different forms of activity, a good sprinting regimen builds endurance. That's why endurance/distance athletes use HIIT in their training programs. Marathoners today run sprints to train, as do distance swimmers and bikers.
- What forms? Almost anything. Probably ideal to vary it week to week. Swim, run, speed jump rope, combat bike, rower, ski erg - whatever you can speed up and slow down with. I see good jumpers do 15 minutes of HIIT - with all the jump rope variations and the speeds up and down. It's like a dance. I can not do 15 minutes of jump rope at any speed.
- Time? Say you do a ten-minute warm-up and then 20 minutes of HIIT. What to do afterwards to fill out your daily hour of exercise? Well, I do whatever I want to fit in. Some calisthenics like pushups, pullups, curls, goblet squats, lunges, etc. Stay busy. There is no end to things to do. An hour goes by fast.
- What about weight-loss and fat-burning? No exercise does much for that. That's nutritional. If you are fat, you eat too much, and it will slow you down. Too skinny? Grab a Big Mac with fries.
- What about "Long, slow"? "Long, slow" exercises like an hour of fast walk, jogging, swims, biking, etc are fine for maintaining endurance but do not count as cardio training because they do not raise the heart rate high enough. As I have said, I often do an hour of "long,slow" weekly, mixing it up between elliptical, stair machine, and treadmill or rower unless there is a multi-hour hill hike instead. My genius trainer approves of these things as a "recovery day," not as exertion. For fitness beginners, though, they can feel exertional.
Thursday, March 29. 2018
"The most difficult fitness exercise is dragging your lazy, useless ass to the gym."
My genius trainer.
Tuesday, March 27. 2018
Image shows two things: the difference between half squat and full squat, and terrible form in the second image
Squats (and deadlifts) are the two most functional muscular exercises. The former is getting up, and the latter is picking up stuff.
Squats are known as "The King of Exercises" because so many muscle groups are stressed. They are also said to be beneficial for knee joints.
Squats come in many forms: the basic barbell back squat (a power lift), and calisthenics like body-weight squats, squat-and press, side squats, squat jumps, heavy ball wall throws, etc.
After we did 3 sets of jumping squats and 3 sets of body weight squat-and-holds this morning in 6 AM class I have been thinking about how to deepen my barbell squats. With body-weight or hand weights, I can do full squats easily, but with heavier weight I do not go below 45 degrees. It's partly confidence and partly weakness.
To do full squats with barbell weights (instead of half-squats, 45 degrees) I think I need to reset my barbell squat program with the plain bar (45 lbs) or light weights and to try to work up quickly from there. I'm convinced that the full squat is the real deal.
What about you?
Below the fold, image depicting all of the muscles engaged in a full squat. She's using dumbells, but it is not as if gals cannot do barbell squats. They sure can, and using the bar makes it more reliable to keep a chest-up posture. On the other hand, dumbell squats get you low if you touch the dumbells to the ground...but on the third hand, barbell back squats let you squat with more weight than your grip is strong.
Continue reading "Deep Squats?"
Saturday, March 24. 2018
Three sets of 15 reps of the heaviest kettlebell you can maintain form with. Good stuff - wakes up your hammies too. It's a hip thrust/hip hinge.
These guys talk too much. Sorry about that.
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