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.
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Thursday, May 23. 2019
We've written about this topic in the past, but it's worth reviewing the misconceptions about cardio fitness and cardio exercise.
Any exercise, from walking to weight-lifting, makes more demand on heart function than sitting or lying down. So cardio exercise has a spectrum from very light to maximum intensity. Simply put, the core purpose of "cardio" exercise is to maintain or upgrade heart function (cardiac condition is measured by things like a Cardiac Stress Test with Echo, Stroke Volume, Cardiac Output, cardiac vasculature, and left ventricle size to some extent). Like weight-lifting for skeletal muscle, it requires stress, relative to your conditioning and medical condition.
With lighter stresses (eg non-sprint, endurance-oriented swimming laps, jogging, rowing, stair machine, elliptical, etc) we are putting our hearts to some use, but we are working more on general time endurance than cardio. (Lots of people do those things thinking that they involve fat-burning, but don't count on that to work if you do 1 hour/day.) For people who are not training for specific goals, building endurance is great for life. Nobody wants to slow down or feel tired during ordinary recreational activities like sports or hiking. These non-sprint exercises aim for around 70% of one's max heart rate to make it worth your precious time.
The higher the physical demand - the intensity of an exertion for your level of fitness - the more you are training your heart rather than just using it. The highest levels of exertion (say, with sets of deadlifts near 80% of your max, or with 30-second sprints) are anaerobic and can push your heart rate to 90% of your max. That heart-pounding rest time or slow time is to catch up on oxygen.
For endurance, an hour of lap swimming, cycling, jogging, elliptical, stair machine, ski machine, rower, etc at around 70% of your max heart rate is where you ought to be, if in decent health. Over time, you will need to raise the speed to get to those heart rates. These exercises do not do much to build strength.
For maximum cardiac fitness (with bonus endurance benefits as well), mixing in sprints which get your HR to 80-90% of your max should be included. Bursts of intensity. In the Maggie's Fitness for Life program, the other good sources of intense cardiac stress are the powerlifts and calisthenics. Ideally, some of all of those because there is more to fitness than cardiac fitness. Fitness is a package deal.
An interesting detail is that to up your game in any area of exertion, it's always a good idea to do what you do not usually do. Explosive linebackers get better with distance running, distance runners get better with weights and sprints, heavy lifters get better with calisthenics. Balance.
Wednesday, May 15. 2019
The reason for guys and gals of any age to do total body resistance exercises like squats and deads is to maintain or build muscle and bone strength and overall functionality. They are not just for athletes, and yes, they are preferable to machine exercises which tend to isolate muscle groups rather than being full-body, functional exertions.
BUT proper technique is important. Beginners need to be trained to do those things correctly. Even with excellent training, I had a painful back during my first few months of deadlifting. As I grew stronger with the movement, the pain went away and never returned.
I began doing deads 3 years ago. I began with 95 lbs, with trainer. The bar weighs 45 lbs, and the lightest bumper plates weigh 25. I have the movement pretty-well grooved in by now so I do deads on my own. However, my trainer still programs what I do. Occasionally I use the trap bar, for no reason other than variety.
At this point (mind you, I am not a youngster, and do not have a husky lifter's build) my programming looks like the below note from my genius trainer - This is a strength program for a not-young guy, not an endurance program although I mix it up sometimes:
Think: after 115 lb. 5 rep warmup, with 90 second rests between sets.
Set 1—135 for 5 reps
If you add a 6th set add another set at 135.
Even if you feel you can/should do more weight, don’t. Master the weight(make 135-155 move smooth and easy, with no sticks)- Master the hold. Get to a point where 135-155 for 5 reps “feels” like you could do it for 15-20 reps.
Monday, May 13. 2019
Best summary I have seen on the topic. Deadlift vs Squat – Comparing Strength and Muscles Worked
It is clear that it is valuable to do both, but not on the same day. For what it's worth, I do back squats once weekly, deads once weekly, and leg press once weekly for lower body resistance exercises.
Might be worth bookmarking or printing out the informative article.
Friday, May 10. 2019
Muscle pump from resistance training is caused by the increased blood flow into the muscle to supply needed oxygen. That's why it subsides after a while. It's a sign that you are making a muscle work hard.
Muscle "burn" (usually from high-rep exercises or HIIT) is caused by hydrogen ions (not lactic acid). It's another sign that you have worked hard, but means nothing more.
For strength-maintenance and strength-building you need to create micro- tears in your muscle fibers. This can sometimes result in muscle soreness for a day or two. It's a good sign of the inflammation needed for muscle repair.
The repair is what builds strength. That's why it's never a bad idea to have a 20-25 gm. protein shake as a meal (we like to make it with a banana) shortly after an hour of resistance exertion. It's also why it's smart to recover for 48 hours or so before pushing heavy weights again. (We advocate "active recovery" days in the form of calisthenics and cardio.)
There is an exception, though, to the 48-hour rule. That is when people separate their resistance days between legs and upper body. That works for some people but I do not like it.
Wednesday, May 8. 2019
What do we consider low reps? Low reps are when you can only do 3-8 reps. Higher reps are 10-20. I would never do high reps with powerlifts. Arms, yes. Calisthenics like pushups, for sure.
A study which looked at bench-press, military-press, lat-pulldown, cable-row, squat, leg-press and leg-extension found this: High reps good for building muscle mass, not strength .
What is your experience with resistance exercise?
Tuesday, May 7. 2019
A book: The Barbell Prescription: Strength Training for Life After 40 by Jonathan Sullivan
Sunday, May 5. 2019
Unless one is a competitive runner, swimmer, biker, or rower, we believe it's good to mix up cardio exercises because just doing one improves one's efficiency too much for the cardiac stress you are looking for.
Cardio training (ie exercising your heart muscle) is like anything other muscle: you want to stress it without injuring it. That can either mean keeping your heart rate at 55-85% of your max heart rate for 30 minutes (depending on age), or it can mean HIIT cardio training with sprints. I recommend the latter for time efficiency and because it is gentler on your body.
I no longer recommend road-running, especially distance road running. A morning 5-mile jog is harmless but the main benefit is mental because few joggers get their heart rates very high. Distance runners/races (ie from marathoners to 50 milers to 100-milers) are admirable in their dedication and amazing endurance but it just isn't healthy for joints, heart, body inflammation, risk of kidney damage, and so forth. Pheidippides, who was a professional distance courier (before cell phones), died in Sparta.
Our current "Maggie's Recommended" general fitness training for the cardio component is roughly one hour of endurance cardio (a mix of elliptical, treadmill, stairmaster) keeping a solid (ie 55+% but sub-max heart rate; and 1/2 hour of HIIT cardio (30-60 second max sprints on rower, treadmill, combat bike, stairmaster, etc) with triple slow recovery times; and the mix of cardio and athleticism training in calisthenics/exercise classes.
I almost forgot to mention sports. Two hours of basketball is excellent cardio/athleticism exercise. Same for martial arts, or a tennis class.
Remember, unless you are in training for multiple hours daily, you can not lose weight by doing cardio exercise.
Wednesday, May 1. 2019
If you can handle 6-7 days of 1 hr (or so) workouts weekly, you can try putting in 3 days of heavy weights/ big movements. Never two weights days in a row in our view.
This is a way to get past whatever strength plateau you might have reached, or to jump start a program. Try it as an experiment. It is working for me.
There are all sorts of ways to schedule your routines, but they must be planned. Typical programs are listed here at Old Schoool Trainer.
A regular weights program for me is not for body-building, just for the strength component of general fitness, and to slow down entropy:
Monday: Barbell squats (5X5-8), Bench press (5X5 or 6X10), dumbell row (3X10), pull-down or pullups (3x10)
Thurs: Heavy deadlift (5X5-8), Dumbbell bench (4X10), Seated Row (4X10), pull-downs or pullups (4X10)
Sat - A higher-rep (12-20) but not too-light day for me: Leg press (higher reps), Chest press (higher reps), curls + tricep press downs
Note: the first number does not include warm-up set. Always do a brief warm-up set for any weight exercise to avoid muscle sprain.
I am still giving it time to see whether this is too much for me, considering that on my two calisthenics days I am doing pushups, burpees, body weight squats, kettlebell lunges, box step ups, hand weights, kettlebell swings, kettlebell deads, inclined pulls, etc. - and stair machine on one of my cardio days.
My point concerns what amounts of recovery and nutrition are needed for constructive recovery/rebuilding in my program, given my age (ummm, over 50...but I don't look it). Generally speaking, a cardio day is considered active recovery so it's good to sched. that on a day before big weights.
Tuesday, April 30. 2019
Sunday, April 28. 2019
Celebrities are always touting the latest nutritional fads like "clean eating", veganism, etc. Now it's the Fasting Plan. Of course, these people know nothing. In fact, little is known about human nutritional needs but we do know some simple things to prevent starvation. For example, your nutrition requires fats.
There seem to be all sorts of variants of the Fasting Fad, but there may be something useful in it. For example, no adult without an all-day manual labor job (or a heavy lifter or a distance runner) needs three meals/day unless they are underweight. Three meals/day was designed for farmers, just like summer school vacation.
Furthermore, most hunger is what we have described as "false hunger" (meaning it represents no need for significant nutrition) for anybody even 5-10 lbs overweight. Our fat cells are a massive storage battery waiting to be used.
So what about fasting, whether it means just skipping one of the conventional meals or even taking a day or two off from food every week? Not as a weight-loss plan, but just as a plan. Many find it increases their energy.
When you think about it, during almost all of the 300-500,000 years (except the past few thousand agricultural years) of human life and evolution, food scarcity was the norm. Humans are designed for food scarcity rather than for today's abundance. That's why eating is fun rather than necessary.
This is interesting: MIT study: 24-hour fasting regenerates stem cells, doubles metabolism. This gives credence to the 5–2 diet, which has recently gained in popularity thanks to a large celebrity following.
Saturday, April 27. 2019
Guide to Strength Training for Women
Workout Schedule for Women Trying to Gain Weight & Muscle
Wednesday, April 24. 2019
Strong arms seem to be a biological signal to females that a male might make a good sexual/reproductive partner. It's primitive, a sign of power, vitality, and virility.
Well, all guys want strong arms for either signaling or functional purposes, but curls are not the most sensible way to approach strength: they are more about hypertrophy. We prefer compound exercises over single-muscle exercises. More time-efficient. After all, the hands are connected with the arms, the arms to the shoulder, and the shoulder to chest and back.
I'll assume that few of our readers are Body Builders who focus mainly on the size and definition of muscles, but are, rather, regular, function-oriented fitness people.
What about the ladies? All of our exercises are valuable to ladies' fitness, but ladies can not develop bulging muscles under ordinary circumstances. Big muscles do not equate with strength.
However, we do single-muscle-group exercises as accessory exertions when there is time for them. Thus hand and forearm exercises, calf exercises, upper arm exercises, leg raises and leg contractions, etc.
Let's list both focused and compound exercises which can build stronger arms while mostly stressing other muscle groups at the same time:
- Pullups and cable pull-downs (biceps, forearms, back)
NB: Sometimes you will see a guy in the gym with muscles bulging all over the place. That guy is juicing. A bad fitness plan.
Wednesday, April 17. 2019
A Montana father-of-three says he was spurred to shred nearly 100 pounds when he noticed he couldn’t keep up with his kids.
The guy did a lot more than to shed pounds.
Thursday, April 11. 2019
It took me over three years to be well-enough trained to do more of my daily work on my own - not including my 1-2 hours/week of trainer-led calisthenics/athleticism classes. (If you can give yourself a ballbusting calis class on your own, God bless ya. I know only one person who does, and I admire that person. She's a great ball of energy and good cheer.)
Admittedly, I am a slow learner and was not in great shape when I began this fitness adventure. And I did not know correct deadlift or squat technique. In fact, I did myself some damage in the past out of ignorance.
Why I have needed a trainer, despite the truly burdensome cost:
- To evaluate you and then plan your fitness regimens, advancing as possible
Eventually you begin to internalize your trainer's voice and direction, as people sometimes do with a therapist. It's like an alter ego. Many of us need that, because many of us do not really know how to push ourselves to the max. Human nature is lazy, mostly, but with plenty of potential.
Tuesday, April 9. 2019
Free weights are always better because they engage so many accessory muscles, core, and balance. BUT...
But machine resistance is better than no resistance work, and machine work can help improve your free weight efforts. A prime example is pullups. Lots of people can't do even one. Sad. It indicates that your back muscles are underdeveloped, or you are overweight, or both. BUT if you work on machine pull-downs and machine (assisted) pullups, you can advance get to real pullups. Lat Pulldown vs Pull-ups: Research Reveals Which Is Best
I do both weekly.
Another example: Leg Press vs Squat: 9 Studies Reveal Which Is Best
Again, I do sets of each, weekly. Weakly too. I entirely understand doing barbell squats with a Smith Machine. You don't need a spotter. Still, I'd rather do squats with a spotter anyway, and my leg presses on my own.
The moral of this fitness post is that free weights are better, but anything is better than nothing as long as it is difficult to do. "Difficult" means reaching deep down to what you do not want to do because it is "too hard." That's a bad approach to life.
Wednesday, April 3. 2019
For those who believe that you can burn fat with exercise (I do not), this format does keep your metabolism elevated for up to one or two hours after finishing. These sorts of things do not build strength. That's not what they are for. They are for energy, agility, and cardio endurance. Some powerlifters like to take the class because, despite their size and strength, they want agility, quickness, and endurance too. They have little of those.
I take a 50-minute class weekly which is basically Met Con but not labeled as such. A typical routine in that class might be a 20-second kettlebell swing followed immediately by 20-seconds of pushups followed by 30 seconds of mountain climbers, then a 5-second rest before repeating 3 times. Then a 30-second rest before going into the next triplet of calisthenics (which might be a similar pattern with 20-seconds of burpees, 30-second rower sprints, and 30-second squat and presses. The timing is everything.
I can testify that this format improves general conditioning, because when I began with it I couldn't really complete the class and stole seconds of rest time. I still steal a couple of seconds of rest time to catch my breath but I can get through the class.
More on the topic below the fold -
Continue reading "Met-Con training, re-posted"
A friend recently went vegetarian just for kicks, as an experiment. In 6 weeks, the friend lost the 8 lbs that no amount of exercise could burn off without quitting dinnertime wine. (This friend is an athletic sort, a strength and fitness buff but not a fanatic.) She asked me how that could happen since she goes light on carbs.
It turned out that the answer was easy: Too much protein.
That sounds crazy, doesn't it? It's not crazy because any excess protein (protein in excess of what you body needs to maintain or repair muscle) is converted into and stored as fat. Many people are not aware that most of their steak ends up as body fat.
So whether you are sedentary (less than 6 hrs/week of fairly intense exercise/wk, not including walking) or not, your protein needs might be less than you imagine because you can only use about 20 gms of protein every 4-6 hours.
That's why people who restrict carbs, and replace the food volume with protein, have trouble losing body fat.
People who pursue daily strength-building (weights) or daily endurance training (ie triathlete types) can need more than the basic 45 gm/day for women or 55 gm/day for men - maybe up to 100-150 gms/day. That's why they tend to go for 4-5 smaller balanced (carbs, protein, fats/oils) meals/day.
Nutrition and fitness go hand-in-hand, and it takes a little bit of thoughtfulness. A few simple recommendations:
If you do barbells/powerlifts 3+ times/week, eat a lot of everything. If in daily endurance race training, eat a lot of everything. Until "stuffed". If a regular daily exerciser (some wts, some calis, some cardio, some endurance), 45-60 gms/day is plenty in divided doses. For weight loss, cut the volume dramatically. If overweight, you do not really need hardly any food at all other than some protein and vitamins and minerals. Overweight people have no caloric needs.
Grams protein conversion to lbs for all sorts of foods are easily found online. For one example, a regular chicken breast contains around 55 gms of protein. So if you eat one in a meal, about 30 gms of that protein goes to body fat and some in excretion. Sliced into thirds or quarters over the course of a day, that breast would be plenty for a full-grown male who works out.
So, again, volume management matters for weight-lifters, and for the overweight. It's a "First World Problem." And do not imagine that protein does not become body fat. It does.
Sunday, March 31. 2019
They are both valuable for lower body fitness. Squats are more about strength-building, lunges are more "functional."
This article is good.
I think lower body conditioning for strength, endurance, and athleticism ought to include (not all on the same day) barbell squats, leg press, kettlebell lunges, stair machine (which is good cardio also), deadlifts, box jumps. I do sets of each just once weekly. No time for more.
I omit mentioning cardio exercises which use legs (all of them do) because the emphasis of cardio is, obviously, cardiac fitness.
Wednesday, March 27. 2019
Not my Gym Boss who ain't going anywhere, but the guy who runs the athletic training classes that I like to attend at my second gym. We have had 35-40 people who follow his classes. He made it fun to experience pain and as a result there was some good group bonding.
It's an American story. He's about 30, with a wife and 2 little girls. Until yesterday with his announcement, I just thought he was just a regular trainer and class instructor - and a fine one, but during all this time he had been living in poverty and spending half his days in classes. He announced that this would be his last class, that he had completed his degree to be a Physical Therapist, and was moving to Texas for a great new job.
His two classes I usually took were mixed cardio/balance/athleticism/calisthenics things, lots of variation, with 6-second rests between items and most items 60 seconds. Kept us moving and sweating. Old and young, fit and unfit, guys and gals. Some cute gals. After an hour, everybody was happily done in.
For his good bye exercise, he put on some 6-minute hip hop thing with a strong beat and about 40-second bridges. He had us do body weight squats to the beat, and squat-and-holds during the bridges. Burn.
I was surprised by how saddened I felt by his announcement. We all clapped and wished him luck, and he insisted on giving us all a hug. A great moment. It's always amazing to me how we humans make attachments. He will have a fine new career, because he knows how to push people with good cheer and attentive correction.
Each morning at 6 he would run in, take off his motorcycle helmet and jacket, and "Good morning, wake up everybody, let's get moving! Gimme some jumping jacks to wake up. Here we go, let's go, it's a beautiful day." And then the terrible music began that you never really heard because all you wanted to do was to survive the hour with a trace of dignity.
Since powerlifts (more or less including deadlift, barbell squat, military press, bench press, pullups/pull downs, dumbell or barbell row) are the core of any strength-building or strength maintenance program, approaching them right is critical for effectiveness.
Generally speaking, high rep exercises of any sort are more aimed at muscle endurance and maintenance than at strength-building. Of course, we want both, but it's a matter of emphasis and there are plenty of ways to build muscle endurance other than heavy powerlifts.
So for pure strength (bone and muscle), I want to push to my limits and show some improvement each month. So, for each powerlift session, I want to do one warm-up set then 5 sets of 5 reps ramping up in weight to finish at my absolute limit of 5, or just past it (thus needing a spotter just in case). Pushing the envelope.
I understand that my boss sometimes likes to push the powerlift reps with lesser weight, but 5s feel right to me. With 8-12, I just find myself wanting to get it over with. That's not the right attitude.
To use the example of chest strength, if I do bench 5X5 one day, and a few sets of 30 pushups on another day, the former is 100% strength, and the latter 20% strength and 80% endurance. All good for fitness.
Sunday, March 24. 2019
Yesterday morning I did a free-wheeling workout day. I just felt like it. (And this morning, just an hour of "cardio" - stair machine, HIIT on treadmill, and elliptical because I do heavy tomorrow morning.)
Yesterday morning I had no time constraints for my free-wheeling: 10 min ellip warm-up (needed warm-up), then a 3X rotation of 20-pushups, 10 (assisted) pullups, 30 kettlebell lunges, rower 60-sec sprints; then a 4X rotation of 100 mixed jump rope, heavy ball squat- and- wall throws, and kettlebell swings; then a 4X rotation of kettlebell Farmer Walks, Roman Chair leg raises, overhand curls, and 60-second planks.
Once in a while it feels good to throw away your game plan and just have random fun with all the toys in the gym. You know - masochistic fun. It feels good at the end.
If you are fatter than you want to be for appearance, functionality, energy, joint health, or fitness, you can fix it. However, it can be as challenging as quitting smoking or quitting excess booze. Deprivation of greedy impulses takes character strength, the building of which is good and a wholesome exercise in itself.
Exercise is great for vigor, strength, and general fitness for life, but it is no good for fat loss unless you are hiking the Appalachian trail 7 hrs/day for a month or two.
If serious about it, you should aim to lose 2 lbs/week. More than that is unrealistic and too painful. Here's the easy way: Eat less food and drink water instead of other stuff. Set a limit to beer and cocktails. Less food? Cut your normal food portions in half. Quit almost all carbs. If you exercise hard especially with weights, try 4 small meals/day with 20 gm of protein in each and vegetable carbs. Remember, excess protein, like excess carbs, go to fat. Volume control!
Remember: If even 5# overweight, your hunger is mainly false hunger. You have plenty of fuel on board to keep you going for days or weeks. Some people, months.
When you arrive at your target, you should be able to figure out a good maintenance plan. It's not rocket science.
Thursday, March 21. 2019
Your shoes always matter.
"Walking Shoes" and Trail Walking Shoes are neither running shoes nor hiking shoes, generally speaking. Like many European cities, New York City is a walking town. New Yorkers walk a lot. In fact, in many circumstances in Manhattan you can get to your destination as fast, or faster, than you can with a cab or an Uber.
For urban walking and urban hiking, you want walking shoes. They are more like heavy-duty sneakers.
I suppose you want to use the lightest weight shoe for your purpose. No bouldering boots for exploring Vienna: Trail Walking Shoe vs. Hiking Shoe. We like Merrells and Keens for either long-distance urban or trail walking.
Also, on another topic, sales on serious hiking shoes at Sierra Trading Post
Tuesday, March 19. 2019
The number of pushups a guy or gal can do is a fair proxy for general fitness. 50 pushups in 60 seconds is a fitness benchmark. (I can not do that yet.)
Pushups are a calisthenic exercise but they do build some strength in the core, chest, arms, and shoulders. I do them on my calisthenics days but you can do them every day.
Why use the handles? Because you can dip lower, and because they are kind to your wrists. I don't approve of declined pushups because of the wrist and shoulder stress.
Wednesday, March 13. 2019
The muscles of the forearm are mainly about grip. Since they are about grip, they can be a limiting factor in strength development because if you can't hold onto something, you can't challenge it.
You depend on forearm strength for things like pullups, deadlifts, climbing ropes, and many other things in the gym and in life. We often neglect small muscle groups here (eg calves, forearms, biceps, triceps) because they get so much good use in compound exercises, but if the limiting factor in your deads, for example, is grip strength, you can work on it. After all, the mighty mighty deadlift is the best resistance exercise.
I do grip exercises regularly, but maybe not often enough. My forearms are skinny like Obama's. Good forearm strengtheners:
- Farmers Walks (with kettlebells or dumbbells, as heavy as tolerable). Squeeze that handle as hard as you can and stand up straight. It's a compound exercise, but grip is the limiting factor. To make it harder, wrap a towel around the handle and carry them by the towel.
- Those hand gripper things. Rogue Fitness sells them at all levels of challenge. People keep them on their desks for stress-relief. (Best way to use them is to squeeze and hold for 5-10 seconds.)
- Dumbbell or barbell overhand ("reverse") curls. Overhand curls are weaker than underhand curls. The curl at the top of ordinary underhand curls is all forearm stress too.
The muscles of the forearm are complex. These are just the posterior muscles - anterior muscles of forearm are below the fold:
Continue reading "Accessory exercises: Forearm strength"
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