Outside, every time I look up I am reminded…

If we don’t do it, who will?

How can you get there if you don’t know where you are going?

Where is it you are going? Do you know? I don’t mean a place to travel too, but where is it that you want to be. If you don’t know where it is you are going, than what drives you? Most people need goals. They need goals that can be measured and quantified. Some of us don’t. Some people are quite happy doing the same thing every day without a specific goal. That’s ok. If you are able to push yourself with only knowing that you will continue to get stronger than I guess that can be looked at a goal in a sense. But for some of us a specific goal can do a lot to keep us motivated and keep us going to the gym, or fitness class, or whatever it is you do. Goals can be a great way of keeping yourself engaged.

Lofty

In a previous post I talked about a goal that I had and what I did to keep myself on track to achieve it. Would I have been able to achieve the same results if I didn’t clearly layout my goal? I don’t know. Maybe. I can’t really say for sure because I can’t go back and try to do the same thing minus the goal I had. But I do know that goals help us keep ourselves on track and help us achieve what it is we are trying to achieve. Goals are also a great way of keeping yourself motivated. You can also use goals as a way of rewarding yourself for all the hard work you have been doing.

Some of us are fortunate that we don’t necessarily need goals to keep motivated. I have seen it myself. Some people are so motivated that they can bring it every time they workout. They have such a drive to be stronger and better that they don’t need specific goals. They are motivated already by the desire to be better.

But, if we create goals that are unrealistic we run the risk of defeating ourselves and actually doing more harm than good. We need to keep our goals realistic and achievable.

Goals and sub goals

Goals can be many things. A long term goal can be to increase your body weight with muscle by 20 lbs. This can be achievable within one year more or less based on the number of years you have been training, diet, technique, etc.

But it can be tough to stay motivated for the year trying to achieve this goal. What can be done then to keep motivated and not lose focus of the goal? We can break this into smaller goals.

Breaking this down into smaller goals that we can achieve in less time will help keep the motivation going. Let’s break down this goal of achieving 20 lbs of muscle in one year to gaining 5lbs of muscle every 3 months. Definitely something that seems to be in reach. Or you can break it down further if needed. How about 3lbs in 6 weeks. Yeah, that’s definitely something that seems more in reach. It also allows you to make adjustments to keep on track if needed.

Having these smaller goals will help you achieve the large goal. It comes down to the fact that we need to keep ourselves engaged in what we are trying to achieve. If we don’t break down the goal into smaller goals it’s easy to lose focus on that target and it’s easy to lose motivation. A year is a long time. Six weeks on the other hand is something that we can reach out too, something we can grasp in our hands and hold on to. It’s quite tangible.

Think about it for a minute. Six weeks is easy to measure. Create a calendar for the six week period. Put on that calendar what you plan to do for that day. Live only in that six week period. Don’t look forward to your 1 year goal. There isn’t any need to. If you live in each 6 week period, every period you reach your goal you will have the satisfaction of knowing you succeeded. That is the reward. You should feel really good about that! Take that feeling of satisfaction to the next 6 week period and repeat.

Wow, it’s now one year later. That’s the idea. When you focus on these smaller time slices you no longer see your overall goal as this huge, maybe unachievable goal. An example I can give is my black belt test. I knew I was in for a 7 hour day of hard, physical work. If I looked at that test as a 7 hour test, it would have been very overwhelming. Instead I took each smaller part of the test and focused on completing that segment. 5 mile run, done. Physical requirement, done. Drills, done. And so on and so on. If I didn’t do this, I probably would have been over whelmed by the magnitude of the test.

Realism

Do you know your goal? Is it realistic? I hope so. If your goal is way out there, you’ll never achieve it. Our goals need to be something that we can actually achieve. No matter how we break it down, if it isn’t achievable we will only end up feeling defeated. That feeling of being defeated will do more harm than good. Keep your goal realistic. If you don’t, you can do more harm than good.

Why bother

If you are getting what you need out of your work outs without setting specific goals than good for you. But, I want you to try something. Set a goal. Make it a short term goal. Now do your best to achieve it. I think you will find that your work outs aren’t what they used to be. They are better and they are delivering more results. Funny how that works, isn’t it.

Yours in health,

Darryl

 

 

 

consumed by my quest I am blind to all obsticles

You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.

We work out for a number of reasons. To feel better, for our health, because it feels good, to change and shape our body much like an artist works with clay. Whatever the reason, whatever goal we are trying to achieve cannot be achieved by only working out. Rest, nutrition, and training smart.

We do all these things. We are keeping on top of what needs to be done. But for whatever reason we have had to take a break from our work outs. Maybe an injury, maybe other priorities came up and you have been out of action for about a month to six weeks.

The time has passed and you are ready to start training again. You’re going to jump right in there right were you left off, right? Don’t be so quick. It might not be a good idea.

You aren’t what you used to be

We want to jump right in right where we left off. But of course that’s not possible. During your time off your muscles have not been challenged, your cardiovascular system isn’t what it used to be. If you have had time off you are probably already aware of how fast we lose our cardio performance. The cardio vascular system is quite robust. It takes about 7 hours for your cardio system to recover from a workout. But the flip side of that is we lose cardio performance quickly.

The risk

If you try to work out at the same intensity as you were before you had a break you risk a number of things; sickness, injury or putting yourself right back where you were. It’s a tough thing to do. It’s hard to face the realization that your performance isn’t what it used to be. But we have to put that aside and ease into it.

The good news is if you already have a solid base, you have been working out for about 6 months or more, you will get back to you were quicker than it took you to get there. You just need to be patient, and take your time knowing you will get there.

The things you can do

Ease into it. If you were working out 5 – 6 days a week before your layoff, start off working out 3 days a week for the first and second week. The following 2 weeks add another day or two. Listen to your body and understand where you are. If you are excessively tired, or feeling exhausted then pull back a bit.

Don’t be so competitive. If you work out in a class or group environment, don’t get caught up in what others are doing. The only person you need to compete with is yourself.

Rest. Be sure to get an adequate amount of sleep. The body needs this to recover and repair the body.

Eat properly.  You should already be doing this. Be sure to properly replenish your body after a workout. Try to consume a ratio of 4:1 of carbs and protein for the post workout meal.

Don’ worry. Relax and enjoy the fact that you are back! In the big picture, 6 weeks is nothing, a miniscule slice of your life.

Congratulate yourself. You made the decision to continue working out instead of turning that short layoff into a long layoff, or a permanent layoff. You should feel really good about that! Sometimes something like this is the catalyst of the decision to no longer work out. But you are here! You are one of the few.

It’s all good

I’ll be the first to admit that it’s hard to take it easy and gradually ease back into things. I’m guilty of this myself. If you are the same, look at that as a positive and not a negative. To me, it means you have a heart full of passion and you know what it is you want and nothing is going to get in your way. I’d rather have these traits than the alternative.

Embrace it. Try to temper it if you can. But, never let that part of you go. It’s part of what you are.

Yours in health,

Darryl

not all things can be ignored

Sometimes it screams so loud it can’t be ignored.

I think it’s safe to say that we all end up dealing with pain at some point in our lives hindering us from working out. Sometimes the pain is unpreventable, other times it can be due to improper technique; lack of warming up; not stretching, or improper fitting gear. Whatever the reason, no one likes it.

I’ve talked about injuries in general in a previous post. This post is going to focus on an injury that plagues runners, shin splints. If you have ever suffered from shin splints you are well aware of the pain they bring with them. Because of that I think it’s worth spending time on what can be done to prevent shin splints.

The what

Shin splints, or if you are up to the fitness geek terminology, medial tibial stress syndrome (MTSS) is in simple terms pain along the inner edge of the shin bone (tibia). I don’t feel the need to go into common theories as to what actually is going on that causes the pain. Let’s keep it simple and describe it as the muscle separating from the shin bone, or the technically the tibia bone. Just reading that alone makes me cringe. No wonder shin splints hurt!

The why

Let’s get into reasons why people get shin splints. I’m going to lay out common reasons in bullet point form to keep it easy for you to determine what you might be doing that could be the cause of your shin splints.

  • Inadequate stretching – Having tight calf muscles can cause shin splints. Did you know there are 3 calf muscles? We have 2 Gastrocnemius muscles, one on the outside and one on the inside. The third calf muscle the Soleus is the one that connects to the tibia bone and is the muscle that is between the two Gastrocnemius muscles. These are the muscles giving you grief. If you think this is you, start stretching these muscles and see if that helps. Try doing heel drops to stretch these muscles. Stand with your toes on the edge of a step and while holding onto something for balance and stability, lower your heels.
  • Weak muscles – I know, I get it. You love to run and if you are doing another physical activity, you aren’t running, and that’s no good! If this is you, you will have more injuries to deal with other than shin splints. You need to include resistance training into your schedule. Notice I said ‘need to’ and not should? That’s because you need to. As I said, if you don’t you are setting yourself up for other injuries, and it may not always be obvious that those injuries are due to running being your only form of exercise. A simple exercise to strengthen your calf muscles are heel raises. Just like above, stand with your toes on the edge of a step and while holding onto something for balance and stability, and raise your heels. Doing squats will also give your calf muscles a work out.
  • Forgetting to change direction – If you run on a track, especially one that has a camber to it and you always run in the same direction, this could be the cause of you shin splints. This can also cause other issues due to the posture your body takes on to accommodate the difference in height of the running surface due to the camber. Knee issues, hip issues, back issues could be some of the issues you may experience. Switch up the direction every other run.
  • Improper or warn shoes – Have you ever had your gait analyzed? If not, how do you know what type of shoe to buy? Are you neutral, over pronator? Buying the correct shoe for how your foot sits could be the fix for your shin splints and probably other issues. Worn shoes could cause an increase to the pounding your body takes while running.
  • Too much too fast – Just started running and you love it, and you are 2 weeks into it and you have increased your mileage by 100%. Wait, are you serious? Slow down, ease into it. An increase in mileage like this will do more harm to your body than good. Let your body do what it needs to do, to adapt to the new load put onto it. Increase your mileage gradually. I won’t get into specifics on how much and when to increase mileage. I’ll leave that to all the running resources out there.
  • It’s all in the form – I’ve posted about this before, what improper running form can do to our body. It’s not good. The body is subjected to a lot of stress when running with improper technique. If you have bad form more than likely your body is forced to deal with the stress of the impact from running. Proper technique will minimize the impact.

The treatment

Ice. Apply ice to your shins to reduce inflammation. Then stop. Stop any activity that causes pain until you are healed. That doesn’t mean you have to stop everything. If you can do other activities that don’t aggravate the area then do them. Swimming, walking, etc.  This could actually aid in speeding up recovery. Don’t stress about it. It’s not that bad and you will be back doing what you like soon.

Learn

Learn from this. Start doing the things you need to do to address why you have shin splints. This could be the start of addressing more issues going on than shin splints. If your shin splints are due to incorrect shoes you more than like are or will have other issues going on such as knee or back pain.

Who knows, this could end up being a positive instead of a negative.

Yours in health,

Darryl

two thirty five

the thief of time.

Building the body is easy. Our body can take a lot. From squatting hundreds of pounds to competing in 100 mile races. The body gets beaten up, but recovers. The mind on the other hand, usually it’s the mind that fails us.

It’s the mind that tells us that we can’t go on any further. It’s the mind that tells us to surrender to the pain. It’s the mind that tells us to quit.

I’ve written a lot of posts over the last number of months covering a multitude of topics. Most covering the how, the what, and the why about exercise and health. But what good does this do you if you can’t even get yourself up to workout. You can have all the knowledge in the world on how to exercise but if you aren’t exercising it really doesn’t do you any good.

This leads me today’s post. I think it’s something worth covering, worth discussing. I always finish the end of my blog with ‘yours in health’ and if I don’t dedicate time to this issue than I am not doing you any good. In fact, I think I’m doing you a disservice. What good am I if I talk only about exercising, technique and don’t discuss why people have a hard time in the first place doing these things? In the end its all the same thing.

The first step

You want to get up and get out to the gym. You want to get up and do something active. You tell yourself you’ll do it after you are done reading, or after you are done some other activity. Or you’ll do it tomorrow. Tomorrow comes and you are able to find a reason to push it out another day. In some cases those days become a week. You really want to get up but you just can’t. It’s tough. I’ve been there and still end up there. Sometimes it’s easier to just relax and not have to think about anything, especially after a busy day.

And that can be the irony of it all. We know that after we exercise we feel so much better. That stress we had during the day is mostly gone. But we can’t always get our mind to see that, even though we have been there. The mind is powerful. It can be like a tidal wave of force taking you underwater.

I am not going to pretend that I have the solution to this. I’m not going to pretend that I am the motivational guru and I’m not going to pretend that there is an easy answer. I guess what I’m hoping is by sharing my own experience of what worked for me, it might end up helping you with your goal either directly or indirectly.

235

I have always been into fitness in one form or another. Biking, swimming, running, resistance training. I was overall in good shape. I was fortunate enough that I was able to get my workout in at my place of work. I still feel lucky to have that opportunity. Work started to get busier. A major project came up and I wasn’t taking my lunch break like I usually would, by heading to the gym.

At first I wasn’t too concerned. I have months behind me of working out so I’ll rely on the fitness I already have and should be able to bounce back when I need to. Weeks went by. I started to find myself finding reasons not to go to the gym when I did get that odd break. I was tired from work and the hours I was putting in. I knew that if I worked out I would feel better but it didn’t matter. I couldn’t reason with myself. I kept thinking next week, next week I’ll start. Weeks, months went by of neglecting my fitness. I knew I was no longer in good shape. I started getting winded by going up 2 flights of stairs at a faster than normal pace. But I ignored it. I knew I was putting on weight. But I ignored it.

A stormy winter day. Snowing all night and I had to get myself to work. On my drive to work I spotted a car that was having trouble getting anywhere. I pulled over and offered my assistance. There was just me and the driver of the car to get the car moving. So you know who would be the one pushing the car. It probably took about 2 minutes of rocking the car back and forth, pushing the car trying to get it moving more than a foot or two. Finally, the car is moving.

But I’m not moving too well. Sucking air, sweating and generally not feeling too good. I had that taste of copper in my mouth that you get when you really exert yourself. But this was only 2 minutes of work. I have done much more than this.

I knew at that point things had to change.

180

I knew what I had to do, and I think I had the desire to do it. But I had to find a way to help me keep on track. A way to get my ass into the gym instead of my ass being in a chair.

I read an article on a way to help people reach their goal. It seemed like a simple idea. All I needed to do was print a calendar out for the period I designated to reach my goal. That’s when I realized I didn’t have a goal in the sense that it was a target, something I could shoot for.

That’s when I determined my goal is a number. The number I wanted to weigh. I now have my goal. I now needed to determine the time frame to reach this goal. I printed off my calendar for the duration needed.

The next day I did my workout. Put an X on the calendar for that day. It was only one X but it felt good to see it on the calendar. It told me I did something. And it was a big X taking up the whole square for that day. The next day I worked out again. Another X. On the designated days off from the gym I would still put an X for that day if I didn’t deviate from eating healthy.

I wanted to see an X every day. I didn’t want the chain to break. Of course it did once in a while but looking at a month mostly filled with X’s kept me motivated to continue. That and experiencing the results I was getting from sticking to my schedule. It felt good!

There is a saying, ‘do anything for 21 days and it will become a habit’. I’m not so sure about that. That in itself would assume we are all the same and of course we aren’t. But, do something long enough and I think it will become a habit. I know myself if I miss a few days of working out I feel out of sorts. I don’t know what the number is for you, but you’ll be able to find it.

There is one more thing I did. I wrote my goal on a piece of paper and kept it in my wallet. I kept the piece of paper simple; 180. I didn’t want something in my face every day. That would have been too much. But the odd time I would open my wallet and see that number I would be reminded of what I was trying to achieve.

Who knows

I have no idea if this would work for you. Did doing this help me achieve my goal, or would I have achieved it regardless? I’ll never know for sure. I think it did. Those times where I was getting sucked in by the couch and would tell myself that’s it’s ok to miss today,  I would look at the calendar and think about what it would look like missing the X for that day.

If there is one important point I can make from all of this, it’s that it really helps to have a goal. Something measurable and realistic. Write it down, picture it. Those days you feel tempted to push off that workout remind yourself you will get closer to that goal if you get up and do it.

Yours in health,

Darryl

 

 

you may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated

It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.

Do you want an exercise that works two large muscles and numerous smaller muscles and is considered one of the best overall exercises for your body? You do, don’t you. It’s a tough one to do and I think that may be why some people avoid it. No one likes doing an exercise that is defeating. Another great thing is you can do this exercise at home with just a small piece of equipment.

The pull up is an exercise that will work the large lat muscles that give you that V shape, most of the other back muscles, the rear of your shoulders, the biceps and the forearms. It’s tough to do because you are using your body weight as the resistance unless you have access to a pull up machine that has a counterweight to reduce the resistance.

But not all of us have access to such a machine. So what can we do if we can only do one pull up, or not even one pull up? You might as well not even try, right? Wrong! In this post I’m going to show you a way you can increase the amount of pull ups you can do and reap the benefits of this great exercise.

The method

If you read my previous post you will know that we are stronger in a movement when we are lengthening the muscle, or in the eccentric contraction phase. And we also know that we can use a higher amount of resistance when in the eccentric phase.

Knowing this, let’s apply this principle to our pull ups. The hardest part of the pull up is the pull up itself. Getting up to the bar is tough, tougher than lowering yourself. That’s because our muscles are stronger on the way down. So if we could get ourselves up to the bar easier we could then at least get in some reps by lowering ourselves. The benefit with this is we are strengthening those muscles even though we are only working them on the way down. Eventually you will no longer need assistance for the upward movement.

But how do we get ourselves up to the bar? A chair. By using a chair, preferably one you are fine putting your feet on, you will be able to use your legs to raise your body. You can do this by either bending at the knees while holding onto the pull up bar and having the top of your feet on the chair. With the tops of your feet on the chair, start to straighten your legs and this motion should push you up towards the bar.

You could also stand on the chair while holding onto the pull up bar and in the top position and then bending at the knees remove your feet from the chair.

It may sound complicated but the goal is to make it easier to get your body to the top of the bar and then remove that aid so you can lower yourself. Repeat, repeat, repeat…

Good luck

All I’m doing here is taking an exercise that has so many benefits and helping you remove an obstacle from doing it. And in doing that you are also strengthening the muscles quicker by applying the ‘negative’ method of overloading the muscle when it’s in its strongest movement.

That’s it. Give it a try. Eventually you will be doing pull ups without any assistance, and maybe even adding some 45lb plates around your waist for added resistance.

Yours in health,

Darryl

risking everything for a dream that nobody sees but you

There is magic in fighting battles beyond endurance.

It’s straight forward and simple. When our body runs out of fuel, it can no longer perform at the output we desire. Whether it’s 20 minutes into your workout, or 3 hours the body will slow down due to lack of fuel. You can’t control this, it will just happen. I know we have all been there. It’s defeating when it happens because you know you can do better, you did better your last workout.

How do we prevent this? In a previous post I covered fueling before your workout. If you haven’t read it, you might want to. It will help you in performing as best as you can for workouts that will last up to 60 minutes, or on the edge of 90 minutes. There are more workouts, events lasting longer than 60 minutes. It used to be that most long lasting workouts were marathons. But now we have boot camps, cross training classes, tuff mudders endurance events that are anywhere from 90 minutes to hours in duration.

You need to refuel during these events, with the right fuel to continue.

The science of it

ATP. Three letters that represent a chemical compound that is responsible for everything we do. Anything your body does is fueled by ATP.

For simplicity we can think of three different sources for our body to create ATP: Creatine Phosphate, carbohydrates, and fat. I’m not going to get into Creatine Phosphate since generally you won’t be in the intensity zone needed to use that as a source. And fat? Not going to talk about fat that much either. Carbohydrates is what this post is going to focus on.

Carbohydrates, or sugar, is what the body processes into glycogen and glucose. Glucose is what is in our blood to be used with oxygen to create ATP so we can function. Think of glycogen as the unused glucose. Glycogen gets stored in our liver and in our muscles. When the body needs glucose the glycogen is then converted to glucose. Our body can store only so much glycogen. If you have ever heard of someone ‘carbo loading’ the night before an event such as a marathon, that person was trying to fill up the glycogen fuel tank so they are heading into the event with a full fuel tank. Studies have shown that this carbo loading may not be all that effective or necessary. Your body can hold only so much glycogen, about 500 grams or 2000 calories worth. If you eat more food than needed, that extra amount of carbs gets turned into fat. Studies have also shown that a meal high in carbs a couple of hours before the event should satisfy the amount of carbs needed to top out your glycogen stores as long as you are not already overly depleted.

This 500 gram supply of glycogen can last for as much as 90 minutes when exercising at a low intensity level or up to 30 minutes when training at a high intensity level.

Is it starting to make sense why what we eat and when we eat is very important to how we perform? And there’s still more to cover!

We hit the 90 minute mark and have depleted our glycogen stores. Bone dry. Our body comes to a crashing halt, unable to move anymore without fuel. Well, not really. But things do happen that we really don’t want happening. Our body will be forced to slow down into a lower intensity level where we can use fat as a fuel. But we cannot use only fat as a fuel. Our body still craves glucose and will do anything to get it. You’re not going to like this part. It’s somewhat disconcerting and demoralizing. Your body will turn on you and metabolize muscle. Muscle that you have been working your butt off to build. Your body has turned against you and your gains that you made are starting to diminish. The body does what the body needs to do. The longer the event the more muscle lost to being converted to fuel.

There’s hope

Don’t worry, there’s hope. There are steps we can take to prevent this from happening and to be strong at the beginning, middle and end of the event.

You have probably already figured it out, what it is we need to do. We need to eat! We need to get carbs back into our system. So reach into your backpack and pull out a couple of donuts you have in there for this purpose. Might as well enjoy it, right? Alright, not really. There are better ways to get carbs into our system.

When do we do this? Do we do this after our glycogen stores are depleted? No. Let’s not get to that point. Let’s get those carbs back into our system before our performance is impacted. Ideally to not get impacted you will want to take a form of carbohydrates about every 30 minutes during exercise. And you will want to do this in a way that is easy. Forget the donut and lets use something easier and better.

Gels, sport drinks, fruit. These are some options. If you have a bit of a break during your event you might want to consume an orange, or banana, or maybe some dates. If you don’t have a break, or you want something easy to digest try a sports gel or a sports drink. Easy to take and easy to process. Remember, we are all different. The amount you need is probably different that the amount I would need. This comes under training smart. Try using varying amounts as you train and find the best combination. Maybe a gel pack to start then a couple of mouthfuls of a sports drink later. Or maybe a gel pack and a couple of mouthfuls of a sports drink to wash it down. You have to play with it. But at least you are taking something! That alone should help you. One warning though. Once you have found what works for you, the brand of sports gel, amount, etc. don’t go messing with that combination on the day of the event. It could be the worst thing you do. Just like a marathoner wouldn’t run the event in a brand new, never worn pair of shoes you never want to introduce anything new. You never know how your body, or digestive system will react. It very well could react negatively ending your event prematurely.

Finished, time to rest

You have finished your event, your workout. What you do know is important to how you will feel that day or the following day. Our glycogen stores are still depleted and we need to fill them back up. Don’t go for the protein shake yet. You will need some protein but that’s later. If you were to eat protein instead of carbs you may not have enough glucose and glycogen to create the energy to digest the food and once again your body will be eating itself. Try to refuel with a combination of 4 carbs to 1 protein. If your event was exceptionally long, you will want to continue to reload carbs up to 24 hours after the event.

Be the best

I probably sound redundant but I believe a good message deserves to be heard over and over. Train smart. I’ll give you an example. Years ago people would train and compete in events without drinking water and sometimes in extreme heat. You were a wimp if you drank water. You were told to ‘suck it up’. So what happened that you hardly ever see anyone training without water. Even the military, the bastion of this type of thinking is taking hydration seriously. What happened? People died! And people started to find out that people were dying due to dehydration.

You probably won’t die due to depleted glycogen stores but you could be causing short and long term damage. And you performance will suffer, and you will feel like crap. Really. Running out of glycogen is called ‘hitting the wall’, not ‘laying down in a nice soft bed’. That should tell you something.

I have another reason for you to do this. You owe it to yourself. You owe it to yourself to be as strong as you can and have an awesome experience doing it instead of it being disappointing. At least, I think you do.

Yours in health,

Darryl

 

 

The old ways are dead…they can’t help you anymore

Everything you’ve heard is true.

The quest to add muscle size and strength. It can be a lofty quest depending what your goal is or it can be very achievable. But what can you do to add muscle size and strength in as short amount time as possible. There are probably some things we already know we need to do: eat the proper amount of protein, get the proper amount of rest, and use the proper training techniques.

I want to use this post to describe and talk about what else can be done. It can be another tool for the toolbox to get you there quicker.

Be negative

When weight training, or resistance training, it’s common that we place a lot of effort into the movement that contracts the muscle and less into the opposite movement. Let’s take the bench press as an example. The weight is lowered to the chest and then the struggle usually starts to raise the bar back up when you are near exhaustion. The same with bicep curls. The struggle is on the upward movement as we bend our arm and then the weight is lowered quickly, or quicker that the upward movement, back to the starting point.

Why is this? First let me explain that we have more than 1 muscle contraction. We have three but I’m only going to cover two at this point. We probably are familiar with the concentric contraction. That is the one I explained above that is having trouble doing the work. The other one I want to go into more detail about is the eccentric contraction. This is when we straighten the muscle back to the starting point. We probably weren’t aware that the straightening movement is also a contraction. But it has to be because the muscle is still under load.

The reason why we are able to bring the barbell down to our chest easier than raising it is we have more strength in the eccentric contraction of the muscle. So what does this mean to you? Don’t we add strength and muscle by only doing low amount of reps and gradually increase the load over time? Sure. That will work but if you want to increase strength and the amount of muscle sooner, you will want to pay attention to the eccentric contraction.

What

We call them negatives, or eccentric contraction. You can think of the reason it’s referred to as negatives because it is the opposite of traditional concentric contraction, or positive training. It’s somewhat ironic because the benefits out way the traditional positive training. As mentioned earlier, negatives is the contraction that happens when the muscle lengthens.

How

I didn’t spend too much time on what negatives are because they are what they are. As long you understand it is the contraction when we lengthen, or straighten the muscle.

Because we are much stronger in the negative part of the movement, it allows us to use more weight in that exercise. The muscles can be up to 30% stronger during the negative phase compared to the concentric phase. That’s huge! If you are bench pressing 200lbs you could theoretically increase the weight to 260lbs for the negative movement.

Here comes the difficult part. If you are able to use more weight for the negative than the positive, how do you do that? It’s the problem that will leave you on the bench with a barbell across your chest unable to lift it off. Most people who train using negatives will train with someone who will spot them on the concentric contraction phase. This allows them to increase the amount of weight for the negative and then get the assistance for the concentric phase. That’s the tough part. Not everyone can have someone readily available to help with this.

But don’t you worry! There is another way that we can train and reap the benefits of negatives. I mentioned in one of my previous posts that most people tend to do movements too quickly. I talked about slowing things down, and pausing. You can do the same with negatives. Let’s use squats as an example. Take your time moving to the squat position. Once there hold it for 2 seconds then return to the upward position quickly. Be sure to do this in a controlled manner to avoid injury. Same thing with pushups. Lower yourself to the floor slowly, hold for 2 seconds then return to the upright position quickly. You’re getting the idea, I can tell.

The win

Because you can load the muscle with more weight and also stress eccentric contraction the muscles will respond to address the micro-trauma that has occurred. This in turn kicks off processes in your body to build muscle. That’s why it’s important that you are consuming enough protein and getting enough rest, so your body can do these things. Let your body rebuild itself.

Our tendons also benefit from negative training, making them stronger and more resilient. This helps prevent potential injury. Bone mass is also affected by weight training. Due to the high strain on muscles when eccentric training you are less likely to lose bone mass.

Stronger, increased muscle mass, stronger bones, less chance of injury. Sign me up.

Be inventive

Understand what it is you want stronger. Understand how those muscles work and you should be able to figure out the eccentric movement, the movement that lengthens the muscle. Then think of ways you can increase the load to that eccentric movement. Increasing the load doesn’t only mean adding more weight. If you have done any exercise 3x slower you know how hard that is.

But be safe. If doing negatives for the first time be prepared for delayed onset muscle soreness. That’s alright if it’s no more than 48 hours. Do things in a controlled manner to avoid injury.

I think you will find doing negatives will be a positive for you. I know, lame.

Yours in health,

Darryl

Are you ready?

Neither too late nor too early.

In a sense this post is a continuation of my last post. In my last post I discussed that the only way to know if something will work for you is to try it. That’s because we are not the same, everyone is different. What might work for you may not work for me. In this post I’m going to cover what we can eat before our workout so we have energy and can perform as best as we can.

The foods

I’m going to discuss two things here; the meal you should eat 2 – 3 hours before, and the snack you should eat closer to the workout. They are different because the first meal will come into play much later into your workout and the snack will play a role immediately into your workout.

The first

If you are eating healthy already, a balance of fats, proteins and carbohydrates than you probably are already eating correctly. Eating this balanced meal will help you if your workout is an endurance type or any type of workout exceeding 90 minutes. It’s important that you have fats in this meal as your body will be looking for fat to metabolize for energy. If fat isn’t available it’s more than likely your body will end up metabolizing protein for energy which it will get from your muscles. Probably something you don’t want to happen.

Some foods you can eat for this meal are peanut butter, almond butter, oatmeal (try to not load on the sugar), beans and lentils, dark greens and other vibrant coloured vegetables, toast with honey or pure jam.

The last

The last food you eat before working out should be a snack high in carbohydrates. You will want to avoid fat and protein as it will take longer to digest, and you don’t want that blood going to your stomach aiding digestion while working out. We need that blood feeding our muscles oxygen during our workout.

But we do need to eat. Maybe that is why some people, or maybe most people don’t eat before working out because they tried this and ate the wrong foods and the results were negative.

Some people may argue that they are still working out, pushing themselves so they are still growing as far as fitness and health goes. Not necessarily true. If your body doesn’t have the fuel to aid your workout, your body is forced to slow down. It cannot perform at that level without getting the fuel it needs. If you have read my posts on high intensity workouts, you know that you get the most benefits working out in this zone. If you have to leave the high intense zone because you run out of fuel and have to drop down to the medium or low intense zone you are no longer getting the benefits. Secondly if you don’t have fuel your body will metabolize what it needs to, muscle. That’s 2 big negatives to not eating a snack before your workout. I’ll even add a third to try to convince you. You’ll feel like crap when you run out of fuel. We have all been there. Working out and dragging our ass through the workout. Afterwards all we want to do is nap. Not a great feeling. Wouldn’t it feel great if you could go through the whole workout feeling pumped, full of energy, and ready to push yourself further? No kidding! Those are the workouts we remember and feel great about.

So what can we eat 30 minutes before training. Carbs. Foods like dates, bananas, oranges, raisins, apples, pears.

Remember that this is a snack and not a meal. If you eat too much your stomach will be busy digesting the food during the workout and you want to avoid that. You will probably have to experiment with what to eat and how much to get the right balance.

Now is the time

Try it.  I think you may find this to be one of the most beneficial things to try for your training. What do you have to lose? Nothing really if you think about it. Lets start getting away from the thinking that we eat 3 meals a day, don’t drink water during a workout, and other myths. A lot of these myths do harm to our body. Ultimately it’s you who will benefit. And everyone else will be looking at you in awe, wondering how you have so much energy!

Yours in health,

Darryl

 

 

 

I am my own experiment. I am my own work of art

Sift through it until you find it. Then do it.

There is a lot of information out there with regards to what things to do, how to do them, and when to do them. It’s gets confusing and can also be overwhelming. Most times we give up and just continue doing what we normally do. But what if there is something that will help you and you happened to miss it because you either dismissed it or couldn’t be bothered with it.

So what do we do? One thing I recommend is try to find a valuable source for your information, like this blog as an example. I know, cheap self promotion. I can equate it to a movie critic. You have movie critics that will praise a film, and other critics that will condemn the same film. Most people will stick with the critics that generally like the same films they do. It probably makes sense to do the same with your health and fitness needs. Once you find a source that has provided information that works for you, you will probably go back to that source because of the success.

Is that it?

Is there anything else we can do? Absolutely. It requires investment of your time and there are no guarantees. You are the other thing. Experimenting, testing new things. Ultimately not everything works for everybody, most people, but not always for everybody. How will you know it works for you? You have to dive in and commit yourself to trying it.

No guarantees

Whatever it is, it won’t always work. And you may not always no if there was something else responsible for your positive, or negative results. I hear people saying ‘I took Echinacea this winter and didn’t get a cold’. Would that person have gotten a cold if they didn’t take Echinacea? We don’t know for sure. When trying things yourself there is no control like a lab experiment, unless you have a clone. The clone can be the control. So we never know for sure if what we are trying is successful, in some cases. This doesn’t pertain to everything. The things we try that are easily quantifiable are easier to measure if they are successful or not. An example is if you have been training for 6 months, or a year and you are not seeing gains, then you try a new method or technique and you start to realize gains, then that would probably be looked at as a success. But even with these things we need to be aware if anything else has changed. That’s why it’s usually a good idea to introduce only one thing new. If you add more than one change it will be harder to understand what change was accountable for the success.

Complicated, isn’t it. It can be but it can also be very rewarding.

What are the things

What are the things we can do to understand if it was a success? Keeping track. You need to keep track of the things that can impact performance. Sleep, rest, diet, schedule, stress. All these things can have an impact on your performance. Other things too like when you are taking your supplements, if you take any. If you normally take them in the evening, then switch to the morning and notice a change in performance, this may be why. Keep all other things the same if you can. Remember, don’t introduce more than one change. If you do what change was responsible for the success? It will be hard for you to know for sure.

It may seem like a lot of work but the rewards can be great, and they feel great. How do I know this? I was waiting for you to ask me.

I have been there

Over the last few months I have been researching how to improve performance when training, working out, etc. What foods to eat, when to eat them, amount of sleep needed and a couple other things. Sleep. That’s a tough one. It’s not always in our control. My full time job requires me to be on call every so often. Sometimes I get woken up when sleeping. Other times the mind is just too busy, occupied to shut down and let sleep come.

What we can eat is more controllable. It should be since we buy our food and prepare it. It usually comes down to what foods to eat, or eat at all. I know some people that don’t eat before training, sometimes hours. Have you ever driven your car when there isn’t any fuel in it? Right. The body is just like your car. It needs fuel.

This leaves me with when. When to eat. Sometimes we can control this and sometimes we can’t. Depending when it is you train it may not be possible to get fuel into your body when you should. And when is that? When should you eat before training? An hour, two, half? I think I have the answer. I know I have the answer when it comes to myself.

Normally I have been eating about anywhere from 60 minutes to 120 minutes before training. Seemed to work as far as I could tell. Because I didn’t try anything else I really didn’t have a comparison. It was time to fuel up 30 minutes before training. I was somewhat hesitant to do this because I usually start my training with a run. I was worried that running so close to eating would leave me with an upset stomach and hurting my performance instead of improving it. But I went ahead anyway.

I knew my routine would be pretty much the same routine I have every week. So I decided to do it. This is a good time to change up when I eat. Keeping everything normal as far as the other foods I eat and when I eat them, I picked my food to eat. The banana. A great source of carbohydrates to fuel me for my run and easily digestible. So I ate the banana, and waited…anxiously. At about 30 minutes I started my run. Today was a day where I would normally start the run at a medium intensity and build up the intensity as the run progressed. Everything was going great. I felt good, lots of energy. It was a very successful run. My resistance training afterwards felt good too. I still had energy whereas sometimes I may not have as much after my run.

Success! But I told myself that this is only one test. Could it be the placebo affect? I need to move on to day two, Tabata day. Same thing day 2. Consume a banana, wait 30 minutes than train. Just so you know if you decide to do a Tabata workout on a treadmill, it can be tricky. You need to master grabbing the rails and quickly moving your feet to the side. Success again! I have never completed a Tabata workout on the treadmill at the speed I did this time. Awesome! 2 successful days. I won’t go into the subsequent workouts but workouts 3, 4 and 5 were all successful as far as having more energy both during my cardio and resistance training.

I felt good and I felt bad. I felt good that I think I have found what I need to do before I train as far as eating. I felt bad that it took so long to find this out. But I didn’t feel bad that long. I remembered a Chinese proverb: ‘The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second best time is now’.

Choose it then do it

Are changes always this successful? Not always. But that’s ok because we usually forget the ones that fail, the ones that didn’t work. But when we find that one that works it can make all the difference. It makes us feel good. We look forward instead of looking back.

Believe in yourself. Trust yourself. Take that leap of faith. It might be scary, but the results can be so satisfying.

Yours in health,

Darryl

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood

The change, it had to come.

I’ll call pushups a core exercise because everyone probably has done pushups sometime during their life, or at minimum know what a pushup is. Just to be clear when I say it’s a core exercise, I refer to the pushup being a core part of most workouts that are using body weight instead of weights. Having said that I guess you could say that pushups are also an exercise that work the core as your core should be engaged when doing them. Your experience with pushups probably is the standard pushup where our hands are under our shoulders and you move your body up and down.

So let me use this post to show you other ways to do pushups that can work other parts of our body or just be more of a challenge.

First off

Before I do that I want to spend a bit of time going over what a ‘standard’ pushup is. As I mentioned earlier, we place our hands a little wider than shoulder width below our shoulders, more aligned with where our pec or chest muscles are. If we are using the pushup to target our chest muscles it makes sense to have the hands aligned with the chest, just like when you do a bench press exercise. If you have your hands ahead of your shoulders it will be more difficult to execute the exercise, and we are engaging muscles that we don’t want to. Now that we know where our hands need to be, lets look at the feet. The feet should be placed about shoulder width, and you will want to be on your toes.

Hands – done. Feet – done. Let’s move onto our mid area, the hips. It can be common when doing pushups that the hips lower below their natural position, or rise up like a bridge. This usually happens because we become fatigued and have disengaged our core. Knowing this we want to make sure that our hips are aligned so they are in their natural position. One last point about how are body should be positioned. It’s common that I get asked where do we keep our head? Do we keep our head aligned with our body, looking down, keeping the spine neutral or do we lift our head up, looking forward? You will hear people telling you to do it both ways. The notion of looking forward is that it makes the pushup harder to do. I have also read that keeping the head up while doing pushups puts unneeded pressure on the vertebrae in the neck. In my opinion, I prefer to keep the head down in it’s natural position. If I want to make my pushups harder, I will slow down the cadence. Give it a try and you’ll see what I mean. Taking 5 – 7 seconds to lower your body and 5 – 7 seconds to raise it will make the pushup dramatically harder.

I think that’s it. Wait, one more thing. While doing pushups be sure to keep your core engaged. You should be actively contracting your abs, glutes, back and even the quad muscles. When doing pushups these muscles act as stabilizer muscles which will actually help you keep your body aligned properly. Keeping these muscles engaged will also strengthen them.

Some Choices

Alright, let’s get into some options we can use to change the boring pushup into something way more exciting! Well, a little more exciting.

  • Target the triceps – You can actually use the pushup to also target the tricep muscles. By placing your hands alongside your body (your elbows should be touching your sides) instead of having them aligned outside of your shoulders, and also below your chest, your pushup movement almost mimics a tricep push down movement. When doing this type of pushup try to not let your elbows move out to the side. It may not be the best movement to work the triceps but if you don’t have equipment than it’s a great option.
  • Upper chest burner – Try doing pushups with your feet up on a platform. A 12 inch platform should work to use the pushup to target the upper chest.
  • Adding an explosion – Figuratively not literally. Start your pushup being in the down position, your body on the ground. Now as fast as you can bring yourself to the upper part of the movement. If you have done this as quick as you can and with as much force as you can your hands should come up off the ground. That’s the explosion. The benefit of this particular pushup is it will add speed to anything that uses that type of movement, such as striking.
  • Add your knees to it – We can make the pushup more than a chest exercise by adding another movement to it. While in the lower position of the pushup, bring the knee from one side to the elbow on that side. Hold it for 3 – 5 seconds then return the foot back to where it should be. Raise your body back up so you are in the upper position of the pushup, then lower again and repeat using the other side. By adding this movement to the pushup you are engaging your core muscles even more. It’s tough! Do only as many as you keeping proper form.
  • Incorporating your legs – We need to have a strong core to execute pushups properly. If you able to keep proper form when doing pushups, and your hips are not sinking, try this one. Starting in the upward position extend one leg out so it is parallel with your body. Keeping this leg out do five pushups then change to the other leg. Do this until fatigued. Try to not let the hip rotate down on the side where the leg is out. If you cannot keep your hips properly aligned than you may want to forego this type of pushup.
  • Known by many names – Hindu, Judo, Jewel thief, Dive bomber and a bunch of other names I’m sure. This pushup is a great way of adding dynamic range of motion to the exercise. A benefit of this pushup is you are using muscles that may not get the same resistance when doing a standard pushup. Let me explain how this one is done. Start in the upper position and have your hips up high, so you form the letter A, or you look like the shape of a tent. Here comes the tricky part, well tricky for me because I have to explain it. Now that you have your hips up and high, lower your body leading with the head moving forward as if you are trying to curve your body under a hypothetical laser beam. Think of that laser beam being around your mid-section when complete. So in a sense you are trying to curve your body under that beam, avoiding it. At the end of the movement you should have your arms straight, head up, because you should be at the upper position of the pushup. Your arms will be further back than when you normally do a pushup because of where they were when you started and your hips will be much lower, which is ok for this pushup. The ending position is very much like the cobra stretch except your hips and legs are above the ground, not on it. Now, do the reverse to get back to the original position. Does that make sense? It’s a little hard to explain but I hope you get the idea.

Six

Six choices. Six different ways of executing the ubiquitous pushup. Try them out. Play with them. Have fun.

But always remember, form is very important. Don’t try these different options if you are unable to keep form. And be sure that you are always using full range of motion. You will never get better if you cheat. You’re cheating the exercise and you’re cheating yourself.

If you can execute the standard pushup well but are having troubles with the six above, don’t worry about it. Who cares. I don’t. You’ll get there eventually. No need to rush. Measure your progress against yourself, not someone else. If you feel you’re ready to get away from the standard pushup then do it. You will be sore afterwards from the change and your body will benefit from the change.

The key is progression, not the amount you can do.

Yours in health,

Darryl