Monday, November 24, 2008


There is a saying in the fitness world that someone following a crappy program but who gives it everything they have will see better results than the person on the best program but who half-asses it.

The key is intent and intensity. And though I'm no self-help expert I suspect that holds true for every aspect of life. Now I'm not saying you should act like a jackass and holler and yell while training. Quite the opposite.

Gyms are packed with people curling dumbbells, plopped down on the worthless good girl/bad girl machines, or my favorite: Sitting on a bike or treadmill watching TV while "working out".

Can you guess what kind of results they will see? Just look at them now - and that's how they will look a year from now.

Strength coach Charles Staley's advice on this matter is to do the opposite of most people and you are virtually guaranteed success.

Writer/musician Henry Rollins learned that lesson early in life and later wrote an essay on what the iron taught him.

I prefer to work out alone. It enables me to concentrate on the lessons that the Iron has for me. Learning about what you're made of is always time well spent, and I have found no better teacher. The Iron had taught me how to live. Life is capable of driving you out of your mind. The way it all comes down these days, it's some kind of miracle if you're not insane. People have become separated from their bodies. They are no longer whole.

I see them move from their offices to their cars and on to their suburban homes. They stress out constantly, they lose sleep, they eat badly. And they behave badly. Their egos run wild; they become motivated by that which will eventually give them a massive stroke. They need the Iron Mind.

Through the years, I have combined meditation, action, and the Iron into a single strength. I believe that when the body is strong, the mind thinks strong thoughts. Time spent away from the Iron makes my mind degenerate. I wallow in a thick depression. My body shuts down my mind.

The Iron is the best antidepressant I have ever found. There is no better way to fight weakness than with strength. Once the mind and body have been awakened to their true potential, it's impossible to turn back.

The Iron never lies to you. You can walk outside and listen to all kinds of talk, get told that you're a god or a total bastard. The Iron will always kick you the real deal. The Iron is the great reference point, the all-knowing perspective giver. Always there like a beacon in the pitch black. I have found the Iron to be my greatest friend. It never freaks out on me, never runs. Friends may come and go. But two hundred pounds is always two hundred pounds.

I'll leave you with a video of the competitive powerlifters at Elite Fitness Systems . If more people exercised with even a fraction of the intelligence (it may not look it but their training is meticulous) and intensity they do then there would be alot more seriously fit people walking around. And the aerobics classes would be empty *wink*.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Whole Enchilada

A couple of years ago after injuring my knees and back I rediscovered the importance of mobility, flexibility, and prehab work. I can't stress enough the of importance working on these qualities. Not only has my own health benefited from daily attention, but I've witnessed the condition of clients with some serious aches and pains improve drastically with some dedicated and consistent work.

Myofascial release (massage, rolling on a foam roller or ball), dynamic stretching, static stretching, and mobility work are integral and shouldn't take more than a couple of minutes a day.

In addition to helping you stay pain and injury free, another benefit of this type of work is increased agility. And let's face it, most people aren't impressed by useless bulk. Awesome displays of agility and grace are the real reason we are awed by great athletes.

My friends and colleagues Steve Cotter and Ken Blackburn founded the International Kettlebell and Fitness Federation with the goal of spreading effective ways in which everyone can increase these qualities (and more).

Check out this video of Ken demonstrating some agility drills

The amazing Steve Cotter

Granted Ken & Steve are extreme examples, but trust me that incorporating some mobility and agility work into your training will make you look, feel, and move better.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Looking Good (clothing optional)

Apologies for not posting in the last week. Things have been busy at work and my wife and I took a few days off for an enjoyable cross country drive.

My friend and colleague Nate Green is having his first book published momentarily (congrats Nate!). One would think this guy is too young to know anything, but what separates him from 99.99% of trainers is that he has sought out the best to learn from. So I recommend you read the following excerpt from his book Built For Show. And since Nate is a better writer than I below I'll quote some tips for issues I see on a daily basis.

Things fat guys believe that keep them fat
"If I eat before and after workouts, my body won't burn as much fat."

Skipping meals is the best way I know to prevent your body from using its stored fat for energy. Counterintuitive as it seems, regular meals, including pre- and post-workout nutrition, will promote steady fat loss. It works the same way whether you're lean or lardy. The more often you eat while you're doing a serious training program, the more fat you lose.

Your body needs fuel, pure and simple. A pre-workout meal of protein and carbohydrates will actually enhance blood flow and help deliver nutrients to the muscles when they need it most: when you're breaking them down by working out. Similarly, a post-workout meal will help speed muscle growth and help you recover quicker before your next formal (weight-lifting) or informal (girl-lifting) training session.

That said, I'm not particularly militant about pre-workout meals. I don't think it's a good idea to work out on an empty stomach, so I tell my clients who like to work out in the morning that they should eat something first. What they eat, and how much they eat, is more of a personal thing.

Later in the day, do what works best for you. If you can't train hard without eating something right before your workout, make sure you have something ready to eat. If you can get in a good workout two or three hours after your most recent meal, that's cool. I'm not going to tell you to ignore your body and follow some arbitrary guideline.

Building muscle

"I'm trying to build size, not strength."

The human body isn't stupid. If it's going to overcome a genetic propensity toward low body weight, it needs a better excuse than "I just want to be bigger." Strength is the excuse. Give the muscles tasks that push their limits, using heavy weights and smart program design, and they'll get bigger to meet the increased need for strength.

I realize I'm swimming in dark waters here, given that the title of my book uses the words "built," "for," and "show," in that order. The implication, of course, is that I'm advocating anything but a "form-follows-function" approach.

But I see no contradiction in acknowledging that all of us reading this want good-looking, eye-catching muscle, while telling you the best way to build it is to forget what your muscles look like and focus instead on what they can do.

As I always say getting fit is simple, but not easy. If you need to lose fat, gain muscle, or both, then you've got to be consistent in your nutrition and training. And listen to your trainer *wink*.

Sure it takes commitment and a willingness to trash old habits, but is there any downside to leading a healthier lifestyle?

I thought not.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Finished With That Bottle of Water?

You probably will be after reading this article by my friend Dr. John Williams.

In it he discusses a few reasons why buying bottled water, nuking your food in plastic containers, and not eating your veggies all have negative consequences on your long-term health. In particular he addresses a man-made chemical called Xenoestrogen that is present in petroleum based plastics such as that bottle of water you are sipping from.

What is Xenoestrogen you may ask?

Please go read that brief article now for a more complete explanation, but here is the short version:

Xenoestrogens are man-made chemicals that can enter the body and mimic the effects of the female hormone estrogen. Natural estrogens act with a larger molecule called a receptor, and once they do so, the biological activity associated with that hormone is turned on. You're basically flipping on a switch. Xenoestrogens fit in the same receptors that estrogen does and do the same thing that the natural hormone does. But in addition they can also turn-on more receptors — sometimes synergistically — making the effect of the estrogen or xenoestrogen more profound.

A number of studies have been done linking high levels of Xenoestrogenic pesticides (such as DDT) to cancer (breast and prostate). Now, the concentration of this chemical you might ingest from drinking or eating from plastic containers is certainly lower than that found in pesticides, but do you really want to chance it?

Aside from cancer risks, elevated levels also have a negative effect on testosterone levels. I doubt I need to explain to guys what that means, but it affects you too ladies. Women do utilize testosterone as well, and unnaturally low levels will lead to an increase in bodyfat, decreased muscle mass, and decreased strength.

Where do I sign?

In addition to health risks I know you all know the hazardous impact plastic bottles have on the environment.

My wife and I stopped buying bottled water a few years ago. Instead we prepare pitchers of cold barley tea, which in addition to being good for you, is also vastly cheaper than buying water. Buying a Brita water filter is also a great alternative that will save you $$$. In addition a number of studies have shown that your tap water is just as healthy for you as bottled water.

We also ditched the tupperware in favor of pyrex and glass containers to store and reheat food. Pyrex lasts longer ($$ again), looks better, and if using it may help keep us healthier than it's a no brainer.

Now that's out of the way I'm ready to celebrate this weekend.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Warm-up To get Stronger

The New York Times has had some surprisingly good health articles lately. This one continues the streak.

Ever since I started training clients in a big box gym a couple of years back I've had every person doing some sort of dynamic warm-up of the type talked about in the NYT article. I find it amusing that we still get funny looks from many gym members who must wonder what the hell that person is doing crawling around on the floor. But then again most large gyms are not exactly a bastion of fitness knowledge.

The topic of dynamic warm-ups and mobility work has been discussed for years in the strength and conditioning community. Studies showing static stretching actually makes you weaker date back a number of years, so it's great to see this information finally filtering down into popular media.

The old presumption that holding a stretch for 20 to 30 seconds — known as static stretching — primes muscles for a workout is dead wrong. It actually weakens them. In a recent study conducted at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, athletes generated less force from their leg muscles after static stretching than they did after not stretching at all. Other studies have found that this stretching decreases muscle strength by as much as 30 percent. Also, stretching one leg’s muscles can reduce strength in the other leg as well, probably because the central nervous system rebels against the movements.

The reason it temporarily weakens muscles is that static stretching gradually increases one's flexibility by inducing micro-tears in the muscle. It only makes sense that these micro-tears, though good for long term flexibility, take time to rebuild, right?

For the record I wish I would have known this years ago before screwing up my knees doing idiotic stretching before martial arts practice.

To be clear I do advocate static stretching for just about everyone, but do it any time OTHER than immediately before exercising.

As for other functions a dynamic warm-up serves:
THE RIGHT WARM-UP should do two things: loosen muscles and tendons to increase the range of motion of various joints, and literally warm up the body. When you’re at rest, there’s less blood flow to muscles and tendons, and they stiffen. “You need to make tissues and tendons compliant before beginning exercise,” Knudson says.

A well-designed warm-up starts by increasing body heat and blood flow. Warm muscles and dilated blood vessels pull oxygen from the bloodstream more efficiently and use stored muscle fuel more effectively. They also withstand loads better.

One quibble I have with the NYT article is the inclusion of scorpions. Most people do not need more low back flexibility, as the lumbar spine is meant to stabilize, not rotate beyond a few degrees. As for the hip flexors and glutes, there are better movements that address those areas.

For more info on back issues it doesn't get any better than Dr. Stuart McGill.

In addition to dynamic warm-ups almost everyone needs mobility (increasing joint range of motion) and soft tissue work (breaking up scar tissue and increasing muscle pliability).

To break it down, you will reach your goals quicker and stay healthier by including dynamic warm-ups into your training.