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19 Nov

Diet culture is toxic, haven’t you heard?

 

For many, the impetus behind the anti-diet culture movement is all about putting an end to fat-shaming and our unhealthy obsession with losing weight.

 

 

While this is a noble cause, it’s not what this piece is about. Because the truth is, 50 percent of my clients have expressed to me a desire to lose weight—mostly for health, emotional, and aesthetic reasons. I’d like to help them reach their goals.

 

I truly believe the diet culture is hurting our chances of achieving long-term body composition changes, and more importantly, improved health. Be it the latest 7-day cleanse that promises to fix your gut or speed up your metabolism, or the popular 6-week or 30-day diet challenge of the year, more often than not we find ourselves back to the drawing board the moment the short-term diet or challenge is over.

 

So if diets don’t work, what does?

 

Build the Right Habits

I’m a big fan of Precision Nutrition’s principles, hence why I’m currently going through their Level 1 coaching course.

 

At the heart of it, success comes not from following an exact plan that leaves you feeling guilty when you fall off course, but from taking every imperfect day as it comes, by making as many right choices as you can along the way—but also knowing you’re going to make mistakes, too. Success comes from working on your nutrition by constantly striving to build better habits.

 

I know that sounds like just more fluffy rhetoric, so here are three small, practical things you can do RIGHT now—like today—to lay the foundation to see results.

 

They might seem insignificant on their own, but if you keep building on them, and adding more small actions each week and each month, I guarantee you’ll gain more than embarking on those quarterly turmeric cleanses.

 

1. The Five-Minute Action

This is sort of like the concept of compound interest: Over time, it adds up!

 

Choose one, small, emotionally and mentally manageable change you’re willing to make today.

 

 

I interviewed a Precision Nutrition client a while back who lost 100lb over the course of a year. The first five-minute action she committed was taking the stairs at work. Literally, she just started walking three flights of stairs. This small step was the starting point for what became a huge and lasting change.

 

Maybe for you, it’s cutting sugar from your coffee or committing to eating vegetables with every meal. Keep the action small and manageable, and once it feels normal, add in a new five-minute action.

 

2. Chew Your Food

It’s possible you have never considered this one, but chewing your food more thoroughly could be the answer to your digestion issues—bloating, cramping, diarrhea, and constipation—and may help you lose weight. And it may also help your habit of eating too much.

 

How so?

 

Well, digestion starts in the mouth. Salivary amylase breaks down starch, and the more you chew, the more your food gets exposed to this enzyme, which kickstarts the digestion problem. Also, when you break your food down into smaller pieces from chewing it more—aim for 30 chews per bite—it’s then more manageable for your body to process, and also helps you absorb more nutrients. This goes a long way in helping your metabolism becomes more efficient.

 

This Chinese study found that chewing more led to weight loss and an increase in energy.

 

The study looked at 30 young men, 14 of whom were obese and 16 were considered skinny. The first observation the researchers made was that the obese men tended to ingest their food faster and chewed it less than the skinny men.

 

After this was noted, the obese men were fed a high carbohydrate meal and asked to chew their food either 15 or 40 times per bite. The researchers found when they chewed more, they actually ingested 12 percent fewer calories.

 

The researchers believe chewing more leads to lower levels of the hormone ghrelin and higher levels of the appetite-suppressing hormone called cholecystokinin. Together, these hormones tell the brain when to start and stop eating. So basically, chewing more creates a hormonal response in your body that stops you from eating when you’re full, helping you to maintain a healthy weight.

 

So, chew more. And start at dinner tonight.

 

3. Failure As Feedback

One of the biggest reasons I have seen clients fall off the healthy eating horse is because they’re discouraged because they failed.

 

But as my good friend Jennifer Broxterman, a registered dietician and the owner of NutritionRx, explains, it comes down to changing the way you think about failure.

 

“Failure should be seen as feedback, not as a result,” Broxterman said. She encourages her clients to view feedback like data points a scientist would use to figure something out. And to view it with a mixture of curiosity, compassion and radical honesty.

 

“Let’s be curious, kind, and truly honest about what pushed you off your course,” she explained.

 

When you change the way you think about failure, and when you view it as an opportunity to change something in the future, rather than an outcome that causes you pain in the present, you’ll be able to embrace the course—bumpy as it may be—to long-term change.

 

4. Bonus Tip: Be Patient

As the cliché goes, change doesn’t happen overnight. (And it doesn’t come from a 6-week diet.)

 

But change can start to happen right now in three simple steps:

 

  1. Pick a small, manageable five-minute action and turn it into a habit. Repeat.
  2. Chew your food 30 times a bite.
  3. If you mess up, chill out. Be kind. Be compassionate. Figure out what threw you off. And then continue.


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19 Nov

The classic dumbbell pullover is an exercise bodybuilders have been doing for ages. Back in the Golden era they were credited with building bigger lats, pecs, and serratus. Many top bodybuilders also swore they increased the size of your rib cage too. You have probably seen old black and white pictures of people like Arnold Schwarzenegger doing them.

 

And some people went as far as to call them the upper body squat.

 

 

Fix Your Dumbbell Pullover

While there is no doubt that the dumbbell pullover is an exercise that trains multiple muscles at once, it does have a major problem in common with many other dumbbell exercises.

 

This problem is that it’s resistance profile isn’t ideal. At the bottom of the lift the long lever arm means that massive amounts of tension go through the lats and upper pecs. As you lift, however, the lever arm shortens.

 

The tension on the muscles drops significantly, making the top half of the lift very easy. As you can probably guess, this makes this portion of the lift largely redundant from a muscle building point of view.

 

Fixing this issue is simple, cheap, easy to do, and effective. The addition of a band anchored behind you allows you to keep tension on the muscle throughout the entire range.

 

When done like this the band keeps adding tension throughout the range while the resistance provided by the dumbbell reduces (due to the lever arm shortening). Rather than only having to work hard for half of the lift you now get a muscle building challenge across the whole range. That adds up to bigger chest and lats!

 


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19 Nov

Halloween has come and gone and we are officially into the holiday season. Two months of spending and gorging yourself silly which eventually leads to resolution season, where you worry about whatever damage was done. Yet, given the success rate of New Year’s resolutions (80% fail by February), maybe we should short-circuit this annual cycle. 

 

You can start by taking a more balanced approach to your holiday indulgences. Feel free to go crazy on Thanksgiving and Christmas—it is all that in-between time that tends to get us. If you can’t temper back the holiday consumption a bit in the first place, it seems unlikely that your extreme fitness plan and starvation diet will stick, anyway.

 

 

Which brings me to the larger point. Don’t pick an extreme fitness plan or a starvation diet. Your goal shouldn’t be to oscillate between extremes—bathing in gumdrops and cinnamon rolls and then punishing yourself with kale and dubstep infused spin sessions. I happen to like both kale and spin, but the point is that health and physique are about the long game. The worst thing you could do is shut your metabolism down by hardly eating and then return to your old habits. Most people flock to this route in hopes of quick results, but it causes weight to increase in the long run. Whatever changes you make should be sustainable for, like, ever. 

 

Successful plans meet you where you are and inch in the right direction. You could be very happy eating only whole foods for 90+% of your meals, but not if you were pounding fast food and daily dessert a month prior. These things take time. It is the same with exercise. Maybe you’ll love CrossFit someday, but if you haven’t been on an exercise routine for years, I’m guessing you’re about a Fran away from deciding to take a few more years off. 

 

We are in an impatient, results-now culture, but that just doesn’t work with fitness. What does work is consistency, patience, and a commitment to learning more as you go. For sustainable change, health can’t be a seasonal fad, it will need to be a value that you continue to cultivate.

 

Sustainability is the challenge and to produce sustainable action what you do before you start is even more important than the actions you decide to make habits. Before you decide to do anything, you’ll want to ace the pre-game.

 

Ace the Pre-Game

 

Give me six hours to cut down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” 

Abe Lincoln 

 

The best program in the world will fail if you haven’t created the conditions that ensure you show up and do it. The doing it part is what gets people. 

 

To help with this problem Justin Lind and I recently came together and identified the Five Principles to Start and Maintain Any New Change. These are steps you can begin taking right now, regardless of the holiday parties and hectic travel, to help ensure longterm success in your health goals. They are:

 

  1. Leverage your positive social pressure. You have to reconcile the fact that you are a social creature living in a world that doesn’t naturally promote health and activity. Working against norms is hard. Yet, with a little thought, you can intentionally use your relationships to pull you to your desired actions. There are a billion ways to do this.

  2. Carve out a specific, consistent time to do the new habit every day. This is probably the most important and most overlooked point. It boils down to the science of habit formation. 

  3. Start small (really small). Make the barrier to entry so low that success is inevitable. Doing more will naturally follow, but don’t force it. 

  4. Reduce friction to your desired actions and increase friction to possible saboteurs. Your surroundings can either nudge you towards success or pull you away. This is environmental design in a nutshell. 

  5. Trust the Process. You won’t feel like you are being transformed every day. Some days you just have to show up and trust your plan. The power doesn’t come from one herculean effort, but from all those micro-steps added together over time. 

 

For a deeper dive into each of these five principles, Justin and I have created a free lesson that comes with a quick exercise block and finishes with gratitude and meditation. We package all of this in 30 minutes for a powerful mind, body, and spirit training dose to kickstart your day and, if you apply the lesson, prime whatever goals you want to conquer. It is all in the format of our 30×30 Challenge. 

 

Again, training is always about the long game. You will want to test yourself and push your limits, but not early-on and not all the time. If at any point along the way you fall off your habits, just return to these five principles. They are easy to incorporate and will open the door to the actions that empower fuller living. 


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18 Nov

Most men come to the gym with the goal of improving their aesthetics. Often they look for guidance through various channels of information, the most common being Google, YouTube, or a fitness blog.

 

These can be a great place to start, but all beginners and many intermediates run into the same fundamental problem. They don’t have a pre-existing understanding of nutrition and exercise and therefore have no way to evaluate the quality of the information being shared.

 

 

A common trend is to look to the professionals who have accomplished a great deal in an attempt to learn from their experience. But this poses an additional problem since even accurate information applied incorrectly will be ineffectual.

 

This article will explore critical aspects of the development of an athlete and mechanisms of hypertrophy to elucidate the unseen pitfalls of following the advice of professionals. We will then summarize the findings to come up with practical, actionable steps to improve your own training and hypertrophic gains.

 

Understanding the Novice Body Building Athlete

It’s common among novice athletes to see increases in work-set load during every session. This can go on for weeks and even months as the athlete is developing.1 There are several reasons for this.

 

The first is an inability to exceed the athlete’s recovery capacity which is commonly observed in novice athletes. Due to the relative inexperience of the athlete, motor skills are undeveloped which prevents the use of heavy loads.2 Thus positive adaptations in strength primarily result from improved motor performance.3

 

The increased difficulty in exceeding the trainee’s recovery capacity means that common features in more advanced program designs such as deloads are inappropriate. Additionally, percentage-based programs that take a non-linear approach to load progression become ineffective since the rate of adaptation is rapid and unpredictable.

 

For this and several other reasons, research on youth and novice athletes often recommend higher repetition ranges to increase exercise exposure, improve skill acquisition, and indirectly manage load.4,5

 

You Shouldn't Train Like the Pros to Build Muscle - Fitness, weightlifting, fitness, strength and conditioning, beginners, hypertrophy, muscle growth, training planYou Shouldn't Train Like the Pros to Build Muscle - Fitness, weightlifting, fitness, strength and conditioning, beginners, hypertrophy, muscle growth, training plan

 

During the initial training process auto-regulation is an effective method to adapt each training session to the athletes level of preparedness.4 However, since novice athletes cannot accurately assess difficulty, the efficacy of this method relies exclusively on the guidance of an experienced coach.6

 

As trainees progress from novice to advanced, training variables shift significantly. A 2004 study by Kraemer et al. found: “The resistance training program design should be simple at first for untrained individuals but should become more specific with greater variation in the acute program variables during progression.”7

 

 

These findings are in line with the larger body of research showing the high adaptive potential of novice athletes compared to their advanced counterparts who require greater specificity and structure.

 

Due to undeveloped motor ability, the novice lifter should avoid loads or repetitions in reserve approximating failure to minimize risk of injury.7 Even loads as light as 45-50% 1RM have been shown to significantly increase muscular strength in novice lifters7 due to improved motor learning and coordination. Beyond that, the volume requirements are much lower for novice lifters than advanced.7

 

For this reason, it’s often recommended that 2-6 exercises are implemented per workout.8 A meta-analysis determining the dose-response relationship for strength development found: “Untrained participants experience maximal gains by training each muscle group 3 days per week. Four sets per muscle group elicited maximal gains in both trained and untrained individuals.”9

 

Distributing volume across more exercises can allow you to maintain higher volumes without accumulating excessive specialized fatigue and produce greater hypertrophic responses. 10,11 This can be a valuable approach since the work capacity of a novice lifter is significantly lower than advanced athletes.7,12,13

 

Training frequency is also an important factor, with novice lifters typically requiring less recovery time between training bouts when appropriate loads are selected.14,15 Research on training frequency seems to support the recommendation of three sessions per week.7

 

Since the intensity often prescribed to a novice lifter is between 45-50% 1RM the athlete can maintain a high frequency of exercises to increase exposure and improve technical proficiency.3

 

The use of androgenic-anabolic steroids and other pharmacological interventions is a stark reality in sports.16 As several studies have found, the impact of these substances can be dramatic.17

 

Unsurprisingly, the use of sports supplements can dramatically impact hypertrophy, strength, recovery, speed/power, and several other athletic qualities.17 The use of sports supplements for athletic development is a highly complex subject and one that I am not qualified to speak on.

 

Suffice it to say that training and nutrition protocols differ between natural and enhanced lifters. Therefore, training tactics and strategies used by enhanced athletes have diminished application to natural athletes and especially novices.

 

Understanding the Principles of Hypertrophy

Although there are several factors mediating the hypertrophic responses, by and large, the two most significant are mechanical tension and volume.18 Mechanical tension can be thought of as stretch under load (intensity of 1RM), and volume, in this case, can be calculated as:

 

Volume = Reps x Sets x Load18

 

General Guidelines For An Intermediate Lifter:18

 

  • Intensity: 60-80% 1RM
  • Repetitions: 6-15
  • Rest Between Sets: 2-3 minutes for compound exercises
  • Sets Per Exercise: 6+
  • Proximity To Failure: 2-3 RIR (repetitions in reserve)

 

General Guidelines For A Novice Lifter:7

 

  • Intensity: 45-50% 1RM
  • Repetitions: 10-12
  • Rest Between Sets: 2 minutes
  • Sets Per Exercise: 2

 

Close Proximity to Failure Should Be Avoided

As you can see there is a substantial difference in what can generally be deemed an effective protocol for novice and intermediate lifters. This gap only increases as the lifters become more advanced.

 

Studies consistently show that higher volumes produce greater hypertrophic responses than low volume interventions.18 An important consideration is that advanced athletes have developed a greater tolerance to both volume and intensity that a novice lifter simply does not have.7

 

There is also a significant observable difference between a novice lifter and a professional bodybuilder. An elite professional bodybuilder is likely close to their absolute genetic potential.18

 

Because of this, extra emphasis needs to be placed on selecting the appropriate exercises to perfect their physique. Novice lifters, on the other hand, are quite literally the farthest possible distance away from their genetic limit.

 

This distinction is critical to make because while a professional bodybuilder may emphasize specific exercises or body parts, the primary concern of a novice lifter should simply be to build as much muscle mass globally as possible. This means emphasizing compound movements where load and volume intersect for optimal hypertrophic adaptations.7,18

 

To the advanced lifter, rear deltoids may be a weakness, but to a novice lifter, everything is a weakness. By understanding this we can apply the principle of overload effectively to produce superior adaptive responses.

 

Understanding the Overload Principle

The overload principle states that training must become progressively harder in order to elicit positive adaptations.19 Commonly used practices to induce overload and progressive adaptations are to increase volume and/or intensity. 18,19

 

When we look at the potential overload stimulus presented by various exercises it presents a definitive case for preferencing compound movements like bench press, squats, deadlift, pull-ups, etc. over supplementary exercises.18

 

For example, let’s compare the dumbbell chest fly to the barbell bench press. Since we know that mechanical tension and volume are the primary drivers of hypertrophy we can determine with ease which will transmit better outcomes.

 

Volume = Reps x Sets x Load

 

Bench Press Exercise:

 

  • Reps: 8
  • Sets: 6
  • Load: 345lb

 

Total Exercise Volume: 8 x 6 x 345 = 16560lb

 

DB Chest Fly Exercise:

 

  • Reps: 8
  • Sets: 6
  • Load: 50lb (per DB)

 

Total Exercise Volume: 8 x 6 x 100 = 4800lb

 

The figures above represent my individual training values, however, the relative scale to a novice athlete would be similar. In the example above, the barbell bench press accrued 3.45 times as much volume as the DB chest fly exercise at similar relative intensities. The absolute mechanical tension was also significantly higher in the barbell bench press since the load was also 3.45 times higher than the DB chest fly.

 

This does not mean the DB chest fly is a useless exercise. I’m simply using an anecdote to convey that a hierarchy does, in fact, exist within exercise selection based on their ability to present an overload stimulus.18 Thus exercises that present greater potential for overload should form the foundation of the training program in both novice and advanced athletes.20

 

The difficulty for novice lifters to exceed their recovery capacity is multifactorial. Some primary influences are muscle size, strength, and motor control. More muscle means more contractile tissue to repair following an intense bout of resistance training.18

 

Training with heavier loads requires greater motor control and generates more localized damage to contractile tissue while increasing stress on the peripheral nervous system which increases recovery requirements.18 In practice, this is reflected by the common body part split approach to bodybuilding adopted by many pros.

 

A squat workout of an advanced athlete generates substantially more homeostatic disruption compared to a squat session of a novice.21 So although it may be more practical for an elite bodybuilder to have just one leg session per week, it’s entirely inappropriate for a novice.

 

The stimulus to fatigue relationship shows a clear preference for the higher frequency of training exposures in novice lifters.7 The same extrapolations can be made for many other training strategies observed in advanced athletes that have little practical application to novices.

 

Considerations and Practical Recommendations For a Novice Athlete

It has been demonstrated that intensities as low as 45-50% of 1RM show robust improvements in strength. Since most of the strength development of a novice is a result of improved motor learning, emphasis should be placed on developing technical mastery of the main compound lifts during this period.

 

Individual training sessions should focus on 4-6 compound exercises done for 2-3 sets each for roughly 8-12 repetitions per set to increase skill practice and optimize the adaptive response.

 

Since the novice will find it difficult to exceed their recovery capacity a higher frequency of training should be adopted to improve skill acquisition and training exposures. Developing a single full-body routine and repeating it 3-4 times per week is a viable option in this circumstance. Conversely, adopting a traditional bodybuilding split where each muscle group is only trained once weekly is unlikely to yield optimal results.

 

The rate of adaptation for a novice is rapid and unpredictable. As such, programs that apply a non-linear approach to load/volume alteration and the inclusion of deloads are inappropriate. In this case, a simple linear progression of load, volume, or both over time is better suited.

 

Because novice lifters are generally lacking in everything, their programs should be more general in nature. As the athlete develops over several months and years training should progress congruently and become more specific. This means for a novice the vast majority of training should be based on compound exercises.

 

Mechanical tension and volume are the two primary drivers of hypertrophy. As such, to maximize progress a program should emphasize the use of compound exercises that allow for maximum accruement of volume and intensity. Supplementary exercises should (at least in the initial stages of training) be limited or excluded unless specific circumstances dictate otherwise.

 

The efficacy of autoregulating novice lifters is dependent on the presence and guidance of an experienced coach, and should otherwise be avoided.

 

In closing, I want to clarify that I think it’s important to learn from the experts. But it’s equally important to understand the context in which the advice was given.

 

Lift Big!

 

References:

1. Hoffman, Jay R., et al. “Comparison Between Linear and Nonlinear In-Season Training Programs in Freshman Football Players”. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, vol. 17, no. 3, 2003, pp. 561–565., doi:10.1519/00124278-200308000-00023.

2. Wulf, Gabriele, et al. “Motor Skill Learning and Performance: a Review of Influential Factors”. Medical Education, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Jan. 2010.

3. Rutherford, O M, and D A Jones. “The Role of Learning and Coordination in Strength Training”. European Journal of Applied Physiology and Occupational Physiology, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 1986.

4. “Flexible Nonlinear Periodization in a Beginner College Weight Training Class: The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research”. LWW.

5. Dahab, Katherine Stabenow, and Teri Metcalf McCambridge. “Strength Training in Children and Adolescents: Raising the Bar for Young Athletes?” Sports Health, SAGE Publications, May 2009.

6. Steele, James, et al. “Ability to Predict Repetitions to Momentary Failure Is Not Perfectly Accurate, Though Improves with Resistance Training Experience” PeerJ, PeerJ Inc., 30 Nov. 2017.

7. Kraemer, William J, and Nicholas A Ratamess. “Fundamentals of Resistance Training: Progression and Exercise Prescription”. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Apr. 2004.

8. “Comparison of the Effect of Various Weight Training Loads on Strength”. Taylor & Francis.

9. Rhea, Matthew R, et al. “A Meta-Analysis to Determine the Dose Response for Strength Development”. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Mar. 2003.

10. Borst, S E, et al. “Effects of Resistance Training on Insulin-like Growth Factor-I and IGF Binding Proteins”. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Apr. 2001.

11. Paulsen, Gøran, et al. “The Influence of Volume of Exercise on Early Adaptations to Strength Training”. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Feb. 2003.

12. Kraemer, William. “A Series of Studies-The Physiological Basis for Strength Training in American Football: Fact Over Philosophy”. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 1 Aug. 1997.

13. Kraemer, W J, et al. “Influence of Resistance Training Volume and Periodization on Physiological and Performance Adaptations in Collegiate Women Tennis Players”. The American Journal of Sports Medicine, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2000.

14. Häkkinen, K. “Neuromuscular Fatigue and Recovery in Women at Different Ages during Heavy Resistance Loading”. Electromyography and Clinical Neurophysiology, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Nov. 1995.

15. “Designing Resistance Training Programs, 4E”. Google Books, Google.

16. panel Heiko Striegela Rolf Ulrichb Perikles Simonc, Author links open overlay, et al. “Randomized Response Estimates for Doping and Illicit Drug Use in Elite Athletes”. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, Elsevier, 8 Sept. 2009.

17. Sinha-Hikim, Indrani, et al. “Testosterone-Induced Muscle Hypertrophy Is Associated with an Increase in Satellite Cell Number in Healthy, Young Men”. American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology and Metabolism, 1 July 2003.

18. “The mechanisms of muscle hypertrophy and their application to resistance training: The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research”. LWW.

19. Kraemer, W J, et al. “Physiological Adaptations to Resistance Exercise. Implications for Athletic Conditioning.” Sports Medicine (Auckland, N.Z.), U.S. National Library of Medicine, Oct. 1988.

20. Campos, Gerson E R, et al. “Muscular Adaptations in Response to Three Different Resistance-Training Regimens: Specificity of Repetition Maximum Training Zones”. European Journal of Applied Physiology, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Nov. 2002.

21. Kajaia, T, et al. “THE EFFECTS OF NON-FUNCTIONAL OVERREACHING AND OVERTRAINING ON AUTONOMIC NERVOUS SYSTEM FUNCTION IN HIGHLY TRAINED ATHLETES”. Georgian Medical News, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Mar. 2017.


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18 Nov

Our bodies begin to change drastically after fifty: a more rapid decline in bone density and a greater loss in coordination and motor control. Fortunately, in most cases, all of these things can be slowed or reversed with the implementation of a good fitness program. It’s great to have strength or weight loss goals at this age, but, most importantly, it is the goal to protect one’s physical independence.

 

Balance Training

A good fitness program should include exercises to challenge and improve balance. One of the leading causes of premature death in older populations is falling. Improving balance can help prevent these falls altogether. Here are some great exercises to improve balance:

 

 

Balance Training: Single-Leg Bodyweight Deadlifts

 

  1. Start from a standing position. Shift all of your weight to one leg.
  2. From that one leg, bend at the hips to reach toward your toes while maintaining balance.
  3. You should maintain a soft bend in your knee throughout the exercise.
  4. Go as low as you feel comfortable maintaining your balance. You can perform this exercise next to a railing or other sturdy surface for added support.
  5. Your back should remain flat throughout the exercise.
  6. Repeat on both legs for the desired amount of time or number of repetitions.

 

Balance Training: Single Leg Step Ups with Balance

 

  1. Using a low step or platform, step onto the platform using one leg.
  2. At the top, pause for a few seconds while trying to maintain your balance on one foot.
  3. Slowly lower yourself back to the floor and repeat on the other leg.
  4. This exercise can be performed near a pole, or another tall piece of equipment to provide something to hold onto.
  5. Increase the difficulty over time by choosing a taller platform and balancing on each leg for longer.

 

Balance Training: Single Leg Alternating Shoulder Press

 

 

  1. Hold a pair of dumbbells at shoulder height.
  2. Lift one leg. Maintain your balance on the other leg.
  3. While balancing, lift one of the dumbbells overhead.
  4. Slowly lower the dumbbell back to the starting position, and switch to lift the other dumbbell overhead.
  5. Alternate back and forth, lifting one dumbbell at a time, until completing the desired number of repetitions.
  6. Switch legs and repeat.

 

Strength Training

Aesthetic goals at this age are great, but there is still a benefit to lifting weights even for those not inclined toward such aesthetic transformations. To protect independence, an appropriate fitness program will focus on compound exercises that translate well to daily activities.

 

All of my over fifty plus clients’ programs include a hip hinge exercise to improve the ability to lift objects from below, carry variations to help improve bodily integrity when walking while carrying objects, and row variations to help combat rounding of the spine that can become more pronounced in these later years. Some great exercises to include:

 

 

Strength Training: Kettlebell Sumo Deadlifts

 

  1. Stand over a kettlebell with a wide stance.
  2. Toes should be pointed outward at roughly a 45-degree angle.
  3. Bend at the hips and grab the kettlebell handle with both hands.
  4. Keeping your chest up and shoulders pulled back, stand up to an upright position while holding the weight in front of you.
  5. Your back should remain flat during the exercise.
  6. To return the kettlebell to the floor, start by pushing your hips backward and keeping your chest pushed out.
  7. Imagine touching the kettlebell on the imaginary line that runs from heel to heel.
  8. From the bottom, repeat for the desired number of repetitions.

 

Strength Training: Farmer’s Carries

 

  1. Hold a pair of dumbbells in your hands.
  2. Maintain an upright, erect posture with shoulders pulled back and chest out.
  3. Walk with the weights for about 10 yards (or using whatever space you have), then turn around and come back.
  4. While walking, imagine balancing a book on your head and resist any temptation to swing the weights.
  5. Increase the difficulty over time by adding more weight or increasing the distance traveled.
  6. If necessary, place a box or bench at the end of your walk to provide a place to set the dumbbells down before walking back.

 

Strength Training: Suitcase Carries

 

  1. Hold a dumbbell in one of your hands.
  2. Maintain an upright, erect posture with shoulders pulled back and chest out.
  3. Walk with the weight for about 10 yards (or using whatever space you have), then turn around and come back.
  4. While walking, imagine balancing a book on your head and resist any temptation to swing the weight. Resist the urge to lean excessively to either side.
  5. Increase the difficulty over time by adding more weight or increasing the distance traveled.
  6. If necessary, place a box or bench at the end of your walk to provide a place to set the dumbbell down before walking back.
  7. Repeat with the other hand.

 

Strength Training: Weighted Step-ups

 

  1. Hold a pair of dumbbells at your sides.
  2. Using a box or bench, step onto the raised platform until your leg is fully extended.
  3. Start with a low platform (like an aerobic step) and no hand weights, and work your way up to higher steps and heavier weights.
  4. You can use the other leg to help maintain balance at the top.
  5. Using the same leg you stepped on the box with, slowly lower yourself back to the floor. Avoid banging your other foot on the ground.
  6. Maintain an upright posture throughout the exercise.
  7. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions, then switch sides.

 

Strength Training: Suspension Trainer Bodyweight Rows (TRX)

 

  1. Grab the handles of a suspension trainer with a shoulder-width grip and palms facing toward each other.
  2. Bring your feet forward and lie back with your arms fully extended.
  3. Pull your body up with your chest coming towards the suspension trainer.
  4. Keep your body straight during the movement.
  5. Lower under control to the starting position with arms fully extended.
  6. Increase the difficulty by taking additional steps forward, decrease the difficulty by taking steps backward.
  7. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions or amount of time.

 

Strength Training: Resistance Band Reverse Flyes

 

  1. Begin by holding a resistance band with hands about 12 to 16 inches apart. (More or less distance between hands to adjust the difficulty).
  2. Arms should be parallel to the floor out in front of you.
  3. Keeping your arms and wrists straight, pull the band apart until the band comes into contact with your chest.
  4. Slowly return to the starting position and repeat.

 

Core Training

Having a strong core becomes even more important to protect the integrity of the spine during this stage of life. Back injuries can increase as a result of lifting heavy objects improperly, some of which can be improved through regular strength training as mentioned above. Additionally, improving the strength of the core muscles can also help prevent back injuries and aid in improved balance. Some great core exercises include:

 

Core Training: Pallof Isometric Hold

 

  1. Set a cable arm at chest height from a standing position.
  2. With arms fully extended in front of you, the cable should move in a straight line away from the machine.
  3. Grab the handle with both hands and bring it to your chest. From the center of the chest, extend your arms directly in front of you.
  4. Hold this position for the desired amount of time.
  5. Arms should remain extended and in line with your chest throughout the entire movement.
  6. Keep the elbows tucked, and shoulders pressed down.
  7. After reaching the desired amount of time, switch sides and repeat.

 

Core Training: Bird Dog

 

  1. Start on all fours on the floor.
  2. Suck your belly button in toward your spine.
  3. Extend your right arm and left leg until they are as straight as you can make them.
  4. Pause for a few seconds at this position and focus on balancing your body.
  5. Slowly lower the limbs, and repeat using your left hand and right leg.
  6. Try to prevent tilting your hips forward as you extend your leg backward.
  7. Alternate sides and repeat for the desired amount of time or number of repetitions.

 

Core Training: Dead Bug (if lying on your back is contraindicated)

 

  1. Lie flat on your back with knees tucked (feet flat on the ground).
  2. Press your lower back to the ground (eliminating the natural gap between your lower back and the floor).
  3. While keeping lower back pressed to the ground, lift the knees toward the chest and “crunch” with fingertips pointed toward the ceiling.
  4. Alternate extending opposite arm and leg until fully extended.
  5. Maintain the engagement in the core throughout the movement.
  6. Maintain a normal breathing pattern during the exercise.

 

Core Training: Cable or Resistance Band Rotations

 

  1. Set a cable arm at chest height from a standing position.
  2. Start far enough away from the cable that the weight doesn’t bang.
  3. Start with your entire body behind the line from the cable arm. With your arms extended, the cable should follow a straight line from the origin.
  4. With arms extended at chest height in front of you, use your obliques to rotate your body 180 degrees (or as far as you can) in the opposite direction of the cable.
  5. Arms should remain extended and in line with your chest throughout the entire movement.
  6. Slowly return to the starting position.
  7. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions, then switch sides and repeat.
  8. If dizziness occurs, focus your eyes on a fixed point across from you during the exercise.

 

Core Training: Planks

 

  1. Start on your forearms in a push-ups position with hands aligned with your eyes.
  2. Pull your belly button toward your spine, tilting your hips backward (or up, toward the ceiling).
  3. Squeeze your glutes and hold this position for the desired amount of time.
  4. Be sure you don’t lift your hips up toward the ceiling, nor let your hips fall toward the ground.
  5. Breath throughout the exercise.
  6. If needed, perform the exercise from your knees to decrease the difficulty.

 

Core Training: Prone Cobra Raises and Holds

 

  1. Start by lying on your stomach. Place your arms at your sides, palms facing up.
  2. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and lift your chest off the floor.
  3. While holding chest off the floor, squeeze your glutes and lift your thighs off the ground as far as you can.
  4. You should be simultaneously lifting your chest and thighs off the ground–as if trying to fold yourself in half backward.
  5. Slowly lower yourself back to the floor, and repeat for the desired amount of time or number of repetitions.
  6. To complete an isometric hold, simply hold this top position for the desired amount of time before lowering yourself back to the floor.

 

The Key to Fitness Success After 50

The best thing to do if you are jumping back into training or starting exercise after 50 is to realize that you are doing the right thing and there is plenty of evidence to support your desire to be more active.

 

You may not recover as fast as you did when you were younger, you may not be as fast, as strong, or as flexible, but that won’t stop you from being fast, strong, and flexible. Don’t compare yourself to someone younger or someone who has been active for decades. You still need to be consistent, dedicated and committed to achieving your goals, at your pace.


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17 Nov

If you struggle to build a thick, wide back it is probably not because your program sucks. The answer is likely much simpler than that—your technique is crap and you cannot develop a mind-muscle connection (MMC) with the muscles of the back.

 

Chief amongst these muscles is the latissimus dorsi (lats). The lats are the muscles that give you that awesome v-tapered look. To build your lats, the solution isn’t doing more of the same. After all, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different outcome.

 

 

Tons of sets of poorly executed reps won’t make up for a lack of quality. Tweaking your rep scheme isn’t the answer if your reps are not effective. You must improve form, develop the MMC with the lats, and establish the capacity to create tension in the muscle. Only once you have done this does it make sense to increase training variables like volume, intensity, and/or frequency.

 

The Single Arm Breakthrough Pulldown

To achieve this, I suggest you use the single-arm breakthrough pulldown. The single-arm part of the name is fairly obvious. The breakthrough portion relates to the fact you are going to try and drive your elbow to “breakthrough” the leg pad at the bottom of the lift.

 

This exercise has a few key benefits compared to a traditional lat pulldown.

 

  1. Doing it one arm at a time helps you to focus all of your intention on one side. This means you can really feel the lat of the working side contracting.
  2. It also means your scapular muscles can move more freely and can get into a full stretch easier. When both arms a moving the range is somewhat blocked by the movement of the other shoulder blade.
  3. Using a rotating grip allows you to supinate your arm and reach up and away in front of the body. This creates an excellent stretch on the lats. By pre-stretching them, they can activate better when you reverse the movement. A pronated grip does not allow for this extreme stretch.
  4. Finally, and this is where the real magic of this exercise kicks in, using the leg pad as an immovable object to drive into guarantees you use a full range and provides some resistance to work against at peak contraction.

 

Often lifters hit full range, relax, and let the weight drop back into the lowering phase. As the set progresses and fatigue kicks in, they don’t even manage to reach the full range. Single-arm breakthrough pulldowns make it very obvious if you cut range.

 

Doing these properly with a full range on every rep has you driving into the pad for a few seconds at the bottom. This means the muscle doesn’t get any letup. Instead, you get a deep, almost cramp-like feeling in your lats which really improves your ability to feel them on other exercises. This feedback tool is an excellent way to fast track your ability to recruit your lats and make all of your back training more effective.

 

The way you perform your rows and pulldowns can have a massive impact on their effectiveness as lat builders. Effectively training your lats is largely down to the angle you pull at and where your elbows start and finish. Your arm path will determine if you hit the lats or your upper back and biceps more.

 

 

Lat Anatomy 101

The anatomy of the lats dictates how best to train them. The lats originate at the spine and insert onto the inside of your humerus (upper arm). The lats cover a large surface area and start out broad before arrowing in on the insertion point.

 

 

As a consequence, the fibers of the lats form a fan-like pattern. The upper fibers are more horizontal while the lower fibers have a more vertical line of pull. To best train them you need to take them through a full range and challenge them from fully stretched to their fully shortened position.

 

To create the v-tapered aesthetic look of golden era bodybuilders, you need to develop the lateral, lower portion of your lats. These fibers are predominantly vertical in alignment. To train them you should align the resistance in the same path. This is done by training in a vertical pull movement pattern (aka. pulldowns).

 

The Clue Isn’t Always In the Name

Exactly how you perform your pulldowns will determine if the lats are effectively stimulated. Almost every gym junkie uses a wide-grip, pronated lat pulldown to try and build their lats. Sadly, what they don’t realize is that this will probably build their upper back more than the lower lats that they are hoping to challenge. This is because the line of pull allows other muscles to create leverage and move the load instead of the lats.

 

Don’t get me wrong, pronated wide grip pulldowns are a good exercise, but they aren’t ideal to train the lats. This is especially true when the goal is the get the lower fibers fully shortened into a good quality peak contraction. The flared arm position of regular pulldown limits the workload of the lats and their ability to get into a fully shortened position.

 

For the lats to create leverage it is best achieved with the arms moving in an arching pattern from out in front of the body and driving in by the side—almost like a straight arm pullover pattern. Single arm breakthrough pulldowns allow you to mimic this pattern with the added bonus of having the leg pad to drive into at the end of each rep.

 

Hone Your Single Arm Breakthrough Pulldown Technique

Use these technique points to magnify the effectiveness of the exercise:

 

  1. Let the arm reach up and in front of the body to achieve the lengthened position—this will immediately place tension through the lats.
  2. Initiate the movement by pulling the elbow down and in front, NOT back. Doing so will keep tension on the lats and avoid the upper back taking over.
  3. Keep your arm path out in front for as long as possible. Keeping a long lever arm creates and maintains maximal tension in the lats.
  4. Only at the bottom of the lift do you finish by driving your elbow around into the spine.
  5. Imagine trying to stab your elbow through the leg pad towards the base of your spine to achieve a great peak contraction. Hold this for a 2 count.

 

After a few sets of 10-12 reps like this, you will feel your lats like never before.

 

Every rep of every set is a growth opportunity. You should aim to place tension and stimulate the target muscle on every single rep. To build your back, invest some time and effort into improving the activation of your lats with this exercise.

 

It will yield far superior returns than mindlessly battering away on the deadlifts, rows, and pull-ups you’ve always done. Instead, it will enhance the effectiveness of all these exercises and allow you to build that wide, powerful-looking back you want.


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17 Nov

 

Developing explosive power for athletes should logically entail pure single-leg exercises. Simply put, when you’re in a sport, any sport, you are usually creating power and taking off from one leg anyhow. In fact, most everything we do is transitioning from a single leg to another. So, if you want to have great leg strength, be able to jump with power, create force and momentum in your movement, you can do so much with single-leg exercises.

 

 

10 Explosive Single-Leg Exercises

Here is my top 10 list of single-leg exercises that I have successfully applied to athletes and trainees at all levels. You can see them all from the 3:27 minute mark in the video above, where I explain my approach to doubling leg strength, one leg at a time.

 

  1. Weighted Box Step-Ups: These are simple enough to do as you can see from the video above. Just remember to watch yourself on the way down and maintain control and good form. You’re not looking to put extra strain on the lower joints.
  2. Single-Leg Glute Bridge: When you are watching the video on this exercise, pay attention to the toes. They point out. Maintain that tension when you do it and create the clean lines in the bridge.
  3. Elevated Single-Leg Glute Bridge: The key thing here is to keep the toes pointed and make sure you get a high enough raise in your glutes. It’s going to be challenging and you’ll definitely feel it in your hamstrings.
  4. Stability Ball Leg Curl: Getting into position and maintaining position is going to be awkward so, don’t worry about that. Actually, it’s not as simple as it looks.
  5. Single-Leg Stability Ball Leg Curl: Switching to one leg only is going to add a multiplier in terms of awkwardness and difficulty in this movement. Again, don’t worry about that and accept that it requires concentration and focus to maintain form, despite the lack of resistance.
  6. Dumbbell Split Squat: CrossFitters will hit that knee to the ground. It is best to have a pad or something soft to cushion that area, for sure. However, you will probably just graze the ground. As long as you have tension and control, you’re good.
  7. Walking Lunges for Runners: From the video, it may seem like an exaggerated lunge and it is. You’re trying to show that knee raise. That’s why we call it a lunge for runners. It gives you good depth and muscle memory in the process, too.
  8. Bulgarian Split Squats: We try this exercise with the top of the foot flat on the bench and with the back foot on its toes. Either is fine. On the toes will put some extra emphasis on the quads but it is entirely up to you. Just make sure you set yourself up properly and you have the necessary flexibility to perform this movement accurately.
  9. Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift (RDL): Even the best of you is going to be put off-balance doing this exercise. It’s not about how far up your back leg goes either. Keep your back solid and straight. Your back leg will go up as much as it does. The key is the position of your torso and the balance you maintain.
  10. Weighted Wall Sits with Hurdle Jump: I developed this approach to creating explosive leg power because sometimes when you have to jump in and train a group of athletes, you don’t have time to teach them cleans and Olympic weightlifting movements if you want to create that explosive power in their running and jumping. This exercise combo works, and you can see immediate results without asking the athlete to learn any complicated technical lifting movements.


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17 Nov

What if you have a few minutes only, a little time before you get back to work, pick up the kids, go to your next appointment? Do you get in a quick workout in or scroll through the posts on your phone?

 

The exercises that follow can be done in a quarter of an hour. They are simple and you can do them anywhere. And, at the end of the article, I have shown you how you can adapt them with a friend or training partner to create the Deck of Cards workout and challenge yourself more deeply at the gym. So the following exercises in sequence, no rest in-between, like a circuit, and see how far you get in 15 minutes.

 

 

Inchworm

Standing up tall with your legs straight (can have slight bend), bring your fingertips down to the ground and slowly walk your hands forward until you are in a pushup position, complete two pushups (that’s one more than what’s in this demo video), then walk your feet up back to the original position. That’s one rep. Do – 5 Reps.

 

 

Squat With Pause

With your feet shoulder-width apart, core engaged, bring your butt back and down until your hips are aligned with your knees. Pause for a three-count and then bring yourself back up to the original position. If this is too easy, then grab a weighted object to hold close to your chest. Do – 15 Reps.

 

 

T-Push Up

Start with your hands and feet shoulder-width apart and the crease of your elbow facing forward. Keep your core engaged as you lower yourself until your nose is an inch off of the ground. Push up to the starting position as you rotate your body to one side and extend that hand overhead, forming a T with your torso and arms. Do – 6 Reps (each side).

 

 

Squat Jump

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and lower yourself until you are in a quarter squat position, then explosively jump straight in the air. Land with soft feet by lowering right into the quarter-squat position with minimal force. Do – 15 Reps.

 

 

Elbow Plank-to-Push Up

Start in a plank position with both elbows/forearms on the ground, then place one hand flat on the ground and push yourself up into the top of a push-up position, pause for a second, then bring yourself back down to the original plank. Repeat this process, alternating the hand you place down on the ground first. Do – 6 Reps (each side).

 

 

 

Side Plank

Start out on your side with your elbow directly under your shoulder and your legs straight. Keep your core engaged as you drive your hip into the air, pause for a three-second count, then return to the starting position. Repeat these steps on your other side. Do – 10 Reps (each side).

 

 

Diamond Push Up

Start out at the top of a push-up position with your hands forming a diamond. Lower yourself until your nose is about an inch off the ground, then push yourself back up to the starting position. Do – 15 Reps.

 

 

Lunge Jump

Start in a standing position. Take a step forward lowering yourself until your back knee is a couple of inches off the ground. Explosively jump up, landing back in the original position. That’s one. Complete all prescribed reps on one leg before switching to the other. Do – 10 Reps (each side).

 

 

The Deck of Cards Workout

You need a training partner, a deck of cards, and you’re ready to challenge yourself more dynamically. It’s really simple to push yourself, get results and have some fun so, you can keep this routine in your back pocket for any time you are stuck for a workout:

 

  1. Pick a bodyweight exercise: you could start with either push-ups or squats.
  2. Pick a card.
  3. Perform the number of reps that you see on the card with the exercise you choose. Either: 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, Jack (11), Queen (12), King (13), or Ace (15).
  4. Have your training partner pick a card and do the reps on the card.
  5. Go through all the cards in the deck.
  6. You can do combos of exercises, too, mixing two or three different exercises.


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17 Nov

The first gym I trained at looked like a set from a 80’s action movie. From the outside, it looked like an old stone mill. Every member was given a key to get in and train whatever time of day or night you wanted. At the entrance, there was a table with a boombox, CD cases, and a clipboard to sign in with the date and time.

 

The gym barely had light, and the floor looked like an old, dirty garage. The dumbbell rack was a mix of old cement dumbells, some of them broken or rusted, going up to almost two hundred pounds. There were machines for bodybuilding untouched since those action movies were released. Toward the back, on the ground floor, there was a metal spiral staircase that brought you upstairs to the boxing area. It was a full floor with every type of punching bag, pads and gloves, and a full-sized ring with bloodstains on the canvas.

 

 

That gym was where I got heavy into weights. My father had introduced me to light lifting in our basement as a young kid, but it wasn’t until I started boxing at that gym that I started trying to build muscle and strength. It’s where I first maxed out on a barbell lift. That was almost twenty years ago. I’ve since maxed out many lifts in different gyms and at many types of barbell competitions since then, both small and large.

 

Jesse Irizarry, JDI gym, Brooklyn, NYJesse Irizarry, JDI gym, Brooklyn, NY

 

The Wall We All Run Into

Walls in training are the imaginary barriers we create and pit ourselves against that keep us from our potential and aim.

 

We aren’t discussing what keeps us from doing the work, but instead what keeps us from pushing to the limit of our strength capacity. These walls can show up in a competition, or during a training session where you planned to lift to a new max. It makes little difference.

 

The wall is made up of subtle influences that restrain our effort. You maxed out. You said aloud—and you know you could lift a more substantial weight—but you didn’t show them you could. What happened?

 

Why Do We Limit Ourselves?

There are times where, from a physiological standpoint, you’re entirely prepared to reach a new max.

 

  • You’ve physically peaked.
  • Nutrition is proper, and so is sleep.
  • You’re recovering as you should and doing all the things to support that.
  • The training program was well designed and properly planned.
  • Training went as planned, and every session was done exactly right.
  • You lifted the intended weights during all sessions, and you felt recovered and ready to go between every training day.

 

And yet at the competition or planned max out, you didn’t lift the weight you had calculated you would.

 

Physically you were prepared. There’s nothing more you could do. You failed, instead, because of a limiting mindset, or a mentally limiting agreement, that you’ve made with yourself to borrow phrasing from the author, Don Miguel Ruiz.

 

 

To bring your fullest available physical capacities under conscious control, you need to learn to connect, but also bring your mental and emotional states under command. This isn’t easy, especially not at first. It’s hard not to get carried away by emotions or caught in a mental whirlwind and let it control you instead of using the energy of it toward a singular effort.

 

This literal integration is fundamental for many to find a place in which they can legitimately see the limit of their strength that they’ve developed in their on-going training. They can recognize the successes this training has projected their maxes to be.

 

Feel, But Don’t Be Controlled

This degree of arousal required to push to our real limit isn’t just physiological or mental in quality but is also emotional. All of this feedback needs to be harmonized to produce a strong, singular effort.

 

Barbell practices attract different personality types. It can draw in those who are wild, outwardly, passionate people. But it also appeals to more calculated, analytical types who treat training as merely process-oriented.

 

But to be successful in strength sports or progress in the barbell, even the most methodical brains need to learn to use a sort of internal heat to push their limits. The outwardly calm lifters who are successful may not show it, but they have this spark and aggression inside them. Sometimes keeping it all within rather than letting it out in a loud public display can be more useful for that personality type.

 

Ed Coan, arguably the best powerlifter of all time, looked cold, calm, and calculated on the platform. But when asked about it, he said that every time he lifted, there was a storm raging in his head. He called it his controlled aggression.

 

Don’t Slide Too Far

There’s undoubtedly a tipping point where you cross a threshold and reach a point of overstimulation. It’s too much to use and instead becomes ineffective, almost hysterical energy.

 

When I was competing in powerlifting in my early twenties, I lifted at a meet held in the college weight room where I worked as a strength coach. It was my home turf, and I wanted to show up. I worked myself into a frenzy right before the competition and took excessive amounts of caffeine because it was the only way I knew how to try to push myself back then.

 

I felt pretty decent warming up, but as I was about to step out for my opening attempt, I became way too jittery and overexcited, almost to the point where I felt agitated. My energy level and excitement were through the roof, but none of it useful.

 

I bombed out at that competition; I think it was my first time doing that. I couldn’t focus, couldn’t harness any aggression, couldn’t become mindful, present, and fixated on this single task. It was an impotent intensity.

 

It never reached a peak but instead just stayed as a low hum. I had so much energy left over after the competition, that I immediately put myself through a dumbbell workout to fix what I thought was the reason I failed. But looking back, I probably just did it to punish myself.

 

There’s a balancing act you flirt with when integrating the body and spirit. You need to learn how to work yourself right up to that red line without going over it.

 

An Interconnection

Harnessing the energy you need to perform your best doesn’t end with learning how to rein in your thoughts and control your feelings.

 

There’s an almost esoteric peace to reaching the desired state where you hit a groove, and nearly any weight put on the bar for the day can be lifted. While there are specific techniques we can discuss, the exploration inward is profoundly personal and will take an extraordinary effort to figure out your particular triggers.

 

Visualization

If you’re interested in reading a practical guide into how to understand and practice visualizing, I highly recommend the book Mind Gym. It’s the only resource I’ve come across that gives you workable, realistic methods to improve physical performance through imagination.

 

My biggest takeaway from the book was how imaginative your visualization should be. The author directs athletes to first recall their best performance to date. Think of the following elements of that experience:

 

  • How you felt.
  • What you could smell.
  • What were the shapes and colors of everything around you?
  • Can you remember how the barbell felt in your hand or on your back?
  • Can you remember the quality of your state of mind?
  • What was the sensation of being so engrossed in your effort that you instinctively reacted physically?

 

After you create a vivid picture from your memory, the author recommends taking not only the visual but also the feelings and state of mind and spirit and apply it to imagine a future competition when you want to perform well.

 

The idea is to take the same emotional state you just recalled from your memory and imagine yourself in this future, taking with you the same spirit. With this feeling, envision how things will feel, look, and smell. Then see yourself accomplishing what you aim for, both through your own eyes and the gaze of a third person.

 

Definite Belief

I use this type of visualization and see the potential benefit in it, but it never really suited my particular temperament. What always did improve my performance was a definite belief. This is different from a common belief, and it’s very abstract in quality. It’s a manifestation of the reality you want to happen. It’s an assumption it will come true and recalling it toward your living present.

 

Much of the belief that you can perform at the highest level comes from the confidence of past success. If you’ve had success, you can recreate it, and of course, practice in competition or in maxing out makes you better at it. Still, some seem to have a proclivity toward self-belief, even when inexperienced in the practice. And some seem to never really get it, despite consistent training and experience.

 

Those who never manage to muster belief have limiting beliefs from a crucial developmental period in their youth. They possibly had positive, healthy encouragement withheld by their parents and other adults. They could have grown up never knowing that it’s possible to change the physical reality around them through their focused efforts. But I’m not an expert to speak about this.

 

The belief I’m referring to, though, is not about squashing or ignoring all doubt. I know this was never the case for me. Even the best competitors will admit that at least some of the time, they have fractional doubts during low points in training and even at moments during competition. It’s not about eliminating all doubts; it’s about accepting them as a part of the whole and making room for them.

 

Accept and Make Room

This is something that I was able to take into my meditation practice to make me a more introspective person, which then I, in turn, could feedback into how I approached my lifting.

 

Negative, distracting thoughts arise. Constricting and closing them off puts limits on your growth and capacity to stay conscious. We all need to learn to see the fear, doubt, and pessimism. Then we need to understand that these are only feelings and thoughts, and not necessarily part of you and not all of who you are. Just because we have an idea, doesn’t mean that thought is us.

 

Believe it or not, the story of Buddha’s enlightenment speaks to how important it is to see the limiting beliefs that keep us from reaching our physical targets. I’m talking about the story here, not religion—and it’s all a story.

 

The story goes that when Siddhartha (the Buddha) sat down to meditate and he was on the brink of actually reaching his enlighted state, the god of all things lousy guy, Mara, came at him, tempted him, and then sent demons to attack him. But none of it harmed Siddhartha, and he reached his enlightenment.

 

After the Buddha went on to teach others, Mara would still show up from time to time, and the Buddha would see him. The Buddha’s assistants would grow afraid and overwhelmed that Mara had shown up. But the Buddha would acknowledge his presence and even call out to say: I see you, Mara. And as the story goes, the Buddha also invited him to sit and have tea with him.

 

And that’s it—that’s the intangible quality we need when we set out to push our limits. We see the doubt, the fear, and the rock we have to push up the mountain, and then we accept it for what it is. We recognize that it’s there and just a part of everything, part of the whole.

 

But we can have the presence of mind to know that we don’t need to act differently. We don’t need to think these random thoughts that appear are part of us; they’re just there. And we can make space for these thoughts and feelings and still act decisively toward our purpose.

 

If you need more confidence behind you for these big moments where you max out your squat and feel like you lack the tools, check out our free guide on the principles of squatting. It’s a free video that will help you build a more solid foundation for yourself.

 

Jesse competes in the sport of Olympic weightlifting, and he was also formerly a competitive powerlifter. He was featured in main strength and fitness publications. You can read more of his work on his website.


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17 Nov

We all have that moment when we realize that we need to take better care of ourselves. For many of my clients, this moment comes sometime in their 50s. When this moment occurs later in your life, it is important to make sure that you are approaching your health and fitness appropriately to ensure that you are mitigating risk of injury and that you are setting yourself up for success.

 

Below are my top five tips to help you get fit over the age of 50.

 

 

1. Focus on the Process

While you can still see amazing results in your 50s, it is far more significant to build out a healthy living pattern. You are not going to see results as quickly as you did when you were younger. As we age, it is more difficult to burn fat and build muscle.

 

If you make yourself process driven rather than focusing on the results that you are looking for, you will develop habits that will perpetually help you be healthier and in better shape. If you shift your objectives to the behaviors that will get you results, not only will you see the body changes that you are looking for, you will also stop the yo-yoing that you have experienced throughout your adulthood.

 

It is also shifting your goal to something that you have complete control of and allows for you to pivot your behaviors to fit your goal as it changes. Your goals will shift over time. While today it may be just to keep up with your kids and be able to play basketball again or to simply lose 20 pounds to not have to buy new clothes, after you accomplish one goal, your goals will shift to another.

 

If you focus on the process, you will have the right pattern. Then, you can adjust the diet and exercise variables to fit your goals as they evolve.

 

2. Focus On How the Workout Feels

Realize that regardless of age, what we are capable of can change on a daily basis. It is certainly appealing to look at your workouts and look for a linear progression from workout to workout. However, regardless of age, progression does not work exactly like that.

 

It is more like the way the stock market progresses; it has peaks, valleys, and plateaus. With each workout, you should take your time and view your workouts more as easy, medium, and hard days. Don’t worry if the weights you use from one workout to another drop, focus on the specific level of intensity you are training with.

 

Depending on how your body feels that day, what you can do may change. In your 50s, it becomes far more difficult to add muscle. No matter if you are a man or woman, your body’s natural testosterone levels have dropped.

 

The amount of calories you can burn in a single workout has dropped, which is due to the decrease in your maximal heart rate being directly linked to the amount of energy you use in a workout. When people told you that it would be harder to lose weight or get in shape in your 50s, they were right. However, realize that harder is not impossible.

 

3. Lift Lighter, Focus on Volume, and Muscular Contraction

When you first thought of weightlifting, especially if you are a man, you look at the amount of weight you are lifting as the key indicator to your progress. STOP THAT! You are 50-plus now. I hate to break it to you but the concept of consistently increasing the weight you are using on a regular basis will lead you on the road to injury.

 

 

Instead of using that variable to determine how good or bad a workout session is, use how the muscles feel or how many reps/sets you did with the weight. Attempt to get the deepest muscle contraction that you can possibly get while using the lightest weight and perfect form.

 

Lifting heavy with low volume places more stress on the joints. Working with lower percentages of your single rep maximum effort will help protect your joints. You can get an amazing workout and progress your strength and gain muscle while training with a lower intensity and a higher volume. Instead of focusing on the amount of weight that you are lifting, focus on the muscular contraction that you are getting from the lift.

 

Train with higher volumes where you are still able to work through progressive overload training. Progress occurs when we introduce stimuli that our body is not using to ask the muscles to do more than they are used to doing. Working at higher volumes allow us to progress the number far away from the most weight you can lift.

 

4. Don’t Get Hurt

I don’t care who you are or what your specific goals are, nothing slows progress more than getting hurt. You are 50-plus now. There is no need for you to ego lift and be a hero in the gym. You need to take care of your body.

 

Progress slowly, always listening to your body and if something doesn’t feel right, figure out why. An injury can limit you both in your training and in your everyday life. Always listen to your body.

 

Over the years, your body has developed different imbalances and movement patterns. Understand that these imbalances can impact the way that you perform exercises and at times the exercises that you can perform. It is important that you listen to your body and pay attention to the objective of the exercise.

 

All too often, people come to me performing exercises to develop one part of the body and only feeling it in another, such as women performing squats to develop their butt, and only feeling it in their quads, or men performing bench presses to build up their chest, but only feeling it in triceps. These muscle imbalances need to be paid attention to, and while both examples are common, improper muscle activation can lead to injury, at the very least.

 

As I tell my clients, “if you don’t feel it in that area, odds are the exercise isn’t working it.” Understand that there is no single cookie cutter “right” way to perform most lifts. The lengths of your muscles and your bone structure is something that is unique to you.

 

If you go into every exercise with a specific objective (muscles you are looking to activate with a defined purpose), you are able to listen to your body to discover the appropriate from to get the results that you are looking for.

 

5. Make Recovery a Focused Part of Your Program

You are now at a point in your life where you have enough going on that if you don’t plan it, it doesn’t happen. You need to look at recovery not simply as a passage of time, but rather as an active part of your program that is necessary for you.

 

Recovery can take on many forms from working with professionals like a massage therapist, physical therapist, or chiropractor, and can also be an activity you perform like stretching every morning, meditation, yoga, and foam rolling. A complete program will incorporate both of these.

 

Your training is only a small part of your overall fitness and health program. Also, take the time to work on your recovery. Yoga and other stretching techniques will elongate the muscles and help them recover. If you are feeling acute pain in any area of your body, you should consider seeing a physical therapist or chiropractor to develop an understanding of what is going on with your body.

 

Even if you are not feeling any issues currently, you should consider working with professionals to aid in your recovery. Working with professionals on the prevention of injuries can and will improve your training, and help you be healthier and feel less pain.

 

Regardless of what your goals are, you can see amazing results beyond your 50th birthday. However when you are getting started, you should shift your focus to help ensure your longevity and health.


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