The Framework Of Fitness Part III; The Weight

This is the final installment of my 3-part series; The Framework Of Fitness.  I hope you have found value in it, and the messages have offered you some food for thought with your exercise program.

I’ll be back after the 1st of the year all kinds of new things to say about why we should, and why we sometimes shouldn’t live a fitness-driven lifestyle.

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The Weight

In Parts I and II of this series sets, I explored asking the right questions prior to assembling a protocol of strength training; how many days per week, how many repetitions per set, how many sets per exercise, exercises per workout, and so-on.  Of course the most important question is, what it is that you are really trying to accomplish with strength training?

I used a broad brush stroke to suggest that (most) people engage in strength training to seek some combination of the following benefits:

  • build strength
  • tone muscles
  • shape muscles
  • increase flexibility
  • add muscle mass
  • decrease loss in bone density

With those values in mind, I will now explore the most asked question I hear on a weekly basis, which is also the most over-valued question in strength training,

How much weight should I be lifting?” 

I say over-valued, because the amount of weight lifted in a strength exercise is of much less significance than how that weight is lifted.

Leggo My Ego

Your body does not know how heavy a weight is, it only knows how heavy a weight feels.  That feel can be amended by how the weight is manipulated during the course of the exercise; decreased speed and a more complete range of motion will allow the muscles to be sufficiently fatigued with a lesser weight.

My response to the question of how much weight should be lifted is a simple formula; the weight should be challenging, yet achievable.  It’s really that simple.  It should be up to you, through the process of trial and error, to determine what weight meets those criteria.  It should be measured less in pounds, and more by feel.

If one is planning to do 10 repetitions of a strength exercise, then the weight selected might be heavy enough that the last repetition is challenging to complete, but not so much that proper exercise form be breached in order to complete the last rep.  Through your workout life, you should regularly ask your body questions and take inventory of the answers.  What will come of that process is the cultivation of your instincts, and the ability to determine for yourself whether you should add or subtract weight on a given exercise.

King Form

In strength training excellent form should be king.  Runners often use the expression, respect the distance.  I feel much the same way about the amount of weight one uses in a strength exercise.  I like to think of this as gravity management. 

If among your goals in the gym is to develop more strength outside the gym, your first priority should be mastering exercise form.  Only when you can slow a weight down and control it through the eccentric phase of the exercise (the negative), can you begin to develop a strength which will leave the gym doors with you.

Consider:  In life, you don’t lift things up and place them back down 10 times fast.  More often, we hold things in place for longer periods of time, or move them more slowly. An example might be carrying bags of groceries up a flight of stairs with arms cocked half-way to support those bags.  Most often, we slowly apply pressure to turn a wrench.  These are among countless instances when being a master of gravity management can aid you much better than being a master of fast momentum-driven repetitions.

Speed Kills.  Well, It Certainly Can Maim

Slowing your repetition speed down not only lends itself to increased strength outside the gym, but will also make you less likely to get injured within the course of your strength movements.  In strength training, injuries are more likely to come from fast momentum-driven movements than from slow and controlled movements.

Another benefit of slow repetition speed is that it supports increased tendon strength; where muscles increase in density as they fuse to the bone.  Increased tendon strength supports increased joint strength, which can reduce the risk of injury in athletic endeavors such as golf, tennis, running and cycling. 

You Got The Look

Okay, so I do workout to look like I workout – I have never hidden that part of my agenda.  Among the highest virtues of slow repetition speed, is that slow negatives, through a full range of motion, can influence and maximize the shape and the clarity of the muscles much more than fast sloppy repetitions can.  It’s just a matter of dialing in; of forgetting all that is taking place outside your body, and concentrating on the muscles involved in a given strength exercise. 

I won’t attempt to quantify this but to say, I believe there is a direct relationship between concentration in a strength exercise, and influencing the shape and tone of the muscles.  I live it with myself, and have seen it with many clients I have trained over the years.  Those who are able to dial in and connect with an exercise tend to better wear that exercise for others to see – Jenn Randolph, please validate that in the comments section.

Framework Remix

There is no empirical research here.  No sources to be cited.  No institutionalized information gathering of any kind.  Still, there is a great deal of thought and experience in this series, born of common sense and intuition – traits often ignored in the agenda-ridden world of fitness information.

Get to know your body through your body, not through somebody else’s values, ideals, or agenda – mine included.  The better you become acquainted with your fitness instincts, the easier it will be to adapt the framework of your fitness to your ever-changing goals.  Happy holidays to you all, and thank you for taking time to read my blog.  Be well.  rc

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Thank you to all who have taken time to read what my daughter calls my, “fitness crap” in 2010. 

Oh, and there is this amazing cover of a classic song by Gillian Welch joined by Old Crow Medicine Show.  Enjoy…

 

The Holiday Fat-Fire Triangle…

Nothing new this week; very busy building toys and cleaning up my reindeer — you know, Santa stuff.  I do have a timely repeat from this time last year just in time for the holiday weeks.

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The Certainty

Heat, fuel, and oxygen; my Coast Guard training taught me that these are the three necessary elements of the fire triangle. Eliminate any one element, and put out a fire – or prevent one from ever happening. Intermingle all three elements, and a fire is certain.

There is also what I call the fat-fire triangle during the holiday season. Just like the fire triangle, a gain in body-fat is certain during the holidays whenever all the elements of the fat-fire triangle are blended.  Keep these elements away from each other, and that weight gain might be avoided. 

Now the holiday meal and all the goodies are not the only culprits of the holiday fat-fire triangle. It’s also the lingering conditions; the next several days and weeks after the holiday meal.  During what we gleefully call the “holiday season”, the conditions are just right for a fat-fire weight gain. Put several holiday celebrations back to back, to back, and the fat-fire hazard is very high. Here’s what I mean:

A holiday meal will certainly be heartier than your average meal, because it’s special – I guess. Heartier, in all likelihood, due to foods more laden with carbohydrates and fats, such as all the side-dishes; potatoes, stuffing, buttered rolls, candied this and caramelized that, pies, cookies, etc. 

Hunger

These carbohydrates in particular will richen your blood sugar when eaten. To offset that increase in blood sugar, your pancreas will increase its production of this magical stuff – let’s call it insulin, to keep up with the increased blood sugar.  Minimally speaking, insulin is what helps convert blood sugar into glucose.  Guess what? That sudden increase in insulin production can make you hungry, and that increased hunger will carry well into your next day. Element number one, hunger, is in now place and the fat-fire triangle is beginning to form.

Fuel

After your holiday meal is complete, your nap is over, your team has won the big game, and Aunt Rose and Cousin Vinnie have gone back upstate where they belong, you take irresistible note of all the fire starters that have been left behind; your kitchen counters are adorned with this ready-to-go kindling for your fat-fire.  We’ll call these leftovers, and they are calling you by name while you are in your weakened state of increased hunger. Your leftovers are the fuel, another element of the fat-fire triangle.

Opportunity

Element number three; opportunity. It’s a day after your holiday meal and you’re hungrier than normal due to your increased insulin production from all your eating the day before.   These leftovers which surround you and capture your eyes like sparkling fairies in the forest, are of little danger without opportunity.  Opportunity?  You’re home instead of at work because you’ve taken the week off for the holidays.  Many people take time off of work during the holidays – I guess.  Opportunity is the 3rd and final element of the fat-fire triangle

Our fat-fire triangle is in now place; hunger, fuel, and opportunity. Yikes! Me thinks me hears a disaster brewing.

Food For Thought – So To Say

No, there’s not tip here from me to you. No lesson to be learned which you don’t already know.  No moral to the story nor recommendation by me of how to handle these circumstances, or how to eliminate any one of these elements. I just want to point out, from my perspective, why so many people gain weight during the holiday season; it’s the fat-fire triangle.  It’s a cycle only you can avoid – yours to enter, or yours to evade.  But it is your choice alone.  Blame not the cook of the ham, the bringer of the pie, nor the seller of the stuffing.  It is up to you to be strong, to be disciplined, and to make the right choices.  Me? I don’t play with fire.   Be well.  rc

Oh, and there is this by Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings.  Enjoy…

The Framework Of Fitness Part II; The Cornerstone Question…

This is Part II of my 3-part series on The Framework Of Fitness.  Please check back later this month for Part III

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The Cornerstone Question; Sustainability

Before one seeks an answer to the question, “how many times per week should I be working out?” one should first ask the question, “how much time do I really have each week to exercise?”  Only after that block has been put into place, can the framework for your fitness be assembled.

If it has been suggested to you by a fitness-minded friend or coworker, a fitness expert on TV, on the web, or in a magazine, that you must work out X times per week to make progress, and you don’t have X times per week to workout, then you have lost the battle before it could begin. 

However, if you can determine in advance of setting up your fitness program, how much time you realistically have to exercise each week, you can now adapt a protocol of exercise which has been suggested to you, or that you have read about, and trim it down to allow it to fit into your personal circumstances.  Progress might come more slowly, but sustainability will allow that progress to continue in the long-term.

This perspective also should be applied to how much time per workout you should/can invest.

Mass Vs. Definition; The Framework Continues

The utility of strength training is vast and has many applications; conditioning for athletes, muscle toning and shaping, muscle building, retarding the aging process (which is an umbrella over many other virtues), building strength, increasing flexibility, and the list goes on.

Most will seek multiple aspects of that list.  When I ask someone why they want to lift weights, among the more common answers I hear are as follows;

  • build strength
  • tone muscles
  • shape muscles
  • increase flexibility
  • add muscle mass

People may seek those to different degrees, and with varying priorities, but most want some combination of these. 

I hear this regularly,

“If you want to build mass, use low reps and heavy weights.  If you want definition use lighter weights and higher reps.”

The single biggest crock of shit I’ve heard in my entire life.

Mass:  Gaining muscle mass is the result of effectively fatiguing muscles beyond their previous capacity for managing a load, and doing so in successive workouts.  This can be done with high or low repetitions, heavy or light weights.  Primary to gaining muscle mass, beyond regular muscular fatigue, are nutrition and recovery. 

With the (possible) exception of the first few months of a workout scheme, there is little connection between the amount of weight lifted and an increase in muscle mass.  Nor is there a direct relationship between using lower repetitions and heavier weights to gain that muscle mass.  High-reps, low-reps, heavy weight light weight, matter much less than muscular fatigue, nutrition, and recovery.

Definition:  Creating definition within the musculature is dependent almost exclusively on nutrition.   Definition – the increased visual clarity of muscles, can only be attained when the body-fat covering the muscle is reduced to a point where the muscle is clear and distinct.  The shape of the muscle under the body-fat is influenced much more by range of motion under a load than the quantity of repetitions performed.

Since it is commonly accepted that spot reduction does not exist, adhering to a scheme of higher repetitions will have little impact on definition, but for the negligible increase of calorie burning in doing 20 reps over 10.

Days, Time, Sets, And Repetitions

For the more common objectives of strength training (bulleted in the section above), I suggest these simple guidelines for sets and repetitions be applied.  This is not rocket science and I am not suggesting these be taken as absolutes; just offering a few beams which, when lashed together, will allow your fitness structure to continue taking shape.

Revisiting the cornerstone question; how many days per week can you workout, and how long per session, I suggest that a realistic protocol for most people is 2-3 strength training sessions per week, lasting 45-60 minutes.  If your life deals you less, take what you’re delt and go with it.

I suggest attempting to intermingle 6-8 exercises, performing 2-3 sets per exercise, 8-10 repetitions per set, with minimal rest between sets.   If your life deals you less, take what you’re delt and go with it.

Again, there is no magic number here.  Your body will not know 8 repetitions from 15, so long as the load chosed suits the number of repetitions desired.   Your body will know good form, full range of motion, and muscular fatigue – all of which can come together in the 6-10 repetition range. 

Body-Part Pairings

Another question,

Which body-parts should I combine when I workout?”

Based on the more common objectives stated above, I’m a big believer in total body workouts.  In particular, I suggest workouts that include multi-joint movements which combine upper and lower body movement simultaneously, such as SCAPs, and Deadlifts.  I also suggest alternating (supersetting) between upper body and lower body exercises.  An example of such a pairing might be to alternate between an overhead pull-down (lat-pulls) and a squat for several sets back and forth between the two.

There is efficiency in alternating between upper and lower body exercises in the manner stated above.  While the upper body is at work, the lower body is resting, and vice-versa.  This enables one to exercise with a minimum of rest in-between sets, and (possibly) establish a cardio element within the workout as well.

To be continued…

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Please check back in a week or two for Part III of The Framework Of Fitness; The Weight.  Please feel free to comment on how you select the poundage for a given strength exercise. 

Oh, and there is this all-growed-up version of one of my favorite 80’s songs by Deacon Blue.  Enjoy…

Mid-Week Tease…

This is a mid-week tease for my upcoming column, The Framework Of Fitness Part II; The Cornerstone Question.  Below is an excerpt:

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“Before one can ask the question, “how many sets and repetitions should I perform of a given strength exercise?” one should first ask the question, “what am I really trying to accomplish?”  

That’s a hard question to answer as it applies to strength training.  The utility of strength training is vast and has many applications; conditioning for athletes, muscle toning, muscle shaping, muscle building, retarding the aging process (which is an umbrella over many other virtues), building strength, increasing flexibility, and the list goes on.

Most will seek multiple aspects of that list.  When I ask someone why they want to lift weights, among the more common answers I hear are as follows;

  • build strength
  • tone muscles
  • shape muscles
  • increase flexibility
  • add muscle mass

People may seek those to different degrees, and with varying priorities, but most want some combination of these. ”

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Please check back this weekend for the completed column.  Thank you.

Oh, and there’s this from the seminal Alt/Country band, The Bottle Rockets.  Enjoy…

The Framework Of Fitness Part I; What Matters Most…

This is Part I of a 3-part series I will be writing in the coming weeks on The Framework Of Fitness

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A Gift From Dad

People often tell me that I’m, “smart for a personal trainer.”  On the scale of condescension, that’s just above saying, “you’re really cute for a fat chick.”  Of course I am smart, but that doesn’t mean I’m not sensitive…  

And it’s not even that I’m smart, it’s just that I have a high capacity for identifying and cutting through bullshit – the best gift my dad ever gave me, and one I am grateful for each day of my life.  Most of what gets written about, talked about, and shared in the fitness world is bullshit; viral notions spread by memes which become the hard and fast rules of how things should be done in the gym. 

Monkey-See, Monkey-Do

I will suggest everything you are doing in the gym might be wrong – or pretty frickin’ far from right.  Why?  Because you might be following the mindless actions of others in the gym, and have avoided the cultivation of your own exercise knowledge and instincts.  There is a chance you have never asked yourself some of the more important questions which need to be understood prior to assembling a successful exercise agenda.

Before anyone can adopt protocols for exercise, it’s important to ask one’s self and honestly answer, what it is that they are truly trying to accomplish in the gym.  Only from that answer can a framework for fitness begin to be assembled.  However, too many people never ask themselves that question.  They buy their gym membership and seamlessly assimilate themselves into the monkey-see, monkey-do environment that is the modern fitness center.  I believe with a little more thought, one might come away with a little more success and some better results from their workouts.

Inquiring Minds Want To Know; And So It Goes

I hear these questions most often from non-clients,

1.      How much weight should I lift? 

2.      How many sets and reps should I do?

3.      How often should I workout?

4.      Which exercises are best?

5.      How should I divide body-parts in my workout?

My answer to these questions is usually, “It depends, what are you trying to accomplish?”  

Most often I’m met with an, “I wanna get into shape.” 

To which I reply, “What does that mean to you?”

The conversation usually ends right there, for a lack of continued substance. 

Those six questions above are also asked by gym members, every day, in fitness centers across the country.  Unfortunately, they are most often asked of other gym members, who’s answers arrived from other gym members still, when they first joined the gym.  And so it has gone, and so it goes…

Let Me Count The Ways

Quantity of sets, repetitions, exercises per workout, exercises per body-part, workouts per week, etc., matter a lot less than one might be sold into believing.  I suggest that all of these elements are important, but are depended on and adhered to excessively by the fitness masses. 

There appears to be a built-in assumption that there are black and white answers here – only rights and only wrongs when it comes to the questions above.  Really, there are not.  There are instincts, common sense, experimentation, and the elementary framework for your personal fitness which might evolve from the cultivation of these.  

What Matters Most In Strength Training (To Me)

Sets, reps, and the best exercises notwithstanding (I will attempt to cover those in Part II of this series), there are five things I seek from a strength exercise, above everything else:

  1. A complete range of motion.
  2. Being able to feel – to mentally connect with the muscles I am trying to engage.
  3. Perfect form from the first repetition through the last.
  4. That the weight used is challenging, but achievable.
  5. That I identify and respect the line between not doing enough, and doing too much.

 

I seek these things because after giving it much thought, and regularly revisiting my objectives, what I now want from my strength training are these:

  1. Stronger muscles
  2. More flexible muscles
  3. More functional muscles
  4. Well shaped and full muscles
  5. A meditative state, under the strain of the weights, to help clear my head

That’s it; Part I of this series on the Framework Of Strength Training. 

Please take a moment to comment here on what it is that you currently seek from your strength exercises?  Your answer may influence Part II of this series.

To be continued…

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Please check back in a week or two for Part II of this series.  Thank you for taking the time.

Oh, and there is this from a very young Nick Lowe.  Enjoy…

Coloring Outside The Exercise Lines…

A tease for Part I of my 3-part series on just how important/unimportant the frame work of fitness is — or isn’t.  Please check back this weekend for Part I of, Coloring Outside The Exercise Lines.  Below is an excerpt…

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“People often tell me that I’m, “smart for a personal trainer.”  On the scale of condescension, that’s just above saying, “you’re really cute for a fat chick.”  Of course I am smart, but that doesn’t mean I’m not sensitive…  

And it’s not even that I’m smart, it’s just that I have a high capacity for identifying and cutting through bullshit – the best gift my dad ever gave me, and one I am grateful for each day of my life. Most of what gets written about, talked about, and shared in the fitness world is bullshit; notions turned into memes which become the hard and fast rules of how things should be done in the gym to accomplish specific ideals.

I will suggest everything you are doing in the gym is wrong – or pretty frickin’ far from right.  Why?  Because you are probably following the mindless actions of others, and avoiding the cultivation of your own knowledge and instincts.  You  have probably never asked yourself some of the more important questions which need to be understood prior to assembling an exercise agenda..”

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Please check back for the remainder of Part I, Saturday, December 4th.  Thank you.

Oh, and there is this from Micah Schnabel of Two Cow Garage.  Nothing to do with fitness, but one of my favorite songs.  And for those who know me and just rolled their eyes, YES, every song is one of my favorite songs — emotions just work better that way.