Damn, I feel like I’m on Sesame Street counting off hamsters or something, up to part six. I didn’t really expect this to drag out so far. If you have been with me from the start, thank you and good job. If you jumped right to here, I recommend you go back to number one and review each one. It isn’t required to work out, but there’s science that I think you might find helpful. Or not. Depends on where you are in your journey and life. We are going to move on, lots still to cover. Ready? Yeh, I know you are :). I’m going to make this one a bit longer than normal. I want to put the exercises themselves in a separate post so they can be easily printed, but I don’t want you to have to wait for a part 8 to have that, so what was going to be part 7 will be included here in part 6.
Planning your fitness plan around your lifestyle – going beyond timing, aesthetics, and location. Many people think of planning their fitness program around when can they workout, what they want to look like, and if they are going to hit the gym or do it at home. Take it one step further. I designed my fitness program not to just look good, but to help me in my lifestyle. My main job is a desk job as a Sr Systems Admin. I sit in front of computers 12-18 hours a day. The most common injury in office workers isn’t WFS or carpel-tunnel, it is back and neck injuries. Focusing your workout on compound exercises that work your core and shoulders improves your posture. Improved posture lessens the risk of spinal issues. My secondary job is as a first responder. While I’d love to have massive arms and chest, what is important to me is being able to lift a backboard up smoothly and to properly load a Stryker into the back of an ambulance. That means I need to concentrate on my squats, deadlifts, and upper body presses. Additionally, since the loading height of a stretcher is ideal for a “normal” or average size male and I’m only 5’2″, I make sure I do my targeted lifts to maximize my arm strength for these movements – specifically hammer and seated curls as these motions mimic what I need to do in the real world. Keep these things in mind as we move forward. You not only want to look and feel good, you want to stay safe and free from injury. Taking your lifestyle into account isn’t a good idea, it is THE idea.
The last article, we talked about how to not have your body work against you. Now, let’s talk about how we can leverage science and knowledge to have it work for us. I know, right? Yeh, more technobabble from Hobbit. Stop it, you know you like it :).
The “Toning” Myth:
WHAT TONED REALLY MEANS: The real meaning of the word muscle “tone” has nothing to do with the size or definition of a muscle. Tone means the degree of its continuous, involuntary and very small contraction during rest, completely unrelated to the way a muscle looks. For example, a properly pumped up bodybuilding champion might have less tone in his pecs than me as I sit here typing this post. The difference between a toned and untoned bicep is not illustrated by comparing the arms of Jennifer Aniston to Oprah Winfrey. It is the difference between being fast asleep and using a computer mouse. Which by the way is probably just as good a workout for your bicep as many of the arm “toning” routines you may find recommended in many magazines.
HOW EXERCISE AFFECTS MUSCLE APPEARANCE: If exercise doesn’t “tone” muscles, what can it do to change their appearance? There’s only two things that a muscle can do to change it’s appearance – get smaller or get larger. Despite what is often claimed by many Pilates or yoga gurus, exercise does not lengthen muscles to give you the “long graceful shape of a dancer.” Think about it – to make a muscle longer you would have to pull apart the bones where the muscle endpoints attach. Right, that’s probably not a good thing. To make your muscles bigger, high rep light weights won’t cut it. If you can do more than thirty reps of a particular exercise, you probably aren’t using enough resistance to increase the size of the working muscles. I have seen many magazine articles illustrating muscle “sculpting” exercises with a weight no heavier than a bottle of water. The unspoken rationale for low weight/high rep exercise is that it will make the muscle look more defined by reducing fat around the muscle. This is the fallacy of spot reduction, which is impossible as described below.
THE MYTH OF SPOT REDUCTION: Weight loss occurs as a result of a caloric deficit – expending more energy than you take in. Assuming a deficit exists, fat will be burned all over the body – not just in the specific local area where the exercise was done to help create the deficit. In other words, no matter how many arm curls you do, this won’t lead to any more fat loss around the arms than any other exercise that burns a similar amount of calories, which by the way is a very small amount. Muscles look defined simply because there is not that much fat around them. Increasing muscle definition is a simple consequence of losing fat all over, not doing magical exercises in the areas where you want definition. Therefore, if you lose enough weight, you will have a six pack regardless of whether you have ever done a crunch in your life. And all the crunches in the world will not reveal even a one pack if your body fat percentage never drops below the required level. So next time you open a fitness magazine, notice how many times you see these myths exemplified. Then throw the magazine in the trash. One last thing to remember, your muscle “growth” and “repair” doesn’t happen while you are working out or even in the hours after you work out. It happens overnight, over several nights as you sleep. While you are awake, your body is focusing on keeping you going throughout the day. Once you stop, it starts doing the infrastructure work. Kinda like road construction, if they do it during the day it seems like it takes months and months to complete, mainly because they can’t shut everything down and just focus on getting the job done. This is why major projects that need to be done quickly are completed as nighttime constructions. Less traffic, less distractions, more work accomplish. Your body does this too, only without orange vests and big signs.
Testosterone and the Human Growth Hormone: Testosterone is the major hormone besides the human growth hormone (HGH) used in muscle development. How do you raise it? LOL. You already are doing some of this, maybe all:
1. Lose fat
3. Intermittent Fasting
4. Strength Training
5. Vitamin D
6. Reduce Stress
7. Limit or Eliminate Sugar from Your Diet
8. Eat Healthy Fats
What about the human growth hormone (HGH)? HA! Women, you have the advantage (which means you don’t need to worry as much about testosterone!). Insulin drives that. Specifically, insulin in response to muscle load. So, want to release more HGH? LIFT! HGH is more important for strength and muscle mass in women than in men. Women produce ~3 times as much growth hormone as men, this explains why having less testosterone does not limit how much muscle they can build. Oh. And Estrogen. We know women have more. Guess what? That works for them too. Estrogen aids in muscle repair, is anti-catabolic (prevents muscle loss), protects your joints, bones and tendons, and increases your metabolism. When we get to the actual workout plan, I have a tip that will help you maximize HGH every 3 months or so. Yeh. Like supercharge it!
Women vs Men: It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that in many ways, women are fundamentally different from men biologically. For what we are talking about today, let’s talk muscle fibers again. Women have more Type 1 fibers (low load, endurance) than men do and are predisposed to create more of them over type 2. Inversely, men have more Type 2 (high load, short endurance) fiber and will build them over type 1. In strength training for women, muscle fibers are converted to type I fibers if they are not already, whereas in men they generally change to type 2a fibers (those intermediate fibers we discussed last time). Women also have proportionally larger type I fibers than men. We need to target our exercise towards what our body does best. Type 1 fibers like lots of movement, rapidly, with little rest, type 2 fibers likes lots of work, slowly, with rest. We need to target our workouts to take advantage how the body works. In a nutshell, what we want to setup is this:
MEN: Higher weight percentage, less reps, more rest between sets, faster pace in the actual lift.
WOMEN: Less weight percentage, more reps, less rest (because you can handle it) slower pace between sets.
One last important thing before we get to the next subject in this discussion…
Form checking: Form checking is important as it can spotlight where you are not doing an exercise correctly and safely. Since you cannot see your back or your sides directly, you have no way of telling if you are, say, rounding your back or not when you do a deadlift or if you are keeping a good 90* angle on your foreleg when doing lunges. People use mirrors to check form which is great for checking lateral form (side to side) when facing the mirror. This is not good for checking sway and back form when looking from the side – especially with dead lifts, overhead, and military presses. Why? You are turning your head.
Take your left hand, place it on the right side of your chest with your middle finger about an inch from your armpit, thumb facing up, palm flat against your sternum.
Turn your head to the right.
Feel those chest muscle move?
Your back is doing the same thing.
By turning your head you are not evenly applying your force across both sides – one side is more contracted, the other more extended. Typically you will position yourself so that you turn your head to your strongest side, creating form that will not benefit your weak side. Use the video feature of your phone to check your sway and back arch when lifting instead. Record a set. Review it. Record second set. Review it. Record third set. Review it. Watch the last two set to make sure you are keeping your form correct.
So, now we get to the equipment. For us up here in the House of Hobbit, we don’t use a public gym. We don’t have one nearby, but even if we did, I don’t think we’d use one. Why? Why spend the money every month to do what you can do at home?
1) Mechanical exercise equipment is not the best way to get started. It isolates muscles. We want to do compound exercises that work more than one muscle group at time. Why do we want to do that, shouldn’t I be targeting? No. Not at this level. Hey, if you get an offer from Victoria’s Secrets or Body Building mag, then hell yes, target muscles. Until they bring the money, what we want to do is have the MOST EFFICIENT workouts we can (aka – work smarter, not harder). Doing 1 compound exercise can do the same thing as 4-5-6-7 different exercises. Take a weighted squat. You hoist up weights to your shoulders – that’s quad (thighs), gluts (butt, and hey, that right there is important!), calves, forearms, biceps, triceps (backside of your arm, you know, that flappy stuff), a multitude of neck\back\shoulder muscles, ABS!!, and a couple in the chest too. AND THAT IS JUST GETTING THE WEIGHTS UP THERE!! See what I mean? Hey, if you want to do 14 different exercises for a few hours to get the same workout as doing 18 (men) or 25 (women) squats, knock yourself out. I’ll be over there, in the kitchen, eating something protein and delicious, play on Facebook. Take a shower. Call my mom. You done yet? No? I’m gonna go work on my VW Bus. What about now? NO? Ok. I’ll watch a movie. Let me know when you’re done. In a nutshell, that means machines are out.
2) Not having to wait for someone to finish up with the free weights so you get a turn. Remember, in-out-get-it-done-enjoy-life.
3) Privacy (this is huge for us, and I suspect many of you, too) especially when you are starting out. It is human nature to feel like you are being judged. This isn’t good for your mental and emotional health.
4) Cost. A monthly membership can be costly, with the current economic climate, going to the gym might be a luxury you can’t afford. There’s no shame in that. Spend that money on something that you need.
So, what do we do? We both work out from home with our high-tech, expensive exercise equipment. Total cost? $86 over 3 months:
2 x 40# dumbbells sets from Walmart – $15ea
1 x 13# barbell $17
2 x 10# iron weights – $18
4 x 5# iron weights – $10
Pullup bar – $16
You don’t even need it all at once. We started with one dumbbells set and then added the barbell bar and another set a few months later, the iron weights. You can buy iron weights individually. Look for yard and garage sales, people are always clearing this stuff out cheap. The pull up bar I got because I wanted it, before I did them with a pipe on some straps hanging from the closet ceiling. Oh, and those cute little colored dumbbells? USELESS. Don’t even bother. Trust me, all they do is look cute. Otherwise, either go with the above…or below.
You don’t even need this to start. Hell, you don’t even need this for a while. Start off with body weight exercises for the first month or two (we will cover that next installment). Once you get proficient use weights already probably have in your house. Specifically, your recycle bin. Plastic jugs:
Car window wash.
Anything that comes in pints, quarts, and gallons with a handle. The other component? WATER. In the US, a gallon of water is ~8lbs. That’s 4lbs per half gallon, 2lbs per quart, and one per pint. 5gal pickle bucket? 45lbs. 90 for two of them. In the UK, a gallon of water is 10lbs. That’s 5lbs per half gallon, 2.5 per quart and a little over 1 per pint. 5 gallon pickle bucket? 50lbs. 100lbs for two of them. There you go, FREE dumbbells. Want a barbell? Add a broom or mop handle threaded through the jug handles (use a mason jar rubber seal to keep them from sliding – put the seal on the pole, then the jug, then pull the seal over the handle and back over the end of the pole. BAM. Done). This will get you by for a while, easily a month or two, especially women who will be doing lower weights. Men, in the beginning, trust me, 8lbs in each hand up and down over your head? You’ll feel it. Need more? Add two more jugs on the pole. Yeh. That simple. Scary, isn’t it?
Next up: the actual exercises. Yeh, sorry it took so long but I want to make sure you succeed. To do that, you need knowledge so you can make this sustainable. You’ve got this.