AtA: the ‘vanity’ of exercise and the ‘proper’ resistance weight

Posted June 30th, 2010 in Ask the Author by Clint

In the last month I’ve started hitting to gym to lean up my fat ass; while in the last months my lifts have all gone from “struggling with the bar” to 100-140lbs, my motivation is more or less purely physical vanity.

Though this might not apply to your situation specifically, I’m still mildly surprised when someone blushingly confesses to me that their motivation is aesthetic, as if it’s somehow less noble of a goal or motivation than health or athletic performance. In the same way exercising for better health and longevity could be attributed to selfish motivation (because you personally want to live longer or better), or likewise could be for others (because you do not want to be a medical burden on your family or society), you can likewise consider aesthetic reasons to be for the benefit of others (so that your children don’t grow up with a weak, fat parent as their role model, or so that your significant other can continue to find you attractive and enjoy you physically as well as mentally and emotionally). I’m not one to break each and every little thing down to subjective reality, but you can call the motivation anything you want so long as it gets you where you ultimately want to go.

For example, I’m motivated to see everyone succeed because every person who is obese is a financial burden on myself and my society. I’m also motivated because I have plenty of friends and loved ones who are overweight or obese, and suffer not only medically, but emotionally and mentally.

What ultimately matters to me is that as many people who want to help themselves can do so, and I’m doing that in the best way right now that I know how. But my motivations aren’t as important as the end goal, and yours don’t have to be either.

However I hate the hassle of actually going to the gym so the idea of keeping a sandbag in my closet I can use in my apartment in the morning is extremely appealing.

I would caution you that though (or perhaps because) it is more convenient, you will need more motivation to convert to working out at home, not less.

Though it’s a method I recommend, having a sandbag in your closet is an easy thing to go “Oh I’ll just do it tomorrow, I deserve to take it easy today because of [reason here].” The engineer bag can be an incredible tool and can readily serve as a universal one for people who need it to do so; just don’t let it enable you to make excuses and eventually fail yourself in your ultimate goal. Again, that may not be your problem, but we’re all different.

Now, I’m 6’2″. Is a bag full of sand that maxes out at 160lbs going to be enough of a stimulus to give me decent-sized musculature (once I drop enough fat to have it become visible, of course)?

Time and again, athletes are shocked when they find out an engineer bag they’ve been struggling with might only weigh 100lbs. The reason barbells became so popular is because of the fact it’s efficient, that the body can best grasp that weight and manipulate it in that form, where it’s as compact and unencumbering as it can be. That’s why things like fatbars/fat grips and kettlebells are so en vogue; they take a weight and make it unwieldy and thereby more challenging. Bagging weight takes it that step further, especially if you are gripping the canvas itself rather than the convenient handle or cradling it. It’s a pain in the ass to lift and move, and the more obnoxious it is, quite frankly, the better it can be.

If you can fill a bag completely and are knocking out all your movements like it’s no thing, simply get another bag and either load them both up on your arms zercher-style, put one on each shoulder, or carry one under either arm. If you’re at 300+lbs in sandbags and you’re still feeling unchallenged, at that point you might look into a gym membership. And probably competing at a serious level of sportsmanship.

AtA: Resistance Training with Age and Health Concerns

Posted June 28th, 2010 in Ask the Author by Clint

My mom is interested in following your plan, but she is hesitant about weight lifting. She is almost 60 and overweight and diabetic with a bad back, so she doesn’t want to strain herself in ways that could injure her back further. Any suggestions for easing into it?

Well, bear in mind not only am I not a doctor, I am not her doctor. However, it’s often revealing to note how many ‘bad backs’ originate from sitting too much, an ill-fit bed, or just general weakness in the back (which are all discussed as things to improve in the book). General weakness especially seems to come up with an absurd frequency (and in other areas of the body as well) as it’s kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy: if a back’s weak, you favor it and try to never put any weight or stress on it, which makes it weaker, which makes it more likely to be stressed or injured, etc.

I would recommend she keep in contact with her physician, provided her doctor supports her rehabbing her bones/musculature/back and getting to a more reasonable weight and level of physical fitness (I can’t abide doctors who encourage victim mentalities). For her first few sessions, have her work her way in with lighter weight to learn the movements and pre-condition her body by performing them. Once she feels confident in her ability to execute them properly, then start incrementally but generously adding weight based on the guidelines in the book. If she can do 6+ reps with a weight, for the next set give her more weight. And go on from there.

Don’t let her fret about lifting “too heavy”; older people, women, and those who have been chronically ill or injured are all prime candidates for excessive timidity about increasing body strength. You can help her by reinforcing the idea that some day (obviously not instantly, but in the foreseeable future) it’s entirely likely she should be able to throw you over her back in a fireman’s carry and squat you. If she has a hard time imagining that, ask her if she’d do it if your life depended on it. Assuming she says yes, then that’s a goal you can both work toward (and is fairly realistic one, assuming she’s an otherwise normal human female, approaching 60 and currently overweight. I imagine she’ll be surprised what she may actually end up capable of doing).

AtA: Workouts and Carb Meals

Posted June 25th, 2010 in Ask the Author by Clint

Quick question on nutrition, I have always been told that you should eat your carb-heavy meals before you exercise instead of after but the book says to do the opposite. Does this matter at all, and if so, do you have an opinion on which is better?

I recommend it after (obviously), and though the carbs are the distinguishing factor (compared to the Base meals), I still consider protein to be the emphasis.

The metabolic state that comes with exercise obviously only extends beyond the workout (your body for whatever reason has a hard time predicting when in the future you may work out). While there’s some credence to be given to having the carbs available ‘as fuel’, that’s going to be significantly more of a factor for endurance athletes rather than someone doing the exercises in the book (or for a typical human, natch).

A more practical reason is the shocking (shocking, I say) frequency of people eating a pre-workout carb meal and then unforeseen circumstances preventing them from doing the workout at the time they’d planned, thereby sitting around with carbs in their tum and insulin up, and nothing to do for it. I look at carbs as a type of reimbursement; you do the work, then you get paid.

The other part of it is general restriction of carbs; if you had a carb meal before and after a workout, and had two workouts that day, 4 of the 6 meals you’re eating are low-fat, moderate-carb. Even with that much exercise you’re potentially throwing off the macro pretty fierce, and that’s problematic inasmuch as you’re not getting proper amounts of fat as you are getting ‘too many’ carbs. One peak meal per workout is my general rule.

Base/Peak is the approach I recommend most often to most people. However, if you’re doing it a different way and you’re getting/have the results you want, then there’s no real need to change it to what I’m saying. The same can be said for the Brain Over Brawn program: if you’ve legitimately and faithfully done it by-the-book and aren’t seeing the results you want, do something else.

AtA: Resistance Training and Recovery

Posted June 23rd, 2010 in Ask the Author by Clint

Is it normal to be doing fewer reps the second session after beginning resistance training? Last time (the first time) I did my squats/pullups day I could do 4 good pullups on the first set before switching to the jump-up-and-slowly-lower-down sort. Today I could only do 2, and barely. I recall this being the case in earlier times starting up resistance training – I would be able to bust out a fair number of pullups the first time after not exercising in months (much to my surprise!) and then this number would decrease the next time I tried.

Your ability to recover and repair is a ‘system’ to be developed, in the same definition as your ability to project force and maintain speed. If it’s unconditioned, it will take time to bring it up to standard, and until it is built up it will inhibit your other faculties.

If you like cars, think of it with this analogy: you can put the biggest, most powerful supercharged engine in a car, but if you’ve still got the rusty ass stock exhaust pipe on there, your power output will be severely diminished.

You first want to ensure you’re getting adequate rest. If you’re already at your personal limit for sleep at night, throw a nap in there. Naps are fun.

Second, you want to make sure you’re feeding properly (this was likely the poster’s issue). Getting appropriate fuel and materials to the site so that you can build, repair and maintain is vital.

Third, be sure you’re getting proper active recovery. Walks may seem boring and superfluous, but minimal-impact movement is key to getting everything recovered. The body is designed to be in motion; you “rest” better by going for a leisurely walk around the neighborhood or park than you do laying on the couch watching TV.

After that, just do your best as the strength and recovery fills in. If you continue to struggle you might temporarily scale back your workouts to let yourself catch up (for example, jumping from completely sedentary to 6 workouts a week can be asking a bit much for most people).

AtA: Of Calories, Cravings, and Variety

Posted June 18th, 2010 in Ask the Author, Foods by Clint

DH writes:

To be honest I didn’t really “get it” until I did it. I really love food, especially sweets, and I never thought that I’d ever be that way either. When people talked about it, it sounded really weird and unlikely to me. I basically set out to create meals that would fit into my desired calories and macronutrient breakdown so that I could be assured I was getting the right amount. I didn’t think that tracking every meal and then fudging towards the end of the day was really the right solution for me. Especially because this way I could make sure that a good number of the meals were portable and I could cook things that needed pre-cooking bulk. I was afraid that doing the same meals would get boring but it was actually really easy and ended up not being a problem at all really. A month or so I in I went to the grocery store and glanced a box of cookies and realized I didn’t even have the faintest desire to buy them, which was totally out of character but also totally awesome. Not having to deal with the whims of my gustatory desires is pretty cool a lot of the time.

This really resonates with both my own experience and what I hear from others.

One thing that stands out when helping people change their eating habits is especially prevalent with people who have means. They’ll go out to restaurants 2-3 times a day, eat expensive, decadent foods, yet hardly even taste them anymore. When ‘treats’ become commonplace they lose the magic of being ‘special’.

You get almost the same vibe from people who simply eat fast food constantly (due to travel, habit, whatever); in many cases it feels like they’re too depressed to generate the motivation to cook even crockpot-level foods or deal with a stove. If they do eat at home it’s a frozen dinner, because they’re too exhausted/depressed to deal with the car/drive-through.

By starting (or resetting) your diet with simple (but not bland), basic meals, you can regain an appreciation for what makes food taste good in the first place, and by focusing on your health/fitness/aesthetic goals you undermine all the emotional attachments that come along with eating garbage-food.

And yeah. The best thing is seeing something you remember loving and being disgusted by it, rather than simply trying to play the MY WILL IS STRONG OH GOD DADDY WAAAAANT game. When I was a kid I used to love Little Debbie cakes, but after being apart from them for a few years and then having the opportunity to try them, I realized they tasted like wax ass. As there is nothing redeeming at all in their nutritional content, that’s a pretty good habit shift to get.

AtA: So what do I eat, a hunk of meat?

Posted June 16th, 2010 in Ask the Author, Foods by Clint

In looking though various food options I’m having trouble finding protein. Besides protein powder and beef/chicken/fish/pork/kangaroo etc. are there other recommended sources of protein? It seems to be difficult to find something (besides meat) that doesn’t have a 2:1 fat or carb to protein ratio.

As mentioned on pg 34, you’ve also got dairy sources and eggs as well as supplementary protein from various beans and nuts. But as I’ve said before, at present I regrettably don’t know of a viable vegan/vegetarian suggestion or solution.

Considering many people I work with and talk to who won’t have anything to do with “weird” meats (or seafood) and stick to chicken and beef (or just chicken), it’s still surprising how versatile even one meat is. While food-as-fuel can lend a helpful perspective, I personally love to eat, and do my chef-ing for pleasure as much as for fuel.

However, I also eat wild boar, venison, clams, crawfish and so forth on a regular basis (although obviously not nearly as often as chicken and beef), so it’s not often meals get repetitive. But I hit up things like garlic and lemon juice all the time, and most of my meals, while robust, are absurdly simple.

Then again, we’ve come a long way from meals being a hunk of moldy cheese and hard cornbread. Or a scupper-full of lutefisk (ugh, I feel queasy just typing the word). So these “simple meals” are in actuality fairly exotic if not opulent, both compared to the current non-1st-world countries and to everything up to the last century.

A helpful reader suggests:

The tip in the book about the chicken will put you on the right track. Buy some kinda raw meat and two vegetables. Cut’em up however you think would be best and cook’em. Chicken breast (or Turkey Sausage), onion, green pepper. Salmon, zucchini, tomatoes (I like to soak them in balsamic vinegar with some salt and eat’em raw with this). Very cheap meals that are very easy to make in an amount that will give you 4 – 6 meals. So, cook this kinda shit to start with 2 or 3 nights a week and fill in the gaps with protein shakes and other simple snacks like nuts, beef jerky (this one’s not so cheap), and cottage cheese.

This is working out pretty great for me and when I get bored of eating this kind of stuff I’ll learn to cook more complex meals, but for now some minimal spicing of some simple meat + veg gets me some pretty tasty eats that make it easy to stick to base meals.

This right here is aces, and expresses the point perfectly. Start with simple building blocks and then grow creative, rather than blowing your load cooking some 4 hour casserole monstrosity and then being annoyed and frustrated at the idea of making food and hitting up the Arby’s. The idea isn’t that feeding is a boring chore, but that you can make simple things great despite (or perhaps because of) their simplicity.

AtA: Brain Over Brawn and Older Folks

Posted June 11th, 2010 in Ask the Author by Clint

My mom is willing to eat a good diet but won’t lift, and my dad is willing to lift but refuses to diet. It also seems like older people seem to think that it’s impossible to get in good shape when you’re over 50, and considering than 90+% of people that age are in poor shape it’s really not hard to see why they would think that.

I also think that the accepted wisdom until recently has been “Oh you’re old take it easy you don’t want to have a heart attack” and that mentality seems to be ingrained in people’s heads. Luckily it seems like the medical community is slowly starting to see the light and is recommending lifting to more older people. I work out at a university gym and there’s quite a few older people who look like they’re just starting out.

Back when I was first getting started in the field, I remember all the old dudes who would faithfully come in to Bally’s at 6am, 5 days a week. It was practically a social club. But many of these dudes had been at it for twenty+ years and were still benching 135 and so on. Though I’ve repeatedly spoken out against the numbers game, I personally don’t feel like there’s a definitive end-game, even for little old ladies.

Though when I approached them as a trainer (for what was probably their 2000th time rejecting some young asshole trying to tell them their business), they were very canalized in their approach to nutrition, exercise, and so on. Even these men who have a lifetime of exercise behind them have been patiently sticking that same metal peg into the same gap in the weight stack for longer than I’ve been alive. While normally I’d take a ‘to each their own’ tact, those same people almost universally expressed dissatisfaction with their gains and their current ability. Though they were largely unable to affect change, they were also terrified to stop doing what they’ve been doing for fear of losing even their most modest of gains.

It’s a hard place to be, I’m sure. But it’s strange to see so many otherwise-successful men who probably listen to (and value the advice of) experts all day in their business, yet write off physical prowess to the chemistry and ferocity of youth. I’ve actually got a pretty thick notepadĀ  of observations that I’ve been slowly putting together regarding the age/gender-related disparities both from social and biological perspectives; I’m hoping to put it into a decent paper some day.

That said, you, myself and (I imagine) anybody who actually likes their folks has to deal with this sort of thing. My successes (where I’ve found them) have yet to have a common thread though, so I have a hard time proffering advice for helping others. The best tentative approach I’ve found (and that I tried for in the book) is relating to people as people, or human-animals, and really pushing the whole tribal thing we’ve been at for millions of years, in stark comparison to this last little few-decade hiccup of macbooks and automobiles. We’re all much more alike than we are different, and the things that do distinguish us are seldom these big blanket generalizations of boy/girl, young/old, etc. I know I’ve won over more than one older dude by painting up role models like Sam Elliot and Clint Eastwood; even some of the most wobbly grandpas out there enjoy envisioning themselves as grizzled old hardasses.

The short and sweet is that Brain Over Brawn (and nutrition, and fitness, and especially resistance training) don’t have an expiration date. Short of being medically bedridden (which you may yet avoid if you exercise between now and then), there’s seldom a reason someone can’t lift right up until curtain call. And doing so is very likely to give you not only more years to keep at it, but a higher quality of life throughout.

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