It’s been a year already?

Posted December 15th, 2010 in Site Update by Clint

So today happens to be the one-year anniversary of Brain Over Brawn‘s publication (it’s also my birthday, how about that). ¬†Due to that, I felt it was a good time to get in a post.

First off I’d like to apologize for the unannounced hiatus. Due to excessive travel, trials and tribulations and a focus of effort on other aspects of promoting the book that have had more feedback, a week turned into a month turned into “wait what?” Additionally, sorry to those who have been continuing to send the link to their friends who then check the front page and are like “wait, is this guy dead?” The numbers say they read it anyway, and I trust they’re glad for doing so.

Let me reassure you the book is still relevant (as downloads and sales will attest), and that I have returned (although advance warning, I’m about to go out of town again so updates won’t be as frequent until the new year). ¬†Throughout my blogging absence I have continued to invest a significant amount of time responding to email and interacting with communities that foster discussion about the book (I’ll be changing up a few aspects of that as well to try and free up more time for a broader audience).

Let me also take this opportunity to mention Brain Over Brawn makes an excellent Christmas gift (Amazon is stocked up), especially for those who have announced their good intentions for their New Year’s resolution. What better gift than to help a friend or loved one get past all the last-night infomercial jazz and get right to what actually makes a difference.

Let me also say that if you’re waiting for the New Year to get started… you don’t have to. Getting started today is 2 weeks’ of poor eating and exercise habits that you won’t have to undo, and will get you a month or more closer to your goals. Start today.

Either way, best to you and yours. We’ll talk again soon.

AtA: Dynamic Stretching (for Golf)

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

What do you recommend for golf?

Color-blindness to help you in selecting the right pants?

If you’re going to sink it in every hole, make sure your wife doesn’t find out?

Go to your Happy Place?

haw haw haw~ (haw)

So anyway, I’m assuming you mean in regard to dynamic stretching. Truth be told, all four stretches in the book are beneficial to golf. The pull-squat opens up hip mobility, windmills stretch the shoulder axis, torso twists will improve rotational power, and even neck stretches can help unlimber your traps and shoulder girdle for swings. That’s not a cop-out; hip-drive and torque can immediately improve your game.

Beyond what’s in the book, you may enjoy doing one-arm planks (neutral spine, but tighten your (ugh I hate this word) “core” so that you can raise one arm out in front like a superman.

Apart from stretching (and back to the book) two specific exercises can significantly help as well: the first is working your way into one-hand push-ups. More than a shoulder routine, it actually develops significant (ugh) core strength. Second is the split-squat, which is hard to match for developing hip drive and rotational power.

AtA: Dynamic Stretches for Shoulder Mobility

Posted July 14th, 2010 in Ask the Author by Clint

What’s your favorite dynamic stretch to improve shoulder mobility? I’ve been doing your pull squats for my hamstrings the last few weeks and I can’t believe the improvement. I can nearly touch my toes with locked knees now, which is probably a 4 inch improvement in my range of motion. My shoulder mobility is absolutely terrible, though, and I’d like to improve it.

I’ve read about “shoulder dislocations,” where you hold a broom handle with both hands and a wide grip at your waist, and you bring it all the way over your head until you touch the small of your back. Do you have any experience with these exercises?

I want to preface by saying I am not a rehab specialist, and I should probably be embarrassed by how readily I will refer out a client or athlete if they are in need of corrective (ankle-taper) work. Knowing something about one field doesn’t confer expertise in all related fields, and this is something many ‘experts’ fail to realize. That said, I could offer you a few suggestions, but if you feel like you are in any way compromised due to injury or otherwise requiring rehabilitation, I encourage you to seek a specialist.

Another thing (which I am trying not to overstress) is that bodies are built differently, and what’s good for some may not help others. So I’m not just copping out; despite my best of intentions, there’s not a one-size-fits-all. We’re all built differently, and that includes the design and build of the shoulder (relevant to this discussion is, for example, the formation of the shoulder’s acromion). Just based on your genetic build (and what may have come later during development) you may have a significantly harder (or easier) time with one exercise over another due to the shape and construction of your shoulder. So even if you go it alone, you will need to experiment to find what is best for you.

Okay? Okay.

In the book I recommend windmills, where you stick your arms straight out to your sides and rotate them, just as in gym class. You can make these circles wide or tight as suits you, and it falls under the ‘dynamic’ sense of not reducing muscle elasticity or strength. These (as with the other things I recommend) do well by the most people. Give them a shot.

As far as dislocations, I myself do them on occasion, and I’ll recommend them from time to time as warm-ups for athletes, especially when we are doing sport-specific training. I wouldn’t necessarily suggest them to someone trying it solo since it is a difficult movement to judge the performance of unless you have someone watching you (or you have some 3-way model mirror going on). You can let your shoulder rise up on one or both sides or otherwise create oddities or imbalances in your effort to get it over the top, and that’s generally a no-no. You want to keep your traps flattened and rotators locked down rather than letting one (or both) rise up, and that can be difficult to do for many people. Alternately, you can do them with a band or a bungie cord so that you’re not forcing the joint, and focus on keeping your shoulders properly seated and aligned.

I’ve previously recommended a different type of broom stick stretch that may help you, both the internal and external.

I also dig scapula push-ups.

AtA: Caloric Consumption and Weight Training

Posted July 9th, 2010 in Ask the Author by Clint

Quick question on calorie deficits as a result of weight training. I’m operating under the assumption that more work = more calories burned. Using bench press as an example, under a strength training workout, I’m doing 3 sets of 8 reps at 135 lbs with 2-3 minutes in between sets.

Under a bodybuilding workout I’m doing 4 sets of 12 reps at 90 lbs with 30 seconds in between sets.

Workout A is 3240 lbs moved over a longer period of time and Workout B is 4320 lbs moved over a shorter time period.

In this scenario, would workout B yield greater calorie deficits? Especially given workout A is a 2 day split vs. 4 day for workout B?

At face value the answer is moot, as the actual “calories” expended between the two is a wash, and a muddy one at that. However, once you start talking about the effects on excess post-exercise oxygen consumption it gets slightly more substantial, but still murky and largely dependent on individual traits and characteristics. As I mention in the book, there are numerous factors involved even beyond the volume/time equation, such as compound groups called into play, levels of neuromuscular activity, speed and explosiveness, range of motion, and even simple skeletal loading.

For example, you could create an absurd level of ‘volume’ by putting a substantial weight on the leg press or seated row and crush out hundreds of reps in a short span of time, but it would not produce near the levels of NMA or load that a well-performed set of squats would.

That said, the crux of the matter is intensity. When you talk about ‘calorie-burning’ (i.e. “waste” or inefficiency, which is a primary factor in keeping fat off the body), the higher purpose is intensity, which is why I put forth both HIIT and heavy resistance (in the 3-8 rep range) training that includes structural loading and compound movements for maximal “if we drop this, we may die” NMA levels. At high levels of intensity (especially in competitive or “play” states), the catecholamine dumps themselves are worth more toward a calorie deficit than anything that can be worked out on a spreadsheet.

Again, the focus I push is for maximum results with the minimum investment of time or complexity. If you’re looking for other perspectives you might try a more specialized program, since you mention a ‘body builder’ program which aims for a different set of goals.

One of the reasons, for example, that I solely focus on the big movements are studies like this one, that take a 31 minute circuit program of bench, power cleans, and squats, and demonstrate a higher metabolic level at 38 hours post-exercise, which is double the previously established max. That’s a higher rate of caloric consumption for the better part of two days after lifting. It makes the double-digit levels of calories-burned during actual exercise rather inconsequential.

Bodybuilding is a sport (or art, depending how you look at it) and they measure success by different metrics than almost anyone else, be they athlete or regular person. But if your question (specifically about calorie-expenditure) is rooted in loss of bodyfat, you’d likely better serve your goals by focusing on how hard you’re lifting rather than how much (and of course what you are eating). Hopefully that gets you closer to the answer you’re looking for.

AtA: Setting Up the Weight and Maintaining the Challenge

Posted July 7th, 2010 in Ask the Author by Clint

Do you have any tips for getting the bag on for pushups? It’s getting too heavy for me to do that part properly without the weight being centered at my lower back, which seems bad.

If you don’t happen to have someone who can set you up, you can put the bag on a chair, then kneel next to the chair and draw it onto your shoulder blades with your outside hand, bracing yourself with your close hand and your knees. Then replace your hand and get in push-up position. You can also try varying your hand spacing, doing incline push-ups by putting your feet on a higher surface, or for something still more advanced, see if you can bust them out one-handed. Those are my fav.

Alternatively, you can do one-hand flyes/presses using the straps on, say, the edge of a couch or step so that you have clearance for the full range of motion. Or simply switch to overhead presses, or one-hand overhead presses until such time as your shoulders get strong enough to support one-handed push-ups.

Lastly, plyo push-ups going for height/clearance will never stop being a challenge. That is, until you can explosively push yourself up to standing position without breaking at the knees or hips. Which would be pretty impressive. You probably want to do them on carpet, a mat, a wood floor or something with some give. Concrete is for people that hate themselves.

Squats is kind of a pain for that too when you have no squat cage. You have to find some appropriate-height surface in your place to set it on and then roll slide into position on the back of your neck, or just do Zercher Squats.

I like Zerchers for the same reason I like hill sprints; you can’t do the weight you could on a back squat, but it’s a lot harder to do them wrong. And it lends itself to a natural functionality when you are doing something that requires you to squat and lift.

A great compound movement is cleaning the bag off the floor and throwing it over your shoulder in a fireman carry; you can not only scoop more weight than you might be able to hustle into zercher, but you also get additional stimulus to the torso and body to balance the weight. Just switch sides between sets (or for true brutality, drop it back to the floor and clean it up again for each rep).

I’d also recommend giving the split-squats a try with the bag in zercher position.

AtA: Running On About Intervals

Posted July 2nd, 2010 in Ask the Author by Clint

In the “Prelude to Movement” you are against jogging for more than 30 minutes. You also speak about something that I have been incorporating into my workouts forever, interval training. I was wondering if I could kind of combine the two because I have lost about 30lbs and discovered I really like to run again.

If, I am running in a hilly area, or have a program on my treadmill that adjusts the incline automatically for me, will this give me the benefits of interval training while still using the flat/downhill areas for active recovery? Will this interfere with anything on my lifting days? (I lift on opposite days that I run/walk/jog.) I am hoping that the introduction of the hills does not allow my body to become more efficient/adapted to running.

From pg59 in Brain Over Brawn:

My take on it is this: if you really enjoy jogging, go for it. It certainly counts as general movement and in moderation and with proper preventative care, you can preserve your joint health and mobility just fine. Just don’t try and use it as some generic fat-loss or calorie-burn method; the following exercise forms will do a much more efficient job.

As I’ve said on many occasions, running for the sake of running is not the basis for my beef with cardio, steady-state or otherwise. If running is fun for you (or you do it competitively), go bananas. B A N A N A S. But for some people it’s boring drudgery and they do it because they think that’s the best (or only) way to change your body composition, and it’s not.

As far as considering it to be HIIT, I wouldn’t think so unless you are sprinting up hills (or stairs) or some exercise to the point that it’s impossible to maintain a tempo due to exertion. Treadmills especially are ill-suited, as the vast majority of machines can’t maintain enough of an incline to be a sufficient challenge without also destroying your stride (a grass hill or even stairs will provide much more joint stability than a flat plane at an angle). And most don’t go fast enough (until again, it’s a dangerous situation). I dislike treadmills in general anyway, but they’ll suffice for general movement/active recovery if it’s something you want to do.

As far as cross-country type HIIT, if you’re falling down in the dirt and pine needles like you’re about to vom your brains out, and have to force yourself through a haze to stand back up and run more (only to collapse again) sure, that can be HIIT. But most people go out to the trails and it’s this big grand process to drive there and get to running, and they don’t want it to be over in five minutes. Conversely, you could enjoy your run and then at the end just before you go back to the car or house, if you want to just sprint your brains out for a few sessions, yeah. That’ll do, pig.

As for interference, no, it won’t substantially impact your lifts provided you are getting ample recovery (which includes nutrition, General Movement, and rest). You’ll want to not do one immediately following the other, but if you put a few hours in between (ideally with a meal and a nap), you’re fine.

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.

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