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 notepad  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.

AtA: Wacky Antics and Chair Alternatives

Posted May 31st, 2010 in Ask the Author by Clint

Alrighty, so I read the e-book, and I really enjoyed the information and presentation and will definitely start giving in to my whacky side more by skipping to class and the like.

I don’t want to dissuade your originality or individualism in any way, but if you want to get some leverage on yourself and make things interesting, you might consider doing ‘whacky’ stuff with a buddy. Not only is it fun and motivating to have someone to race, but herd mentality suggests that if there is one person doing something out of the ordinary, people view that person with skepticism and suspicion. But if you go screaming by with a friend (or two), it makes people question if in fact you’re doing the right thing and they’re screwing up somehow.

Be sure to link the news article if you somehow get a majority of people on campus to dash frantically between classes. You trendsetter you.

But I have one question, what would you suggest as an alternate to a chair?

This is both an excellent question and a seemingly never-ending frustration to me. I have tried all manner of ergonomic chairs, kneeling chairs, silly bosu-ball chair things, even hammocks, beanbags, and recliners. I also know more than one trainer who puts their laptop on a tall shelf or bar and just stands up while they use the computer. The fact most people generally lean forward to get at the computer only complicates matters. But I am still searching for something that biomechanically makes sense.

At present, I personally have a regular ergonomic office chair approved by various back-health organizations, but truth be told I probably spend half of my time with my feet in it, squatting. Like right now. I’m not even kidding.

Since using a computer is typically the easiest way to be stuck in a chair for long periods, the best trick I can suggest at this point is to simply alter your position frequently, and also to stand up when you can. If you’re not interacting with the keyboard at any given moment, standing up, turning around, squatting down, doing any sort of movement that helps break up a static, prolonged position is probably the best damage control you can do.

AtA: Exercise Frequency and Off-day Meals

Posted May 26th, 2010 in Ask the Author by Clint

What is your take on daily exercise? If I lift a 5×5 three a week, is it okay to spin on the in between days, or should I let my muscles recover?

Also, do you eat a peak meal on days that you don’t exercise?

As I mention in the book, I think it’s great. The more the merrier. I might debate the merits of Spin class, but as long as the intensity is high enough there’s nothing wrong with using it as an interval exercise.

One thing I would recommend (and I do recommend in the book) is that you allow for proper recovery, which includes both adequate sleep and active recovery, such as taking a decently long walk. Honestly, if you had the time on your hands, there’s nothing wrong with weight training every day and doing interval, provided you get proper recovery. If you find yourself fatigued or with reduced performance, you simply either increase active recovery (more massage, more rest, more walking and so on) or scale back training. It’s pretty straight-forward.

It’s not like in ye olden times (of a whole century ago) dudes would be like “hell, guess I can’t toil in the fields since I just chopped wood. I’ll overtrain! MWF is butter churning, T-Th is for wrangling livestock. Better eat mah glucose snakes.” What a horribly hamfisted analogy, but hopefully the gist is clear.

As for Peak meals, no. I don’t recommend them if they don’t accompany an appropriately intense activity. I sometimes take a Sunday off as a complete rest/recovery day, and those days basically mirror a meal plan from a ketogenic low carb diet.

AtA: The Skinny on General Movement

Posted May 24th, 2010 in Ask the Author by Clint

I wanted to clarify something about “general movement” – you say it essentially helps with the recovery process from interval and resistance training, but does it really do anything on its own? I know people take the stairs and do other slightly physically exerting tasks, claiming that they’re “getting a little exercise in” but otherwise never exercise.

You specifically list
-circulates nutrients
-higher levels of activity, metabolism, and energy states
-stimulates body into recovery mode

but it just kind of sounds like vague crap to make people feel better about taking the stairs and breaking into a sweat from the effort because they weigh 400 pounds.

I understand that doing anything is better than nothing, it just seems strange to have an entire chapter on something that intuitively seems frivolous. You’re the expert though, and I don’t know dick about this, which is why I’m asking.

One thing I stress repeatedly is that it is one of several elements to health; on its own, the effects are certainly better than ‘nothing’, but the synergistic benefits reaped from combining the suggested practices are when things really get good.

For example:

page 58:

There are three different types of exercise discussed in this chapter, each a major contributor to total health and each essential in its own way.

If upon reading the book, someone only takes away “I need to walk more” and actually does it, then their lives will be better for it. Not nearly as good as if they’d actually put together more of the pieces, but certainly better. I don’t consider it to be a justification for eating a triple baconator and dying from a coronary at 34, and I believe the person who does would have rationalized their actions however they had to. I can only offer the information, not force people to take action.

That said, that wasn’t the point of the chapter. For anyone who is actually doing either of both of the other types of exercise (Interval and Resistance), they will see improvement from simple things like walking that they otherwise would not. One thing I run into constantly are guys who perform prodigious feats of strength during their workout, then literally do nothing until their next workout. Sit in a chair and read these forums, play Gamebox X360, whatever.

However, by incorporating (by example) a 30-minute leisurely walk around the park each evening, they would find their recovery, gains, metabolism and energy levels all significantly improved. Soreness would be reduced and recede faster, and they’d even be able to work out more frequently if they so wished.

Both endurance athletes and musclesharks benefit from incorporating low-intensity movement; as I said, it’s actually a form of ‘rest’ as active recovery, not a ‘workout’ that entitles one to a Peak meal (or a Krispy Kreme).

AtA: an Expansion of Stretching

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

Got a question though, about the stretching vs strength thing, could you elaborate on that a bit more? Or link to a good article on it? I want to be strong and crazy flexible and I am working on both. The book kind of glosses over the actual mechanics of it.

Going back and looking at that section, I’m surprised at my lack of citations for that information. It’s become so commonplace in modern fitness that it must not have occurred to me, despite upsetting the applecarts of pretty much every middle-school coach in the US.

I’m not entirely sure how much information you were looking for. Here’s a few of the articles I possibly should/would have cited (and likely may if I should do a second edition down the road).

Reduced strength after passive stretch of the human plantarflexors (Journal of Applied Physiology, 2000)

Acute effects of static versus dynamic stretching on isometric peak torque, electromyography, and mechanomyography of the biceps femoris muscle (Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, NSCA, 2008)

Effects of Static Stretching on Energy Cost and Running Endurance Performance (Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, NSCA, 2009)

If you were looking for something perhaps more accessible, there was a pretty good article in the NY Times’ Play Magazine not too long ago.

Anyway, though I was attempting to keep the book brief and concise, I still feel like I might have done a better job in that section. I’m not opposed to all static stretching. The example most obvious to me is the various forms of Yoga poses that hold positions, which in themselves may be valuable to health, strength, and/or flexibility. However, I wouldn’t bolt off and try to perform a workout immediately following yoga, or to use yoga as a ‘warm-up’ for resistance or interval exercise.

The objective of that section was to get people away from the longstanding notion of doing five or ten different held stretches in an attempt to ‘get ready’ for exercise, and to alternatively provide readers with a method for ‘warming-up’ the muscles and body, without depleting or inhibiting their muscular performance for what would come after.

Do you have any videos or animations for the “pull squat dynamic stretch” you mention in the book? I can’t visualize it and there’s nothing on google about it.

Made to order: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sfMrhJyNW-s

AtA: Engineer Bags vs Freeweights

Posted May 10th, 2010 in Ask the Author by Clint

I have a question about your suggestion for using an engineer bag stuffed with weights as resistance training, though [...] but I really wonder how favorably it compares to pumping iron with real free weight equipment.

I should preface by stating that the engineer bag (or other suitably heavy object you might train with) is not a short-cut or temporary fix to get people started with resistance training; it is a fully-formed method suitable for people of virtually any level of fitness, and can be an effective program for life. The barbell is less than a century old; it’s not like prior to that humans were just wads of cookie dough with stick arms.

A lot of ‘underground’ fitness methods do Strongman-style training, with tire-flipping, sandbags, car pushing, stone lifting, and so on. For all intent and purpose, you can build an incredible physique and immense strength doing basic movements with challenging free-weight of any kind. It’s just mass being moved, simple as that.

That said, it would depend on your goals and how you define them.

Bodybuilders, to start off with (and pardon me if I paraphrase something you might have already read, I say a lot of things more than once) are particularly suited to using barbells and dumbbells because what they are doing is in essence being sculptors, with their own body as the medium. Even amateur-level bodybuilders spend hours just critiquing their own physique, and by having a wide range of tools and stimuli available they are able to shape each curve, angle and plane. In that case, not only would you want the more refined tools that a gym offers, but a host of other isolation exercises that I don’t get into in the book.

Powerlifters and other competitive weightlifters I consider to be athletes, and lifting barbells as a sport. From the lowly gymrat up to the girthiest (sure that’s a word shut up) of pro powerlifters, they seek to make the numbers go higher, same as a runner wants to make the numbers go lower. In this case, I would recommend you seek a gym as well; it’s significantly easier to lift 225 on a bar, even in a front squat, than it is to do the same with an engineer bag or any other unwieldy load. This isn’t to say it’s somehow less of an accomplishment, but like any other sport, some powerlifters wear special suits and practice special techniques (and often have horrifying physiques and form) just to get the numbers a little higher. It’s not a means to an end, it’s the end itself.

There are obviously other purposes that I may not need to get into for the moment, but suffice to say if you goal is “be leaner”, “be stronger”, “look good naked” or most of the reasons people want to ‘do exercise’, the engineer bag is not only a valid choice, it’s one of the better ones available. Though I personally love the gym in theory and in practice, and consider my power cage to be a part of the family, it’s not necessary. I (and you) could accomplish basically the same thing with a good sized rock.

New! Ask the Author section

Posted April 28th, 2010 in Ask the Author, Site Update by Clint

Over these past few months following the release of Brain Over Brawn, I’ve kept myself active answering questions via email and on various forums and threads online (most notably in my thread in the W&W forum on somethingawful). However, the difference between creating content and making it easily accessible to potential readers is one I will now attempt to address. So I’ll be creating new (and frequent) posts on my blog for “Ask the Author”, wherein I take questions from readers and my answers to them; this will not only provide additional content of interest for the site, but also may very well answer questions a visitor might have without them having to ask it themselves.

You may submit your own questions by posting in one of the threads I follow, by emailing to clint at brain over brawn dot com, by posting a reply, or pretty much anything else you can think of. I’ll figure it out. I’m going to see about getting a nice, easy little form too.

Posts to follow. Enjoy. (Considering the raw amount of text I hurf-blurf out in a given day, I’d like to think I can be a little less negligent toward this our lovely site).

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