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: 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: 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: 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.

Lift Something Heavy Contest Winner! (finally!)

Posted June 9th, 2010 in Contests by Clint

Speaking of engineer bags, we finally have enough entries to declare a winner for the “lift something heavy” contest I started way back at the beginning of this blog.

Okay this has been a while in coming, but I’ll start off by saying I’ve been at this for just over 6 weeks. Here is my gear:wow, people are actually doing this thing. cool.

I thought different colors of duct tape would make things more fun, and to a point, it does. I’m not entirely happy about the bag I got, though. It’s big enough that I can fit all of my weights into it and have room for plenty more. I could probably fit myself into it if I wanted. But because I have relatively short legs, I find it pretty difficult to lift by the handles properly, which means I need to grab it from the bottom for deadlifts.

I bought 20 pairs of XXXL socks and three bags of pea gravel. I would stuff a sock as much pea gravel as I could fit, then I would work another sock over it in the opposite direction, and finally I would tape them up. This worked out pretty well, I fit two bags of pea gravel into 10 weights this way. I still have another bag of gravel but I doubt I’ll need to make more than five more weights. There is some variation in the weights – in particular, one of the blue ones weighs much less than the others, but I just make sure to leave that one out for the exercises with only a few weights, and put it in for the ones with most or all. I’m deliberately not weighing them to avoid the psychological barrier as suggested. I would guess they’re somewhere between 15 and 20 pounds though.

Other than that, I’ve bought a sleeping mask and a good amount of whey protein, and I’m trying to follow the 40/40/20 split. I do tend to go a bit high on carbs, though. Nevertheless, I’ve maintained a weight of 180 pounds while gaining a significant amount of muscle. It’s also nice to easily move things that I found daunting not long ago. I’m stronger than I’ve ever been, and it feels great.

Congratulations to EC for both his winning entry and his dedication and progress.

Also, don’t let the contest being resolves stop anyone from submitting pictures of their training equipment or setups. I always like to see how people are making it happen.

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