Lessons Learned From The Iron

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I consider myself to be fairly young, seeing as I’m 32.  Also I consider myself to be in decent shape, as  I’ve been in the gym 3-5 days a week for going on 14 years now.  Lastly, I also like to think I’ve accumulated a fair amount of knowledge about strength.  It’s a funny thing sometimes, strength, as it can be applied to both physical strength as well as mental/emotional strength.

While mental strength may not help you cultivate physical strength, it is my opinion that the pursuit of physical strength can and will do just that for mental strength.  It wasn’t until the second semester of my freshman year in undergrad that I became enamored with the idea of weight lifting.  Forever, seared into my brain is the image of myself as I passed in front of a mirror shirtless in my freshman dorm room.  I was a three sport high school athlete (not very good at any of them but it sure was fun!), and the first semester of college had not been very kind to my physique.

Now this wasn’t the typical freshman 15 weight gain, the change I experienced was in body composition, because the scale remained relatively the same.  Either way I remember thinking I need to do something about this, and off to the rec center I went.  I spent the next few years lifting and enjoying the camaraderie of my fellow gym goers, so much so that I changed my plans of being a radio DJ (whew that could’ve been bad), to focus on a degree in Exercise Science.

To me strength training and the gym is much more than a way to improve health and longevity, it is a metaphor for life.  Many of the important life lessons I’ve learned have come in the gym.  Here are a few of them.

patience

1) Patience- Nothing will test your patience like trying to add 30 lbs to your deadlift over the course of a year.  You see once you have been lifting beyond 3-5 years, the gains in strength come much slower.  This is the time where your patience will be tested, and nothing but pure grit and hard work will get you to that next milestone.  The same can be said for weight loss.  While you may have those that toil with 12 week quick fix programs, those who show patience, will in the end be rewarded with the goal they seek.

This is dead on with life, because those who are the most successful, are the ones who are patient and continually work towards the goals they set for themselves.

2) Consistency- Piggybacking on the idea that gaining strength takes time and patience, that only bears out if you consistently work towards your goal.  You might be patient, but patience paired with inconsistency will get you no where.  If you plan to set a new squat PR, or lose 50 pounds you can’t just expect to work at it 2 days a week, you have to nail your workouts 4-5 days a week, or execute your nutrition plan 85% of the time.

Same goes for life.  If you want to be the CEO of a fortune 500 company you don’t do that by calling in sick, or bailing early every Friday afternoon.  In order to get promoted you should be consistent and deliver when others will not.

3) Determination- Set your goal and don’t quit until you achieve it.  I’ve had the goal to squat 405 posted on the wall at work for a while now, and it’s going to take a while for me to get there, but I know I will in time.  I’m determined that no matter what, even if it takes me the next 10 years to get there I will.  Having this indeterminable will goes a long way.  You will be tested and want to quit during your journey, it is at those times that you must remind yourself why you’ve started your journey.

Those who are determined don’t take no for an answer.  When someone doubts you or says you can’t do that, use it to fuel the fire that already burns inside you.

These are just a few of the lessons I’ve learned along the way.  If you have any lessons that the iron has taught you leave them in the comments below.

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Exercises To Try Out: Wall Slides

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Yep, the name isn’t very sexy and you aren’t going to deadllift a Mack truck by doing these, but the wall slide is a great exercise and should be used in your program often.  Many of us sit in front of a computer all day hunched over like Quasimoto, and as a result have the upper back mobility of a 2×4.

This exercise however, can be a great way to combat some of that stiffness and help regain that lost mobility.  As we continually sit in that hunched posture at work or at home, over time the muscles of the chest get tight and pull our shoulders forward even more.  Conversely, the muscles of the upper back get weak and lengthened and we are unable to hold that good posture as a result.

This phenomenon is referred to as upper crossed syndrome and can eventually be the culprit of a lot of other problems that begin at the upper back and shoulders, and even feed down into the elbow and wrist.  When an injury presents itself in a joint, any clinician worth their salt will not look at just the affected joint/area, but will evaluate both up and down the kinetic chain, and a lot of times a few mobility exercises like this one programmed correctly can help to avoid injury via improved mobility.

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(Man, the still shot of that makes me look like I’m rocking it to the YMCA, eat your heart out Village People!)

While that may not always be the case, it’s probably more common than you believe.  This is an exercise that like I mentioned isn’t sexy, but does give you a lot of bang for your buck in that respect.  Now there is a couple way’s I typically program this into people’s workouts, and the first is as a warm-up exercise, and each time you start a workout without warming up, a cute cuddly bunny dies (seriously though… you should be warming up).  Either way, you can start with about 2 sets of 12 as a part of your warm up to loosen up your upper back, before you start lifting heavy things.

This will also promote blood flow to the upper back and prime those tissues for exercise.  I’ll also commonly program this as an assistance exercise and pair it with something like a push-up or bench press variation.  When I program this as an assistance exercise, I will usually do sets of 6-8 and match the number of working sets of the main exercise.  This movement helps offset the effects of heavy pressing by teaching you how to properly position your scapula on the rib cage, and can help you gain that upper back tightness that leads to a bigger bench press (and what bro doesn’t want that).

A couple of things to remember when performing this exercise is that you should not arch that low back, but exhale all the way so your ribs come down, and hold that position throughout the movement.  Then start again by taking a deep breath and exhaling until your ribs come down and repeat.  It’s important to not get into that arch backed position and keep a neutral spine alignment the entire time.

However it best fits into your workout give it a try and I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

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One Overlooked Aspect of Your Health

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While most of my writing centers around fitness, there are obviously other aspects of our health that we need to be aware of and I was all too quickly was reminded of that this week.  Over the last few months I’ve had to have a few funky looking moles removed, and in that time, one area in particular has been a focus.

I’ll spare you the gory details but it made me realize that number one…I’m an idiot for not having worn more sunscreen (especially when I lifeguarded as a teenager), and two… we really need to make sure that skin care is a part of our prevention.  The first line of defense is really making sure we wear sunscreen (SPF 30) when we plan to be out in the sun for more than 20-30 minutes, and then remember to reapply throughout the day.

I can’t help but think about that damn sunscreen song from the nineties (was that really 15 years ago?!), if only I’d taken his advice.

Now I know you may be saying “But I need the sun to get my vitamin D”, and that’s true but at the very least don’t let your skin burn when you’re out.  And us guys are apparently more susceptible to skin cancers, especially if you shave your face every day (I think the Duck Dynasty guys are in the clear here).  Each morning when you drag that razor across your face you are scraping away that top layer of skin only to expose that fresh new skin, then out the door and into the sun you go.

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Combine that with the fact that guys are terrible about putting on sunscreen and like many things over time that could be a nasty combination.  Trying to be mindful of the environmental toxins and not just wanting to smear any old sunscreen on, our family uses what’s called a physical sunscreen.  A physical sunscreen is one that sits on top of the skin and blocks the harmful rays (think zinc oxide), as opposed to the chemical kind. You can also avoid some of the harmful rays by being mindful of the time of day you’re outside, 10am-4pm is when the sun’s rays are most intense.  These days there is also a lot of clothing that has some sun protection built in, which for the ladies, may be just another reason to go shopping.

However, I’m certain the benefit gained from using sunscreen to prevent those bad burns is far more important than which kind you decide to use. If you want to check out how healthy your sunscreen is then check out this website – http://www.ewg.org/skindeep/ – type in the sunscreen that you use and it will tell you how harmful the ingredients are for your health. The database also has tons of sunscreens that are healthy for your skin.

Along with some of those obvious tips, one of the things that never really crossed my mind was going to see a dermatologist for an annual skin check.  It wasn’t until about a year or so ago that I started doing this and it’s been very helpful.  If you are someone like me who has more susceptible skin then your dermatologist can monitor and take pictures of areas that need to be watched each year.

Then every year you go back, your doc can re-evaluate those areas and look for any changes which could signify a precursor to cancer.  Like many diseases, skin cancers are largely preventable so adding just a few of these tips can have a large impact on your overall health.   Now put on that sunscreen and get outside!

 

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Get Your Learn On 5.2

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It’s going to be a short and sweet post today, as the sleep deprivation has kicked in a bit, and my ability to focus, let alone put together a coherent string of words is quickly going down the tubes.  I’ve got a couple of great articles to check out this week that will most definitely make you smarter.

Eating Half The Banana (How To Eat When Training For Fat-Loss Part 1)- Francis Nitsch

This was a great two part series on some different aspects of fat loss.  I can’t stress enough how important a healthy mindset is when trying to achieve success.  If you’re mind is cluttered and full of negativity you will have a hard time achieving and maintaining the goals that you want for yourself.

Eating Half The Banana (How To Eat When Training For Fat-Loss Part 2)- Francis Nitsch

And part two!

89 Simple Swaps That Could Change Your Life- Laura Schwecherl

These were great!  I’m a big fan of the greatist site as they always put out solid content.  These are some tips that you can swap out that can definitely make an impact on your health.

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Meat, Eggs, and Cheese Are Not The Enemy

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(Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor, and these are simply my opinions, and are not a substitute for medical advice)

Just last week I went to my primary care doc for my annual physical.  It’s been a few years since I had any labs drawn and I was quite curious to find out what the results would show.

I wasn’t really concerned about anything in particular, because I live a relatively healthy lifestyle.  Sure I have the occasional ice cream binge, and every once in a while I will crush a Chipotle burrito, but for the most part I eat an array of good food.

However, this post isn’t about “duh” foods like fruits and veggies, because it’s a non starter that anyone looking to improve their health should consume lots of them.  This post is about meat, eggs, and cheese, or at least the component parts of them, fat and cholesterol.

Fat and cholesterol are two of the most demonized nutrients around, and have been for going on 3 decades now.  The low fat craze and the subsequent demonization of cholesterol really go hand in hand.  Anybody that has ever made any sort of health improvements has at one time come across the idea that abnormally high blood cholesterol carries with it an increased risk of heart disease.

Much of the literature surrounding the lipid hypothesis may in fact point to an association of cholesterol and heart disease, but I’m not here to talk about research studies.  I’d like to highlight that associations do not mean there is a cause and effect relationship and that is an important distinction to make.  When two things are associated it simply means that where one thing is found (high cholesterol) there just so happens to be another thing found with it regularly (heart disease).  Understanding why that is important is at the heart of how the lipid hypothesis unravels.  There are also other concerns with respect to how nutrition research is performed that leave much to be desired as well.

These two factors and how they apply to the lipid hypothesis is what we’ll explore today.  The first is that the lipid hypothesis is accepted as fact, when in reality it is not.  If something is to be accepted as fact then it must hold true all the time no matter what, and the lipid hypothesis does not.

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The basis of the lipid hypothesis is, eating animal fat increases cholesterol, this cholesterol then clogs your arteries, and therefore puts you at increased risk of heart disease.  If this was an indisputable fact then anyone who eats a lot of foods high in cholesterol like animal fat etc should have elevated blood cholesterol and basically be at deaths door.  Sadly this is not often the case.  To use myself as an example I’ve eaten roughly 500 lbs of red meat, an equal amount of cheese, and somewhere in the neighborhood of 8,000 eggs(cooked in butter no less) over the past decade.

My total cholesterol from my recent doctors visit was a whopping 152, LDL of 53, HDL of 91, and triglycerides of 39 (pretty stellar results thank you very much:).  Something doesn’t add up?  That means from the eggs alone I’ve consumed 1.5 million milligrams of cholesterol in the past 10 years.  I contend that if the cholesterol we consume were to truly have an effect on our blood cholesterol numbers don’t you think mine, after 1.5 million milligrams, would show just the slightest bit of elevation?  Yet it doesn’t.

Now some may say “well you’ve got great genetics”, but honestly genetics probably have less to do with our health than we might give them credit.  I’m not saying there aren’t certain genetic factors that effect of our health, but I do believe it’s overstated.  Sadly I think when you get the “it’s your genetics card” from your doctor it’s a nicer way of him/her saying I have no fucking idea what else I can do.  Now I know my n=1 example cannot refute an entire body of evidence and is far from scientifically valid, but the fact that one example stands in opposition to the lipid hypothesis means it cannot be a fact.

Aside from my own example, if you ask many of the other fitness professionals in the industry I’d bet you would find they too consume far more cholesterol than is recommended, with little to no effect on their blood cholesterol and health.  If an example from a lifelong health nut like myself doesn’t convince you then let me introduce to you John Smith (John Smith isn’t an actual person but a fictitious conglomeration of the thousands of people I’ve worked with).

You see John Smith is a 48 year old male, who was diagnosed with high cholesterol in his late 30’s and has been on a statin ever since.  He’s completely cut out his red meat, egg, and other high fat food consumption since then and even exercises regularly.  Now if the cholesterol we consume from the foods we eat is the culprit, it would logically make sense that when said foods are removed John’s cholesterol would go down.  This again is not often the case.  John’s cholesterol over the years remains the basically the same, he continues to take the statin, exercise, and be miserable because the poor guy can’t eat a steak occasionally and still his cholesterol won’t go down.

drugs

So if you eat all the wrong foods (me) with no effect or you avoid all the wrong foods (John), and neither can conclusively be shown to have the expected result, I’m not real sure why the lipid hypothesis is still spewed out like gospel?  The answer is that if you tell a lie often enough people will begin to believe you, and that is how the lipid hypothesis became “fact”.

The second part of the problem is that much of the research in nutrition is done via dietary recall.  This means the test subjects get a form and the authors of the study say write down what you ate over the last month.  While I’m sure it’s a bit more in depth that’s what it boils down to.  Now I’m not sure about you but I can hardly remember what I 2 days ago, let alone one month ago, and the kicker is humans are notoriously awful at dietary recall.

So to say the information gathered for many of the studies is less than perfect is in my eyes an understatement.  Even with the existing association of heart disease and cholesterol it is really nothing more than that, an association because there is no way to control for the number of other factors that explain why a person gets heart disease.  There simply are too many variables present and it is short sighted to say that one factor, cholesterol, is the cause of heart disease when there are so many other factors that are overlooked.

At the end of the day I’m no doctor and I’m in no way saying that the book on cholesterol is closed and that people can eat whatever they want willy nilly.  I am saying that there is more to the story than just the idea that eating fatty foods will increase your cholesterol then your heart explodes.  Likewise I’m not attempting to call out doctors or any of that, I’m simply saying when our so called truths don’t hold up that we be humble enough to accept that we don’t know everything and continue to look for new answers and broaden our knowledge.

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Get Your Learn On 4.25

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Happy Friday! Hopefully you’ve got some most excellent plans for the weekend.

It’s funny how just the fact that the weekend is within grasp can drastically change your mood.

I’ve got a pretty solid list of excellent reads today. Some fitness based and some not. While the focus of my writing centers around fitness and health I’ll commonly read articles on politics, religion (I know two of the most contentious topics around) and many others.

I’ll share some of the ones that I find most interesting and thought provoking even if they don’t directly have to do with fitness.  Hence my first article on anxiety:)

How I Cured My Anxiety- Charlie Hoehn

While this may not be a “cure” for anxiety I’m certain it can help.  Not all methods work for all people, I’m not a fan of large broad sweeping statements like this one, as it is just link bait.  However, I do thing there are some nuggets in here that can help people better deal with anxiety.

I’ve had my own personal battle with anxiety, and have found that simply being a bit more self aware has helped me immensely.  Either way if anxiety is something that affects you this is at least worth a read.

Why You Should Not Be Running- Mark Rippetoe

There has been a lot of sentiment in the fitness community hating on running, and that is not why I’ve posted this.  As I’ve mentioned before I really try to be a champion of all types of physical activity.  If someone likes to run go for it, if cylcling is your thing have at it, hell if prancercizing is your thing by all means(ok maybe not that’s just weird).

However, running is not the health panacea that it has been made out to be.  In fact, in my opinion, there are superior modes of exercise(strenth training) to help you achieve your health and fitness goals.  This article helps to outline that.

Building Muscle Slowly- Brad Pilon

This piece I can’t suggest enough in that building muscle and great fitness is a slow process.  While you may engage in a 12 week contest or something that kickstarts success, a long term focus on building great fitness and health is the only true way to reaching your goals.

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Exercises To Try Out: Goblet Squats

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This is an exercise made popular by renowned strength coach Dan John. Some trainers will suggest that you should only back squat or you shouldn’t squat at all.

Well that’s just a load of crap! Squatting is a fundamental human movement that we sometimes just need to learn how to do better.

One of the ways to improve your squatting proficiency is to practice without a heavily loaded barbell on your back. That’s why the goblet squat is a great variation to implement.

This variation is great because by holding the kettlebell or dumbbell in the goblet position you turn on the anterior core. This is a big plus for those of us who tend to slip into anterior pelvic tilt.

Not only does it help with anterior core activation, it also helps us groove a good squat pattern by forcing us to sit back into the squat a bit more. You can’t really pitch forward too much while holding a weight in front of you.

Now this isn’t an exercise you’ll load way up, so I usually like to go high rep with it so 2 sets of 15 or so. I’ll usually add these to the middle or end of a leg workout, or start with these when I’m on a lower volume day.

Happy squatting!

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