Saturday, March 12, 2016

My Tale of Shame Continued: Two Year Check in

A really great perspective to have in life is that one should be enjoying the journey and not looking forward to the destination. Often times the destination is made to be a bigger deal than what it is, and all that one could take in on a journey is missed in favor of anticipating the end.

I started with that because even though it's a cliche' meme, it is in fact true. For a little over two months my activity levels have been dropping and hit pretty much rock bottom almost a month ago. I had gotten to a point where there was only a thought of workout going. Truth is there is no reason or valid excuse. Simply put, I just wasn't feeling it and that is often times what I believe is the downfall of almost everyone. There is little one can do to motivate someone to do something their heart is not into. Sure the weather here in the northeast has been less than stellar, and I do believe I have been affected by S.A.D (Seasonal Affective Disorder) a bit but only mildly. By the way, if you believe you have suffered from, or may suffer from S.A.D it might be worth seeking help in some cases, I was just aware it wasn't very serious in my case. It's at your own discretion, but probably not a bad recommendation to do so. For me though, it seems more likely the gloomy days just led to me being deficient in vitamin D which can manifest in many ways, but low energy and focus is a common one.

Now, to be honest I also don't believe it was enough to keep me down. It really boils down to I did not want to train as much as I wanted to relax. This for me is an important distinction, I don't want to make excuses for anyone, but primarily myself. Being honest with yourself is crucial at all times but never more than when faced with making choices. To many, the choice to not exercise doesn't seem like a huge one, but when you see the consequences of making that choice in your friends, family, and even worse yourself one could understand why my attitude about it is so serious. I've documented my weight loss and fitness obsession on this blog, the podcast, and my instagram. I have accomplished some, but not quite exactly what had intended. While some of that is justified by legit setbacks like my shoulder injury, it is falling in to slumps and even worse my lack of effort to get out of them that really does the damage. Before falling into this I had been working on putting on more muscle, which worked to a degree, but the overall decline in activity also lead to a little fat gain as well. Nothing for me to be devastated about, but not to be proud of either. I am walking around at about 210 lbs now, which is where I would have liked to have been by the summer but with a much leaner composition. 

So with that said, it's obvious I faltered a bit and my goals will not be achieved in the timeline I envisioned. However, I want to point out some good reasons to allow slumps to happen here and there. The first which I don't feel was my case, but could be for others is over training. It wasn't till my good friend suggested it that I considered I may have been over training, or under recovering and that lead to my hiatus. This could be a good son to take some time off, I have been foolish enough to push through fatigue  or injury before to a negative result. Knowing when you're body needs a break is just as important as having the discipline to work when you don't want to, it s a distinction that can be hard to make but overtime becomes clearer. Also, if you're not focusing during workouts, especially one where your hoisting large iron objects or flinging them around the result can be disastrous. Though again, in my case  I believe it was about 80% laziness, my Achilles heel. I've also talked about how ways to keep things interesting in your fitness regimen on this post: and this one:

However, I have to take responsibility here. This wasn't a case of being bored, or injured, or not having time. It was me making poor choices and not acknowledging it. Something I have since done, today will be the second time this week I workout, not my best but an improvement from not doing a single workout in three to four weeks. But a good patter is starting to reshape, and I am fully diving back in. 

There was one small victory in all this. During my lazy period, I also slipped up on my diet plenty. But I did manage to get some research in about different diets and all that. I likely will not be getting into anything specific like Paleo or whatever but I did decide I wanted to get into macros tracking. To aid in that I purchased this food scale from amazon. I did try it once, it was pretty easy to use and allows you to deduct the weight of the container your food item sits in, but you can just weight the food directly on the scale, you'll just have to continuously clean it. I may do a review on it soon as well. 

Before I close out, I want to go back to my opening statement about enjoying the journey. I recognize how some can be come discouraged if they don't see the results they thought they would, perhaps some could learn to manage expectations better. Also, it can be hard for some to slide backwards and feel like there's no point to get back to it. But honestly, I missed it and I'm happy to be getting back in the swing of things. Sure being jacked would be awesome, but A) it doesn't happen without the journey (work) and B) It's only sustainable by continuing on the journey. It's my failures that have given me the wisdom and fortitude to pick back up and move on. NOT the 50lb weight loss. It's the knowing how it feels to fail and working to not fail again. 

I said at the start of all this two years ago that I wanted to do this and inspire others who struggle with it. So I hope that by writing this entry, it may trigger at least one person to begin down their own path. And I'll leave it with one more cliche' meme that is absolutely true:


Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Move of The Week: Front Lever

If you've ever spent any time on Youtube at all looking at fitness videos, you've probably come across the channel Strength Camp run by Elliot Hulse and/or the channel for The Barstarzz. Today while searching for videos to inspire me out of few week slump I decided to look up a video that would give me pointers on a move I had been working on when I hurt my shoulder little over a year ago. The front lever, a very advanced move you can find a ton of videos on, and one that gymnast and bar athletes love. It requires great core and back strength and control.

Mountaineer John Gill Practicing a front lever.
While it is a move that seems new to many, it actually has been around for plenty of time. And like most old school moves it reaps major benefits to master. For one, it requires multiple muscles to work together to control the body and hold the position. The type of strength it requires can translate well into other areas as well. For example, below is a picture of a famous mountaineer named John Gill, whom is considered by many to be the father of modern bouldering.

Now why did I choose to master this move? Well simply put it is because of it's degree of difficulty. It's just a high bar I set for myself for the challenge. I've talked to a lot of folks who can perform this move, and all advised the same. It's all in the core and lower back. Sure your shoulders and lats play a big role as well. But in talking to all these folks I've also received pointers on exercises I can do to  build my way up to this difficult move. All seemed like great suggestions, and much to my surprise all where featured in the video I mentioned earlier. Also, if you see the suggested exercises in this video, each one can be a move of the week in and of itself depending on your fitness level.

Before I leave you with the video for reference I'd like to say three very important things:

  1. This is not a move for beginners, please don't try this unless you are ready for it. Also try to have partner for help.
  2. Note the moves are sort of mentioned and shown in this video, there is no real prescription, but a suggestion to how one can incorporate them.
  3. Don't be surprised if it takes some time to get this down, unless you're already in great shape, this move WILL not come easy.
That's it, that's the move of the week. See the Video (Courtesy of  Strength Camp) Below.


Thursday, January 21, 2016

Supplements: Are They Vital For Life or Is It Just Snake Oils

There's been a ton of debate on whether or not supplements are beneficial. Studies on both sides show evidence to suggest so. And opinions from both the scientific and consumer community vary wildly.

This will be my attempt at giving my unbiased, and somewhat informed opinion on the matter. What compelled me to write this entry is a video snippet I saw of a recent Frontline report on the effectiveness (or lack of evidence to support it's effectiveness) of fish oil supplements. Let me put this disclaimer out there, while I am in favor of supplementation not just with fish oil but also other nutrients, I am also a big skeptic. My preference is to look into things before jumping to conclusions though, and sometimes my skepticism is justified. Other times I am pleasantly surprised, but either way my awareness is expanded and I invite others to this approach.

Back to the Frontline piece, while I have to admit that I have not watched the full series on supplements just yet, It seems to me that of what is being reported is that there is a lack of evidence to support supplementation is worth it. Again, there may be more to it but I want to discuss some of the merits and faults of what I heard so far. For starters, I agree with one thing, the supplement industry is pretty much the wild west. With minimal regulations, just about anyone cans start a company and mix some powders together, jar it, slap a label on, and put a product on the market. I worked at a supplement shop for some time, and I came across a plethora of different products which I would of course try. I have to admit a great number of them did absolutely nothing. But then many did. I can't quantify it but can say with certainty the ones that did work, had demonstrable effect. There is of course some that I would maybe were just a placebo effect going on as well. Another alarming fact was how often I saw products being pulled from the shelf for having banned compounds in them, or for making people sick, or most commonly because the company would go out of business since their product was crap.

Another thing I'd like to highlight is that I would sometimes see a supplement being sold by various manufacturers, and some worked, some didn't. Let's look at the example of fish oil. I will not mention any manufacturers directly since I don't want to bash anyone, and I'm certainly not endorsed by any either. I recall for example, the store brand of fish oil would sell pretty well,  but also had a high rate of return. Customers constantly complained of burping up that nasty fish smell, or that after taking it for a few weeks they felt no difference. Yet another brand, that is well established would sell just as well if not better, but almost never got returned. It's consumers often said there absolutely some positive effects, and just felt that the quality of the product was higher than others they had tried. Also far less people complained of burping up sardine breath.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Move of The Week: Turkish Get Up

Last week I didn't post a move of the week due to a simple oversight. However I am back with a great move this week, and a few more in the pocket of the weeks to come. In this week's move of the week I wanted to talk about a move that isn't exactly basic but once you have it down it can be a workout all by itself. The movie of course is the Turkish Get Up, and as the name implies the basic idea is to get up off the floor while holding a weight over your head. This move can be performed with a dumbbell or a kettlebell, though I of course use my kettlebells for it.

The reason I want to highlight this move is because I have done an entire workout with only this one move. It works just about your entire body, will build good muscle, strength, and stability. The thing about it is it will require for the core to be constantly engaged, for your shoulder to keep the weights steady above your head, and confidence in oneself that you will not drop that weight on your your head. But if you're brave enough to try it you will reap great benefits from this one simple move. Check out the video below for a good example of how to perform a Turkish Get Up with great form.

This video by Pursuit Fitness & Performance shows how to practice this move if you've never tried it in a way that will avoid one being injured. Trying this move with weight right off the back is not something I recommend. So I like the idea of trying it with something light that you simply try to balance on your hand, a sandal or flip flop as stated in the video would be ideal. Let me also share what I feel are the 2 big keys for mastering the move and getting the form right, or at least what were the keys for me.  Those are:

  • You must absolutely keep your core engaged. I noticed any deviation in posture made the stabilization of the raised hand a little more difficult, a problem you really want to avoid when performing this move with weight.
  • And the next key is, absolutely keep your eye on the raised hand/weight. This will allow for focusing on keeping proper alignment as well as aid your posture. 
Anytime I am performing this move and do not focus on these two keys, I can tell my form is suffering greatly. And since longevity is key, you want to avoid doing any exercise with poor form or posture. The immediate and cumulative effects of that are injury.

Now what I'd like to do is to give an example of how an entire workout can be accomplished with this one. It will require a few weights so if you don't have enough of them at home doing this at a gym would be fine. I've listed it out with the weights that I have but this can be adjusted based on your strength level or what is available to you. Please note that I can perform this pyramid style workout for at least 2 rounds before my phone starts to suffer so bear in mind what your fitness level is and I highly recommend that that you perfect this move preferably under the supervision of a trainer before you try it before you attempt this. The workout is as follows:

  • 1 Turkish getup with a 25 pound kettlebell
  • 1 Turkish getup with a 30 pound kettlebell
  • 1 Turkish getup with a 36 pound kettlebell
  • 1 Turkish getup with a 45 pound kettlebell
  • 1 Turkish getup with a 36 pound kettlebell
  • 1 Turkish getup with a 30 pound kettlebell
  • 1 Turkish getup with a 25 pound kettlebell

You perform one get up per side per weight continuously. At that point to rest for 2 minutes and go for it again. Perform as many rounds of this as you can. As with most kettlebell exercises this one is one of my favorites because it does not require a lot of space and you can really bang out a pretty rigorous workout fairly quickly.

I'd like to add that while I have been able to do a Turkish Get Up with my 72 pound kettlebell, I wouldn't feel comfortable enough to throw in the mix with this type of circuit. The reason I'm pointing this out is again, safety first folks. Even if you feel you get this move down quickly, please focus on quality, not quantity.I practice what I preach, and encourage others to practice good judgement. So give this a try folks, if you're ready for a new challenge this move here will surely give you that.


Monday, January 4, 2016

Move of The Week: Dumbbell Bench Press

Sometimes a return to basics is exactly what you need. In the past few months I've been doing mainly push ups to build up my chest. Sure the variations of push ups and a weighted vest have helped build muscle. But there's only so much I could do with just push ups, so a few days ago I got a chance to do some classic lifting, and it was quite refreshing.

PowerBlocks sold at
What I did was dumbbell chest presses, or bench press if you will. This is the most fundamental move for building your chest when you start a weight training program. Now you may be wondering why I chose to go with dumbbells and not a barbell, and it was more than the fact that it was my only choice since I was not at a gym. I worked out at a friend's house who has an adjustable bench and some PowerBlocks. These are essentially a pair of dumbbells you can adjust the weight one fairly quickly and I highly recommend them for anyone trying to build a home gym with limited space. The pair we were working with can go from 15 to 90 lbs and take up minimal space. But it wasn't the lack of a barbell that drove me to that choice, It's the fact that dumbbell chest press offers not only the ability to isolate each pectoral muscle thus avoiding any compensation from your dominant side, but you'll also get to work the muscles in that help you with stability during a press. It has also been said that it is safer on your joints than barbell presses, though I've yet to substantiate that claim through any literature. I will say from an anecdotal point of view, barbell bench press always felt a little odd and unsafe for me.

Check out this video by Jay Cutler on Muscle & Strength's YouTube page:

What I really like about this video is the focus on contraction, and good form. A lot of folks I see in gyms are still going for a really big range of motion which is not only not necessary, it can be dangerous for your joints.

Now, this move is very basic but that is specifically why I chose it as my move of the week. I am constantly looking for new movements and training methods but as I said before a return to basics is often just the thing you need. I haven't felt a chest pump quite like the one I felt this exercise in quite a while and that being said it's understandable it's the preferred exercise over a barbell press.

Just to wrap up please note I am not trying to convince anyone to abandon barbell work whatsoever, but I am encouraging those who don't give this a try or those who never have to give it a chance. Specifically though, I encourage the proper range of motion and focus on contraction as emphasized in this video. It truly is a the best move in my opinion. Leave your comments and thoughts below, and since I haven't mentioned it, Happy New Year!