Working with nature for health and fitness results

Following a main road is easy,
Yet people delight in difficult paths.
– Lau Tzu

There’s a something of paradox that exists concerning the quest for good results in the areas of weight loss, health and fitness. A lot of the time, we seem to be looking for that quick easy fix that promises great results through some revolutionary plan of action. Whether it’s the latest fad or celebrity diet, newest piece of home exercise equipment advertised in an infomercial on television, or whatever else it might be, a lot of the time we seem only to really get excited about something if it is some sort of revolutionary idea, and we feel like we’ve stumbled onto a secret.

The paradox I refer to is that while looking for that quick, easy fix, what we end up with is something too difficult to stick to for long, which fixes nothing!

Usually these things come to my attention while surfing for health and fitness articles online, or via a well intentioned friend telling about something they’ve stumbled on to that’s finally going to get them the results they’ve wanted. You read an article or listen to a presentation, and then there’s glowing testimonials about how well it all works, and you think “wow! This is revolutionary, I’ve got to try this!” It’s exciting!

Except, it’s usually not very exciting for me, because most often what I am reading & hearing about goes against what I’ve learned in the process of earning my qualifications in nutrition and exercise prescription. At the same time, I don’t like to be a closed minded guy with that “if I don’t know about it already, it must be wrong” attitude, so it’s important to consider any new ideas objectively before adopting or dismissing them.

The most logical way to do this in my opinion is to ask the question, “does this seem natural?”

Being unfit and overweight or obese is not a naturally occurring state for a human being, it is the result of an unnatural modern lifestyle. In my opinion this also accounts for many cases of depression and mental illness as well. Whether you believe mankind evolved from the apes, was created by god or put here by the spaceships, we can all agree that we have been here for a long time and until relatively recently, our ancestors all lived in rather a similar way without the high instances of lifestyle related disease that is such an issue in modern society.

Our ancestors were more physically active, ate more grains, fruits and vegetables, fish if they could catch it, and meat if they could hunt it. They did not consume high levels of processed sugar or saturated fats as we do now, or use cigarettes or drugs.

So, in countering a condition or group of conditions brought on by an unnatural lifestyle, does it really make any sense to adopt a different form of unnatural lifestyle and expect a positive result? Many of the new and revolutionary approaches (such as separating protein and carbs, avoiding carbs altogether, various polyphasic sleep schedules to name just a few) run completely opposite to the way humans have lived since prehistoric times.

As boring as it may seem, good health doesn’t require anything revolutionary or any special insight. Rather than looking to some new and revolutionary solution, we can look to the past and remove the cause of the problem through a more holistic approach to health and fitness. Just get a good night’s sleep, eat small healthy meals every few hours, stay away from high fat & high sugar junk foods, quit smoking and get active! Your body is built to run best under these conditions, so it is actually EASIER than adopting many of these revolutionary new approaches that keep coming out.

But rather than being bored by this old fashioned idea, get excited about it, because unlike any of these fad diets or other miracle cures, this approach is certain to get long term results.

Combining cardiovascular and weight training exercise

Here’s a topic suggested on my “Ask Dave” page.

Dave,

Can I combine my cardio and weight baring exercises?

My current personal trainer has me doing planks, lunges, squats, pushups and crunches.
I usually run to the park and do them there and run back but he has advised me this is not good… can you tell me otherwise?

Yes and no! In my opinion any combination of exercise is good, but there is good exercise and then better exercise. Different exercises and combinations of exercises can produce different results, and the results can vary from one individual to another.

Your trainer probably has good reasons in mind for recommending separating your cardiovascular and resistance training workouts, both in regard to general exercise strategy as well as what is best suited to you as an individual.

Generally speaking, the point of resistance training is to exhaust the targeted muscle groups, leading to increased muscle mass. There are varying benefits as a result of this increased muscle mass, such as increased strength, increased metabolic rate and so forth. Depending on the distance to the training location, a jog or run could be considered a suitable warm up, increasing heart rate and blood flow to working muscles. The issue I see here is that running at an intensity or duration in excess of what is required as a warm up will be burning up glycogen stores within the muscles, which we would be counting on as a fuel source to perform our resistance exercises to our best potential and thus achieve the greatest possible results.

The situation is similar upon completion of the resistance training, when a short jog home might be considered a good “cool down” period. Opinions vary on training cardio immediately after resistance training, but I am of the belief that it is important to replace glycogen stores and also consume protein as soon as is reasonably possible after completion of training. Once these glycogen stores are depleted, the body can enter a catabolic state, breaking down muscle tissue and converting it to glycogen. In other words, by training cardio after resistance training we may be squandering the results and reducing the amount of muscle growth.

There is another school of thought that since we have used up our energy stores on resistance training, by going straight into cardiovascular we may force the body to burn fat stores as a fuel source. For this reason a trainer may often program sessions in the format of a warm up, then resistance training, and then some form of cardio training.

Unfortunately bodybuilding is still not an exact science with hard & fast rules, so the answer is to choose the approach that seems to make the most sense, objectively assess your results, and then consider if a different approach may be more suitable for you. Again, every person responds differently and this is an ongoing process.

training your ego vs training your muscles

This is a blog topic i’ve had in mind for a while and today seems like as good a day as any to post it.

I just wrote up my new program (yesterday and today) and after doing a lot of strength and neural adaption work on the previous program I was really tempted to just go in and start with a heap of heavy bench press to see how much weight I can throw around.

This is pretty much how i always used to train, because i thought “you want to do your heavy lifting while the muscles are still fairly fresh”. This is good fun because you get to load up the bar with a heap of plates like a macho man, but I’ve realised that this approach is probably better for building your ego than for building your muscles.

To ellaborate and still using chest day as an example; while performing bench press the tricep muscles will most likely fatigue / fail before the pectorals do. So even though our aim is to push the pectoral muscles hard, usually they do not get pushed to that point of failure due to the triceps failing first.

So the answer is to pre-fatigue the pectorals with an isolation exercise prior to the bench press. For this, I’ve been doing (and will continue) a superset of dumbell flyes + dumbell bench press. This is terrible for the ego, as I can probably press less than half of what I could do without the pre-fatigue exercise – but DAMN it hits those chest muscles hard.

That’s actually about 1/2 way through the workout, though. I will be starting with 3 sets of 8 – 12, plus 1 pump set of 25 cable cross overs, and then the same sets & rep range of incline bench press. Most probably I will use the Smith Machine for this, so i can push my luck a little bit without needing a spotter. Again, if I was to start with the bench press I could probably go a lot heavier and maybe look a bit stronger in front of who-ever else is in the gym, but my goal is to build my pecs, not my ego!

My ego is already plenty big enough as it is.

That’s my approach for the time being anyway, which may change in the future if i read / learn something new that makes me reconsider. Right now though I am pretty confident that this is the most scientific approach to training chest.

The other exercise that comes to mind for this ego growth vs muscle growth topic is bicep curls. Any type of bicep curl is a prime example of an exercise where you will see guys (and I used to be one of them) trying to curl a huge amount of weight, swinging from the back, the hips, whatever other body parts they can use to get some momentum – anything other than actually isolating the biceps! Recently (due to my studies) I realised that I needed to sacrifice my ego and go a little bit lighter on the weights, curl up slowly, squeeze hard at the top of the movement and then gradually release the contration to lower the weight even more slowly than in the upward movement. People might be suprised how little weight I am now using for my dumbbell curls, for example, but the difference I’m seeing in pump and hypertrophy due to using correct exercise technique is mindblowing.

That’s plenty for today. Tomorrow night I start with chest day on the new program. I’ll let you know how that goes!