Tag Archives: personal health

Preliminary strength for key bodyweight exercises

Photo by Karl Solano on Pexels.com

I imagine that the Coronavirus lockdowns closing gyms has something to do with this, but there’s a growing movement towards bodyweight strength training (also known traditionally as calisthenics).

I ran into this recent Medium Elemental piece, which as recent others have done says that you don’t need weights to get in shape. It basically recommends you stick to basic exercises like push ups and pull ups.

And yes, in principle, you can get swole on as little as the Fundamental Few: Push ups, pull ups, squats, lunges, core exercises e.g. planks, sit ups, crunches, Russian twists, etc.

All of these exercises are safe, healthy and useful for most to do, except for push ups and pull ups. Most people do not have the needed muscular strength to minimally complete push ups or pull ups.

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How much ab work do you need?

Photo by Ivan Samkov on Pexels.com

I’ve said this before, and since we’re here I’ll say it again: 80% of your body composition is determined by your diet. And I don’t care if you want to argue that’s wrong. See the forest for the trees: If you want your abs to show up, your diet needs to change so that you burn off most of your current body fat while maintaining your existing muscle and biologically healthy function.

And a good portion of that theoretical remaining 20% is going to come from improving your posture. Improving your posture increases the “display” of your abdomen, which maximises any ab visibility. Often, abs don’t show up because a rounded back causes fat/flesh/fascia to bunch up around your abdominal area, further obscuring your abs even if you’ve burned the fat necessary for those abs to show up.

A well rounded fitness routine combined with addressing your postural imbalances will go a long way to making the necessary posture improvements. That I can and will address another time.

Meanwhile, will doing ab or core exercises help your abs show?

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Should you cancel your gym membership?

Times are tough. You may not have a job, may be broke or struggling. You’re considering cancelling your gym membership to save money. Is it worth the cost savings?

First of all, it depends on how much you typically go to the gym, and how much your gym membership costs.

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A few random words about ramping my current volume

Today marked the first time I’ve run four straight days since March, and the first time I’ve run four straight day all outside since December. After months of 2.0-2.75 mile runs, three of the four runs have been 3 miles or more.

Incidentally, each of the last couple days, I didn’t feel good about a morning run. But in each case I just started at as comfortably slow a trot as I could, and within 10 minutes I was running at closer to a normal easy cadence. If you had asked me at the start of each run I’d have said 3 miles would be tough to do, and by the end of each 3+ miles wasn’t a problem.

None of this is to preach or to reinvent the wheel. There’s a legion of anecdotal advice about how 90% of a workout is just getting it started and how making yourself doing the work is worth the reward of having done, and so on. I get tired of that preaching as well.

And who knows… maybe I wake up tomorrow and successfully talk myself out of running. However, probably not, because I recognize how easy it should have been to talk me out of the last three runs.

It’s very hot. I’m feeling weary. Given how little I’ve run, you could justify taking a rest day. I’m already strength training later in the day on top of this. If I need 10,000 steps I can go on a long walk later or a long walk that morning instead, which is way easier.

But along with my pursuit of 40 miles in a fortnight thanks to all ill advised Garmin challenge badge, and knowing I probably need to run 2-3 miles everyday for it to be in reach… I also realize that the easiest way to hit a step goal like 10,000 is to go on a 30-45 minute run.

By the time I finish each run I have 7000-9000 steps already, and it’s typically not even 8am. That makes getting the last 1000-3000 fairly easy, having the whole entire day to do it. Often I’ve hit the goal in midday or early evening with little to no additional effort.

I could if needed take a couple days off during this challenge fortnight, as long as all my other runs are this same 3.3-3.7 mile distance I’ve somehow been able to comfortably hit. So it’s nice to have that buffer.

At the same time, I also want to see how much running volume I can handle with everyday 3 mile runs. I hadn’t run more than 10 miles in virtually any week since the lockdown, and now I’ve already got 12. For reasons I’ll discuss in a bit, I have the luxury of being able to rest most of the day. So while others may get injured ramping up their volume like that (plus, again, I’m also strength training with mostly upper body exercises between all this), I may be able to successfully handle the intense ramp. I want to see how far I can take it. After all, like I said, I can afford to take a day or two off during the next week if I need it.

Not a lot to report here other than me trying to run everyday right now despite 115°F midday heat, just to see what I can do in a time and place where there’s currently not a lot to do.

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It’s Not a Burden: The Benefits of Wearing A Mask During Gym Training

The author in his mask at the gym

Okay, so most of us live somewhere where a mask is required in any indoor public place. Assuming your state hasn’t closed all gyms (hello, California!), many see this as a huge bummer while working out at the gym.

In fact, gyms have been the most difficult offenders regarding enforcement of indoor mask policies. People just don’t want to wear them while doing intense exercise (though many local governments have permitted mask removal when performing cardio exercise on a machine).

Instead of seeing the required use of a mask as a burden or shackles holding you prisoner to The Man… recognize the two key training benefits wearing a mask is providing you.

  1. Constricted breathing trains your breathing

The biggest complaint about masks in gyms is that you need to breathe harder to exercise, and the mask interferes with breathing. I’m not going to pull punches: Yes, masks by design constrict your breathing. The intent is to keep any germs you have out of the public airspace, but the flip side is that it makes taking air in more difficult. Your lungs themselves don’t have muscles, so the associated core muscles that keep them going have to do more work.

However, because your associated lung muscles are working harder per breath, this is actually a workout for those muscles. You are effectively making your breathing stronger, and once you can train and compete without a mask you will improve your overall oxygen intake.

Many people don’t breathe, take in oxygen during exercise, as effectively as they could. Wearing a mask will force your body to adapt your breathing patterns and muscle usage to maximize oxygen intake.

Even though it wasn’t the intent of the law, this policy is actually helping you get stronger and better.

  1. The mask is to some degree an air filter

So while the mask obviously won’t stop most viruses from getting into your windpipe, they do however filter out dust, allergen and dirt particles you otherwise would have breathed in.

Recall that people in heavily polluted Chinese and Indonesian cities walk around in public wearing these masks. The masks do filter out most if not all of the pollutants in your immediate airspace.

Most don’t realize that indoor air is generally far more polluted and dirty than outdoor air. The air is enclosed and very few people and businesses employ ground-level air filtration systems. Most don’t clean or replace their HVAC air filters more than once every few years, if ever. The air you breathe indoors is often rather unhealthy.

In fact, if you don’t own one already, I recommend you buy a cheap electric air filter for your home, at least for your bedroom if not other rooms you frequently use. Also, if you can keep them alive, get some house plants: They also help a bit with air quality. But I digress….

Your mask is actually cleaning the gym air you’re breathing in. By being forced to wear one, you have improved the quality of the air you breathe during gym workouts (and of course you breathe more heavily during these workouts, needing more oxygen) by a lot. Again, this was not an intent of the mask policy, but it is a useful and healthy side effect.


So instead of getting mad about having to wear a mask, recognize the unintended ways that it’s actually helping you train healthier and get better.

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A Truth About Coaching and Personal Training

Where most people really need to work on themselves is in:

  • The Kitchen. The oft cited, never sourced adage is that 80% of your body comp depends on your diet, and abs are made in the kitchen. Debate the stats all you want but this is the truth. You can’t outwork a sub-optimal diet.
  • The Bedroom. (I don’t mean hanky panky either.) People need to get better sleep. Even well-trained athletes struggle to get consistent, high quality sleep. A lack of high quality sleep produces a snowball effect of stress, hormonal deprivation, and general fatigue that follows you wherever you go.
  • Their own minds. We all have our motivations, insecurities, anxieties, that drive us or hold us back. For many people, whatever they think they’re going to find in the gym or in therapy/medication is something they need to reconcile within themselves. It can be a general insecurity, something bad from the past, etc.

This is a fundamental issue I discovered with the use of personal training, even as I was studying to become a CPT. For the vast majority of people I could end up working with, I could only address the at-best ancillary concern of developing a workout program. I could not address let alone solve the underlying problems behind why they felt they needed it. And I cannot reconcile the salesman’s mindset to take their money because those underlying problems ultimately don’t matter as much as the need to train.

This is not totally the industry’s fault by any means. Trainers are just trying to earn a living. You paying for personal training pays their bills. Don’t take this as a fundamental indictment of personal trainers. Hell, all trainers are battling the exact same challenges I just listed. These needs and challenges are just as true for CPTs.

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Thinking about the Wim Hof Method of breathing

https://www.ratemds.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/Feature-Foto-Blog-Wim-Hof.jpeg
Wim Hof relaxes in some ice cold weather while wearing almost nothing, thanks to the positive warming effects of his signature breathing technique

A Dutchman named Wim Hof created a unique breathing method that effectively supercharges your body.

I first learned about the breathing technique years ago from this 2016 Men’s Journal post from Scott Carney. Carney was posting an excerpt from a book he was releasing, but I was more drawn to the idea of a breathing method not only warming you up in Chicago (where I lived and ran during the deadest of winters), but also hyper-oxygenating your blood and better equipping yourself to perform athletic feats.

The Wim Hof Method is basically this:

  • You forcefully breathe in, out, and again, for 30 repetitions where each inhale and exhale only lasts a second.
  • After the 30th exhale, you then hold your “breath”, or in this case lack thereof, for as long as you reasonably can.
  • Finally, when you need to breathe, inhale only halfway, then hold this breath for 15 seconds.
  • Exhale, then take a normal deep breath. Breathe normally.

Ideally, you do this whole sequence about three times. The idea is that your blood oxygen kicks up to the max during the 30 strong breaths. Then the lack of oxygen as you hold your exhale drops your blood oxygen so rapidly that stress hormones kick in and this provides a ton of benefits. Plus, once you’re breathing again, your body becomes a lot more efficient at absorbing and utilizing the oxygen drawn for a short while after.

Carney mentioned being able to perform dozens of push ups beyond his typical means after doing the Method. Personally, while intrigued at that, I was also intrigued at the accounts of being warm while shirtless in ice cold weather. I didn’t plan on shedding any clothes during winter workouts, but I liked the idea of being warmer.

At first, I tested the breathing warm-up before Racing Team workouts on Wednesdays in the summer and fall. While I’m not totally sure how much it helped my performance, I certainly performed well in those speed workouts. I liked going out to the meeting point early on workout days, and this was a good warm-up to do while waiting for everyone else to straggle over.

I’ve used it periodically since. It was never something I adopted religiously. Often I did it when I felt I needed to improve my energy before a tough workout: I always did these after work, and energy levels generally aren’t the highest on a weekday at 6pm. If it was going to help improve oxygen intake and usage, then why not try it.

I’ve definitely used it before winter races or post-work runs, when temperatures were below freezing and I simply was not warm. I think it helped a good portion of the time, though so did starting to run and getting 15-30 minutes into said run. Still, if at a start line and it was going to be a while before we could go, I definitely practiced the method, and I do think it helped some.

I’m not looking to draw any sort of study or conclusion from the Wim Hof Breathing Method. I think, regardless of what conditions you run in, it’s worth a shot… provided you’re careful about how long you hold that exhale after the 30 breaths. You obviously don’t want to pass out or suffocate by accident.

I’ll recommend you do what I did when I first started: Pick a pre-determined amount of time to hold that exhale that you know you can handle, and start with that. I would start by trying for 30 seconds (and obviously, nothing wrong with chickening out at 15-20 if you find it’s getting rather tough). Over time, you can gradually increase the time held as you get comfortable or begin to find holding that exhale too easy.

Obviously, in Las Vegas, I have no need to get warmer. And right now I’m not running a whole lot.

However, I noticed my sleeping oximeter levels (91-93%) are lower in Las Vegas than they were in the Midwest (though my waking oxygen levels are well above 95% like they should be). Some of that is the high altitude and dry air, sure, but it’s a concern. I am also mindful of the lung and breathing risks that could come with Coronavirus.

I wouldn’t mind practicing the Method just to improve my general oxygen availability, not to mention recalibrate my body to maximize any potential benefits from a shortage of oxygen. Re-reading writing about Hof’s method does tip me off that maybe my periodic lower levels during sleep are also suppressing inflammation in the body and promoting healing. They tend to drop lower during deep sleep periods, per my tracker. Can this “practice” with the Method help enhance that effect or provide it during waking time?

In any case, the Method is worth a try, especially now with me focusing on strength training and less on running for now.

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