Sharing nuggets of knowledge and ideas accumulated on health, strength and fitness based experiences. While here, feel free to hit the comments section and share your invaluable feedback about the blog's betterment. Have fun.

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

The Old Fashioned Expander: Possibly your best friend on the road

I know. I know.

The mere mention of the term 'Chest Expander' draws confused frowns from most of you all, practically telling me to question my sanity.

Who even uses these primitive pieces of equipment today? Seriously? Who would even be ready to get insulted in a party claiming about how they could just do a front chest pull with another spring added, for reps?

For others who might be wondering, what the hell is a chest expander, this is what it looks like. Remember now? You must have seen it hanging in a lonely corner of sporting goods stores, if you're lucky

Aside from being used as an exercise equipment, a chest expander, or Strands, as they were more popularly known as in the old time British and German strength training circles were mostly used to demonstrate feats of strength and stunts.

The extents to which competitors used to go to accomplish a feat during Strandpulling Competitions

Let me set the stage for this formidably simple invention in exercise science almost a century old now. I have spent the last few months incorporating it with my usual weight training workouts. During my travel, chest expander workouts were the only stuff I did, along with very few bodyweight drills.

And this has been one of the smartest decisions I have made in my training lately. Inclusion of cable based training has resulted in visible changes in my upper body muscularity as told by multiple friends. And all of that when I am only using two 20 minute something sessions a week, alternated with my usual barbell lifting course.

And as I found, there are a lot of merits to keeping it the first thing in your traveling case:

1. It's insanely portable
2. It's virtually damage proof
3. It can give you a terrific resistance training workout in situations where time and infrastructure are luxurious commodities
4. There are movements you can train on the springs which are seemingly impossible to perform using free weights
5. Continuing on point 4, an expander hits deeper muscles of your back which are often not worked by conventional free weights.

Now, this doesn't mean that all merits of free weights can be undermined. The optimum approach would be to integrate some select movements done on an expander or cables along with your free weights during your regular workouts. While on the road, you can still continue your expander movements, even if you aren't lucky enough to get a hotel gym.

But, it's just a CHEST expander, right? What about the rest of my body?

Old time strongmen (the ones who lived in the age of real strength and health, preceding the 1950s) termed the entire circumferential girth of the upper body, including, the latissimus dorsi, mid back and the pectoralis muscle groups as the CHEST. This also included the amount of expansion gained by the rib cage, often as a result of deep breathing. Training with an expander resulted in tremendous gains in these measurements. Hence the name.

And yes, you can, as we shall see, train the rest of the upper body, back, shoulders, arms and forearms in an excellent fashion using a chest expander.

While the expander has been around since almost a century now, what made it really fade away into the dark background?

I'm not totally sure, but it has to do with the fact that it puts an end to a lot of business opportunities of fitness equipment manufacturers. I mean, who would really buy an elaborate multi gym set up for their home when they get to know that they can do a significantly huge set of exercises with just a set of springs attached to a wooden handle?

By the way, expanders have evolved immensely over the years. They now even come in the form of exercise tubing and cables. Two of the most versatile ones based on my experience being:

1. The Lifeline USA cable set
2. The Hook

What makes springs and cables so special? Or so Different?

"Okay, tell me more about this gimmick of yours."

While being around for nearly a century certainly pulls it out from a gimmick list, what does make an expander special is its ability to provide progressively greater resistance as its length increases during a repetition.

In other words, the longer you pull it, the more resistance it provides.

As you keep getting better at an exercise, keep adding reps. And then, cables or springs depending upon which design you're using. When that expires, use springs of higher tension to add resistance.

So, you see, it's THAT simple to keep upgrading the challenge levels with this deceptively simple exercise equipment. No gigantic weight plate stacks needed.

"Alright, I'm sold. Tell me more about it."

While there are almost dozens of exercises that can be done with a chest expander, there are a some timeless classics that have been creating stronger bodies since ages.

"How many reps do I do here?"

For a pure strength emphasis, a couple of sets of 6 to 8 reps usually work the best. But looking at often how the maximum resistance of a chest expander is limited by the number of springs that are possible to get attached, very few trainees would use an expander for pure strength work.

Thus, for using an expander for the very purpose it works the best for, muscular hypertrophy, a wide range of 8 to 15 reps and a couple of sets works great.

Let's look at nine staple chest expander movements:

1. Overhead Downward Pull

With the expander in your arms raised overhead, pull the handles outwards with the elbows STRAIGHT till the springs get fully stretched and are touching your mid back at the bottom position of the exercise.

2. Front Chest Pull

Hold the expander in front of you, pull apart the handles, leading with the elbows till the arms are completely straightened as the springs get outstretched horizontally to their maximum limit.

3. Back Press

Hold the expander behind your back with both hands and press the handles out until the arms are straightened fully and the springs are stretched to a high degree of tension.

4. Front Press

Just like exercise no 1, hold the expander in front of you, though this time, instead of pulling, PRESS both arms outwards till they are fully straight and the cable is stretched to a high degree of tension. remember, although the finish position of this exercise looks like exercise no1, do not confuse the two. This is a PUSH and not a PULL.
The Legendary John Grimek Showing how to start a Front Press

5. Curl:

Pretty self-explanatory. Anchor one handle of the expander below your right leg while working the right arm. Pull the other handle with the right arm flexing your elbows till the handle almost touches your shoulder. Repeat on both sides.
Alfred Danks: A pioneer in Cable Training

6. Reverse Curl

Similar to exercise 5, just pronate your hands, or turn your knuckles up while curling the handles.

7. Archer's Movement
One of the most staple movement that can be done on an expander. Hold the expander in front of you with both hands while one arm being fully extended while the other bent at the elbow. From here, pull the handle with the bent arm till it is fully stretched while keeping the other arm stationery. Repeat with both arms. This one's a tremendous tricep builder.
The finished position of an Archer's movement resembles that of Exercise 1.

8. Military Press
Lock one handle of the expander by the side of the hip and position the other one near the opposite shoulder. This should resemble the bottom position of a military press. From here, press this arm up till fully extended. Repeat with both arms.

9. Wrist Curls

Outstretch the expander in front of you with both the hands, with the arms hanging straight. From this position, stretch the spring by flexing and extending the wrist, while maintaining the tension on the springs at all time. The range of motion will be very less here. This exercise can be done by keeping the expander both in your front as well as the back.

10. Neck Press-Out

Stand upright, cables behind the back and resting against the back of your neck. Knuckles are facing
inward. Stretch the expander laterally to arms’ length, then bring arms forward, resisting the cables with your neck. Once you get the hang of this exercise, it becomes a tremendous neck-builder.

While this is by no means a complete list of exercises possible and the possibilities are as many as one's imagination can allow, these are still a great start.

It does come with one limitation that you cannot train the lower body on it with really enviable intensity. But hey, you cannot get everything, right?

Besides, it's best in my experience to use Exapanders as an addition to a free weight program based on squats and deadlifts.

The only lower body-ish dill I did with the expander was a cable resisted supine hip bridge of sorts. The bands had to be really fastened into place using the hands and making them stay on the ground was a real struggle. defeating the stability needed to perform a really stiff hip bridge. Nevertheless, it did provide a significant degree of resisted hip extension.

'Expand' your training horizons.

Start reaping the benefits of training with springs, cables or resistance bands to fill in the gaps in your strength formed after following only a conventional free weight lifting program for years. Just pack it in your bag and you will never be disappointed with your training on the road.

And though it goes without saying, Expander workouts are as beneficial to women as they are to men.

Strandpulling workouts do not need to be boring. Make them fun variations, or often even challenge based sessions to strike an interesting break to your usual training.

Enjoy your new found upper body muscularity, thanks to a century old, almost forgotten tool.

Thursday, 19 April 2018

Three Insanely Simple Ways To Speed Up Fat Loss NOW !

We all love overnight results. And although it might be right to say that nothing good really gets delivered overnight, there still remains this inner urge to find out that cutting edge habit of all successful people that we can include in our life and bring us in unison with the ultimate goal of getting better.

Better. Just like getting leaner and closer to losing that last bit of fat from our tummies that simply won't move away, no matter how many times we punch, kneed, pinch, squeeze or self-massage it away in all directions.

What if there was a way though? What if we were overlooking some simplistic steps to be taken all this time?

Well, yes, we can. And here are three such quick changes that might ignite your motivation sky high to make you try them right now.

1. Control of Your Emotions to Control Fat Gain

Let's hear it once and for all.

Fat Loss is an emotional battle.

Yes, it has a tremendous physical counterpart to it, such as preparation of meals, planning, purchasing the groceries and yes, of course, targeted training.

But how many of us actually notice that it is in fact, our thoughts, moods and emotional states that trigger cravings?

An upset low mood? Bang! The needs for munching on some cheeselings is triggered.

Had a rough fight with a customer in office? Sounds like the best time to have some samosas with the evening tea.

Bored at home and got nothing done all the Sunday? Let's get wasted to experience a high and order some large pizzas.

You see? All the disastrous and fat-loss demolishing outcomes above have been steered through mental states of depression, anxiety, loneliness or simply boredom. Yes. Boredom makes many of us eat to get entertained

Now, with that said, how does one put a handle on our emotions while we are focusing on getting leaner through diet and exercise?

While there is no single best way to do this that's better than practicing self-control, we can always hack our psychology. The best way to do so is to start clearly distinguishing between physiological and psychological hunger. After a while, it gets really easy to make this out.

The trick question to ask ourselves at such times is: 'Is the hunger so bad that it can shortly result in our death?' If the answer is no, you better give that subway meal a pass for now.

And of course, try to find out ways to stay enlightened, positive and entertained and do not let yourself fall into depression traps throughout the day.

2. Work on your N.E.P.A.

Long before wearable movement and activity trackers became all the rage, our ancestors, in absence of technology were moving a lot.

They walked miles long trails through the country side or forests. They climbed hills and walked the herd of cattle or pets. A lot of manual labor was also involved even in the daily chores of middle aged women. Men had their own load of subconscious activity over prolonged hours often.

And guess what, all of this resulted in a very leaner generation of our ancestors. Don't believe me? Pull out an old album and look at the pics of your grandparents, or even your parents when they were your age. Absence of comfort foods aside, a lot of their leaner condition can be attributed to how, in the absence of technology to make life easier, they took it upon themselves to go extra miles, climb up the floors or even engage in caloric challenges in the household.

Fast forward to today, we have come to call it Non Exercise Physical Activity (NEPA)

The reason behind NEPA being such a strong determinant of someone's leanness is how it represents those 23 hours of the day outside your 1 hour gym training window.

And the simplest way to augment your efforts in the gym to damage-proof fat-loss is to extend exercise in a disguise throughout the day, in one way or another.

NEPA is also why encouraging kids to engage in Sports and games is also a great idea to guarantee a foundation of fit and metabolically active lifestyles at an early age.

So, if immediate fat-loss is your thing, don't look further than your activity tracker and get active and mobile outside the gym as much as inside it.

3. Do Hard Things

We love easy.

Okay, I admit, I love easy too. Authoring a blog on fitness, I still go on to admit this.

There is inherently nothing wrong in striving to make things easier. That's what makes life-altering inventions happen.

But we need to understand where the fine line differentiating easy's advantages and disadvantages exists.

But what's easy, you ask? All that modern day living has condensed inside a handheld mobile phone or a laptop.

Food delivery, household repairs, grocery shopping, moving heavy furniture, commuting carrying heavy bags, picking up heavy household stuff and placing it... the list goes on.

Those are all things that are passe today. Also, those are all things that can be done while being seated on the same sofa in the drawing room using just a mobile phone. How better do we expect to get doing this button-pushing lifestyle? And leaner? Absolutely nay!

Here's an easy(duh, again) solution to this: Start identifying stuff you find hard. Then keep doing it.

In fact, this slight shift is going to be so rewarding, over a period of months, it may not only make you leaner (provided every other variable such as diet is on mark), it will also develop qualities in you like:

1. Strength
2. Balance
3. Better Grip
4. Better Core stablization
5. Better walking pattern
6. Fixing anterior/posterior pelvic tilt aka improvement in posture
7. Improved immunity

And we are just getting started with the benefits.

Above all, engaging in physical labor makes you more confident and 'in control'.

Which brings us to: "What the hell do I really do? I find everything hard. Uhh"

Here's the 'easy' list of hard for you:

1. Start lifting your bags or carrying them rather than towing them on wheels. Ditch trolley bags on one trip and switch to ruck sacks or heavy hand-bags
2. Move plants and heavy pots yourself in the garden
3. Carry heavy water buckets for distance
4. Park vehicle insanely away from office
5. Use a chair and table to use your laptop rather than lying on your belly like a walrus on the bed or couch
6. Eat bitter stuff like veggies, garlic, onions, cinnamon, olives, lemon etc more than all the delicious stuff like pastries, pizzas, bagels, bread or basically anything loaded with sugar.
7. You may feel like it but getting to bed an hour early than your usual time, and getting up an hour early as well is a hell of a rewarding and hard change. Do it.
8. Here's one from the Oak, Arnold Schwarzenegger himself: Arnie cropped the lower halves of his pants to really expose his lack of calf development. And it turned out to be a smart change since the
combined humiliation of his relatively smaller calves being exposed made him work them twice as hard and it resulted in tremendous growth.

What you can do about it is start wearing clothes that expose your holiday fat gain. Wear tank tops, shorts, fitter clothing and those garments from five years back that simply won't fit. And you will love the way you may work towards transforming yourself quickly enough before people start noticing that you are out of shape. I find this as a really smart and free of cost catalyst for leanness.

Sooner than later, maybe 2 to 3 months down the line of doing these more masochistic activities, you may realize how you have come to resemble Grandpa or Granny from that 40 years old Black and White pic in your family album.

How do you find these three switches to fat loss? If you are equally amazed with these as I, drop your comments or questions below. Until then!

Saturday, 16 December 2017

Top 3 Improvements You Can Make To Your Exercise Program

It's the toughest question ever to answer.

"Tell Me Just One thing I can do to reduce my love handles"

"Tell Me Only one exercise I have to do"

"That One Food..."

"That One Investment Portfolio.."

We love simplicity. We may at times love options, but in the end, when life happens and the rubber hits the road, all we need is the final answer to altering our lifestyles to achieve any particular goal: Getting Leaner, Fighting Disease, losing weight or looking better in any form.

Bad News: Most of the real stuff in fitness sciences is monotonous, repetitive and boring.

Now, I could come up with a 100 point list as a presentation and bore you to death walking you through all of them and trust me, it would be the most effective set of things you could do to the way you exercise. But let's face it, who really gives a damn to miles long articles, and that too, written on something as low in our priorities as exercise, strength and health? Come on, it's 2017 (actually, already 2018) and we're, you know, Busy, right?

Well, never mind, I have you here, cut to the chase. Presented here are three of the essences of what I have learned to be the top three changes that almost all of them can make to our exercise programs or training styles and start experiencing dramatic changes in the way we look, feel or perform. Getting us closer to our goals faster? Hell Yeah, that's all we need right? Good, we're in business then. Here, you go:

1. Do Not Follow The Majority

Heard that age old cliche ? Well, here's the new and a more correct one. Memorize it.

The Majority Is Always Wrong!

You read it correct. When was the last time you saw all those epileptic zealots doing the usual crazy stuff like curling while standing on top of Bosu Balls, running countless miles on a treadmill, doing countless repetitions with a tiny weight in hopes to get 'toned' actually getting any results?

Yeah, now that we just said it, it dawns upon us. Turns out that people in gyms usually follow the most pursued trend. As human beings, we have the natural tendencies to blend in.

What's the first thing many women do when they enter the gym for the first time in their life? They will either be put on a program by a trainer that most of his other clients are following without any consideration given to her physiology, pathology or other personal constraints. Otherwise, she may look upon her friends or peers who may have spent a few more days doing stuff in the gym and blindly start mimicking them and doing the exact same movements that they have been doing.

In fact, men do it too. The moment one sees the most jacked up dude in the gym perform a Space Age Exotic Barbell Curl Variation, oh boy, we are so hooked. We might immediately leave all the good stuff we are doing and start following what the majority thinks is the right thing to do, because, guns matter.

Ask yourself: Does Majority ever look good? If the answer to how we should really train was as simple as "Simply Follow The Majority", almost everyone who has been a gym member for more than six months would have resembled a fitness model or a bodybuilder. The reason is that effective exercise , though simple, is not exactly easy. It needs one to leave his or her comfort zone behind, something the majority would be dead scared to do. It needs one to change one's convenient choices, like letting go of the daily dose of bagel and cookies. Again, the majority would scoff at the idea of doing that. Finally, effective exercise often also needs one to stop doing what is conventionally popular form of exercise (like unlimited Cardio) and start pursuing the forgotten old basics (Barbell Squats, Deadlifts, Presses, old school exercises) and this places us in a spotlight of criticism. We are afraid to death to answer questions and arguments of people. Because other people's notions and dogmas about what they read about in fitness magazines till ages get disturbed. It eventually becomes a decision of becoming socially accepted than to actually reach our fitness goals.

What John Grimek Did would certainly not be what the majority does today.

The bottomline is that if you are seeing a vast majority of the populace following a certain exercise technique or method almost like a culture in today's age, you can almost be certain that it might not be a good idea to make it a part of your exercise program. Instead, keep pursuing the tried and tested basics fearlessly.

2. Walk The Longest Road Home

Both fat loss and muscle gain are such pursuits that are really rapid in the beginning and get super slow as we advance. In fact, so slow that at one point we may get impressioned to believe that nothing is happening at all.

This might resonate with trainees who might have spent close to an year at least, training seriously. As our bodies adapt to training stresses, they are intelligent enough to start expending lesser resources on managing that stress. Lesser resources spent can mean lesser muscles involved in exercises or lesser taxes put on cardiovascular or anaerobic/aerobic energy systems. Lesser demands mean lesser needs for gains.

In the long run, things will get slower. And in light of this, it is okay that your exercise program or dietary program has started showing very slow results. In fact, if in principle, all that you are doing is technically correct: You are following big compound exercises, taking enough recovery days, following a clean and complete diet, managing stress; and still not getting the gains that you need, I would say, just relax and understand that you are trying to go against the body's principle of homeostasis. This will be met with immense resistance by your body. If your force of perseverance is strong enough, you will eventually be able to push past these sticking points.

To sum up, as you progress, start looking at your gains in a broader perspective. Instead of measuring your waistline every other week, start measuring it every month or so. Take a measure of your one rep maxes in major lifts, after months and not weeks. Look at how much progress you have made in your weight loss program after one year and not after every few weeks. Yes, you get the idea now.

3. Be Prepared To Be Bored

This is an immediate corollary from the above points. If there is this most invaluable lesson I have learned in the school of strength, it is that before it's late, we must develop the mindset to accept getting bored as one of the outcomes of training.

Yes, long term successful training is an act that can be really pathetically boring. After all, we are doing the same set of movements, again and again, week after week, year after year in hopes of improving our range of motion, movement pattern quality, the weight lifted, the breathing pattern, the number of repetitions etc. Hell that can just drill a hole in our minds.

And that is what the cost of success is. World class athletes in all athletic endeavors have been doing this. It doesn't show up directly. But in the shadows, they have all been toiling away hard for years without us knowing it, in order to finally produce the medal winning performance we see in the field, the court or the ring.

Same goes with training. We have to keep grinding and pushing when our mind wants to just stop and get more comfortable,

You desire to want to do it has to be greater than your desire to not want to do it.

Apply these three potent method to whatever you are doing and I can assure you to experience breakthroughs in your personal training records.

If you liked this blog, hit the share button.

Questions? Drop them in the comments. I would love to talk to you.

Until then !

Saturday, 5 August 2017

Designing Training Programs That Handle The Menstrual Cycle

Touching upon a finer subject that might make or break the long term success of any female weight trainee.

More and more women are now a part of the lifting and weight training fraternity. Cults such as Crossfit have actually done an invaluable favour by letting the females partake in progressively stressing resistance training that they had rarely been exposed to during their lives. Needless to say, all of this has resulted in the evolution of the feminine physique as a very mesmerising development in the annals of strength, health and fitness Women now have better role models to look up to. They now have better and more scientifically designed programs to follow. The days of mindlessly hogging on the treadmills or other cool new cardio gimmick in the gym are now over.

The growing participation of female athletes in the sport has given women great role models to look up to, just like Bella Falconi here

Our take on female exercise programming needs to improve

I used to believe that the exact same programming strategies that I use for my male clients would work equally well to deliver results with the females. For a long time I have been overlooking one most inherent and fundamental feature of the female anatomy: the menstrual cycle.

As perpetual as it is, trying to fit the conventional programs into a month long physiological dilemma would once again be, fitting square pegs in round holes. 

Not until recently did it dawn upon me about how several females actually are having a tough time dealing with the undulating stresses that a linearly programmed workout can create. No matter how much the general narrative might try to hammer the facts otherwise, when it comes to training, men and women can seldom be equal and will always have differences in the ways their bodies respond to exercise stress.

The Outlawed Territory of PMS and Related Issues

Often in a zeal to make effective programs quickly, Several coaches might resort to completely ignoring these phases and how women respond to exercise during them. This ultimately results in the missed training sessions. Female trainees hence get demotivated from training and eventually fail to get connected to the ideology of getting stronger and fitter to reach all their fitness goals. At best, another TV commercial fitness expert might make her believe that cardio is the only solution to all the problems of her life.

It thus makes sense that coaches should make a constant effort to observe patterns in female training and take notes. This information is a deadly input for designing a fool-proof and automated approach to bring down the level of woes faced by them and ultimately coming up with a program that never surrenders to Menstrual pain.

Often male trainers are also advised with practising a touch of sensitivity while discussing this subject with an incoming female client. However, with experience, this should definitely be included in an interview/inquiry with the client, since I feel there can be nothing that can benefit the weight training woman more than a coach who knows how she is going to perform during a said week.

This post is also intended to serve as a thought provoking article and I encourage the female audience to keep contributing to the content to make it a good reference point to help design women's exercise programs.

This becomes of enormous importance during the phases when the insufferable pain and menstrual cramps result during Premenstrual syndrome (PMS), especially among women aged between their late 20s and their early 40s. This is one of the most devastating aspects of designing a female training program and forms the centrepiece of an approach like this.

Now why would that be? To understand that, let's take a brief sneak peak at how the female menstrual cycle's basic structure.

Phases of Periods at a glance

Now, to the average female reader, this might come as no surprise, but to the uninitiated, let's just start by stating that  the day count for menstrual cycle begins on the first day of menstruation when blood discharge starts. For the sake of this blog, the length of menstrual cycle has been assumed to be 28 days (an average among women). The entire duration of a Menstrual cycle can be divided into four main phases:

1. Menstrual phase (From day 1 to 5): Since blood discharge is comparatively nominal during this phase, significant strength training can be done here. Be wary of the occasional abdominal cramps though and avoid direct ab work that can severely aggravate intra-abdominal pressure.

2. Follicular phase (From day 1 to 13): Day 5 onward, till 13, it's predominantly a time when the pituitary gland secretes a hormone that stimulates the egg cells in the ovaries to grow. Here's the phase where maximum strength training can be incorporated since the situation with blood discharge and cramps is marginally under control here. This gives us a good week long window to have a controlled training phase where we can stop at any time discomfort is experienced.

3. Ovulation phase (Day 14) - This one's the key. Oestrogen secretion can peak here and needs to be tapped. Now, this is not writ in stone to be the 14th day only, but this is more like a ballpark figure looking at the average cycles of women.

4. Luteal phase
(From day 15 to 28): While oestrogen release peaked during the previous phase, this phase is marked by a simultaneous rise in progesterone levels.

The Movements

An effective scheme that any female trainee might prefer to indulge in is to plan their training programs in the form of micro cycles. A micro cycle is a duration that can be imagined as roughly a week long period during a training block. Although a week can be a very small period when it comes to developing a new skill, physical quality or fitness results, still, looking at the bigger picture, from month to month, a consistent approach with repetitive occurrence of a particular micro cycle every month can lead to specific adaptations based on most women's goals.

Now, I am so sure that the majority of women reading this blog have the goal of long lasting fat loss. As such a program to tackle that goal becomes incomplete without inclusion of a healthy mix of progressive weight training and steady state cardio (yes, there's pace for that on a program where we are dealing around the menstrual cycle).

So, when it comes to designing a progressive weight training program, we are left with the following categories of basic building blocks:

1. A Squat: Back Squat, Front Squat, Goblet Squats, Belt Squats, One-legged squats or pistols

2. A Hip Hinge: Deadlift, Straight legged DL variations, Kettlebell Swings, cleans, snatches

3. A Push: Bench Press, Overhead Press, Narrow grip presses to target the triceps

4 A pull: Pull Ups, Bent-Rows, Machine Rows, Lat Pull Downs, Bicep Curls

5. Some Form of core activation/ Loaded Carry: Remember, this is the tricky part. Although sufficient core activation is necessary to hit the mid section properly, we should refrain from overemphasising high tension exercises. Planks, Paloff Presses or farmer's walks should be alright. Basically we try to train the anti-rotation and anti-extension capability of the core musculature here. 

And a steady state cardio activity that can be included and excluded based on the degree of discomfort or pain being felt during a week.

Being Instinctive and Observing Patterns

In a scenario like this, the most useful technique is autocoregulation or the practice of instinctively cycling the intensity of difficulty levels of an exercise session based on the physiological and psychological readiness the trainee is experiencing on that day. Although with a sound plan like the one outlined below, it is tough to often fall out of place and miss sessions, there might still be weeks when the period cycles shift for a female or a phase eventually gets prolonged. Certain female trainees might also experience symptoms such as Polly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome and must definitely consult qualified gynaecologists (preferably someone who also has a fair bit of exposure to exercise sciences since I feel this is one territory that is still not stepped upon too much by medicos and clinicians even today) 

Planning the Micro Cycles

Since each of the four phases of the menstrual cycle lasts roughly about 7 to 15 days,  with the luteal phase being the longest one, the smartest approach to tame this problem is to plan our microcycles based on the individual length of these periods. 

Remember, since the duration of the menstrual phases vary very much from female to female, it is thus a subject of heavy individualisation and tailoring.

Let's assume three Total-Body weight training sessions every week. In other words:

Day 1: Workout A
Day 2: Off
Day 3: Workout B
Day 4: Off
Day 5: Workout C
Day 6: Off
Day 7: Off

For more enthusiastic women, Training 4 days a week is also an option subject to, again, autocoregulation.

Day 1: Lower Body
Day 2: Upper Body
Day 3: Off
Day 4: Upper Body
Day 5: Lower Body
Day 6: Off
Day 7: Off

Every training schedule can be ended with 10 to 15 minutes of light cardio activity to aid recovery. You can be creative as long as you stick to the idea of dialling down the intensity based on instinct during a given day, especially during the later days of the follicular phase or during the ovulation phase. So, for a hypothetical female having her phases as long as the one suggested in the description at the start of this article, a sample programs with microcycles may look like:

1. Micro cycle 1: (Day 1 to Day 5). The Menstrual Phase

There is a comparatively little level of discomfort during this phase. The overall intensity should be moderate at best during this week and volume must be emphasised.
For example 3 sets of squats for 10 repetitions each done with a moderately heavy weight can help generate a productive training effect. The trainees can have a minor blood discharge during the later days, ie days 4,5, 6 or 7. On such days, if need be, a regular training session can also be substituted with a minor one. This can be done by cutting the total number of repetitions to half on all exercises. You can also include a steady state cardio activity such as neighbourhood runs or brisk walks on such days to prevent metabolic damage.

Due to sudden abdominal cramps experienced during the later days of this phase, try to keep all your core strengthening moves only during the first one or two training days here.

2. Micro cycle 2: (Day 8 to Day 13): The Follicular Phase. 

Since there are sudden increases in Oestrogen levels during this phase. There is also a rise in the neurotransmitter called Serotonin. There is also a slight elevation in the mood. As such forming new habits or acquiring newer skills is easier in this phase. Hence during this phase, trainees can experiment with minor increases in poundages. Remember, at all points of time, an eye should be kept upon any kind red flags. The rule of substituting a training session with a light activity such as cardio still stands during this phase.

By the way, if you intend to start a new diet program, this phase is also a good time to give it a start. 

The later days of Follicular Phase can have PMS symptoms ranging from excessive mood swings to painful cramps that can severely hamper performance.

Day 14 to 15 are expected to have ovulation occur ideally Oestrogen levels are usually rising here. 

3. Micro cycle 3: (Day 16 to Day 28): The Luteal Phase

The starting day of this micro cycles is based on the day roughly when ovulation occurs. By now, you can steadily start upping the intensity of your program. 

During the late luteal phases a lot of binging can happen. Mood swings can be quite higher during these weeks. 

To prevent the cravings to damage your hard earned gains during this period, try to get in more sugar around your workout timings. Inclusion of sugars in the form of pre and post workout meals can also protect you from getting lethargic. Chocolate is said to be one of the strongest mood alleviating substances. During the rest of the day, a little consumption of dark chocolate can help with some antioxidant boost to fight free radical formation as well. It can also help resist the temptation to eat something far more dangerous to your fat loss goals.

Now, coming back to the original goal of fat loss, it is expected that you are actively trying to create some form of caloric deficit in your diet to achieve fat loss/weight loss. Due to the aforementioned symptoms of cravings and mood swings, Calorie deficit may not be on mark during the fourth week of your training block. At this point, you can go back to you maintenance number of calories, maybe even a little above it, for a week as a strategy. Many women might have a tough time accepting this but this slight increase in the calories is actually better than an unplanned binge disaster that can turn the entire program into a shipwreck. Remember, one bad eating day can devastate an entire week's progress in many cases.

Tame The Periods

I hope this little piece serves as a starting point to countless evolutionary programming patterns in the times to come and can help women design efficient strength training programs that can help them train through PMS pain and never let them miss sessions. Remember that this is only an outline and can be used as a gound for designing even better strength training programs for female athletes and even general pop females. If you are awestruck with this blog, do share it with as many female athletes and fitness enthusiasts that you know as possible. Who knows this can get you another step closer to becoming the Atomic Blonde.

ReferenceL Davidsen et. al. Impact of the menstrual cycle on determinants of energy balance: a putative role in weight loss attempts. International Journal of Obesity (2007) 31, 887-890

Monday, 31 July 2017

How to Deal With Monotony and Boredom in Training

Successful strength training is based around progress. Measurable progress. The markers of progress include how heavier a weight are you able to lift in the Squat, the Deadlift, the Bench Press, the Overhead Press and other big movements of the like. You can play around with the derivative variations of the big lifts such as the Lunges, the flies, the straight legged deadlift variations or the good mornings. But the true marker of progress in the gym are always going to be the select few, basic lifts.

As such, your metrics for measuring your success rate are a little lesser. You are expected to be hitting and grinding these money-movements almost every training session. Of course, you will be doing direct arm and ab work in the form of decorative bicep-curls, tricep extensions, crunches, ab-wheel rollouts etc, but you may always need to keep an eye on how heavier is your squat than the previous week, how bigger is the bench press right now or if the deadlift today is beating the deadlift that was about a month ago.

And in an age both blessed and obsessed with hand-held mobile devices and an app for everything under the sun, focusing on just a few basic movements becomes, well, boring. And of course, it is boring. There is absolutely no other way to state it. Even for the most passionate trainees and professional lifters, hammering the same basic and primal moves can become extremely stagnating and monotonous at one point of time.

Bored of performing the same lifts since times immemorial in the gym? Well, bad news: those lifts are actually necessary

What then does the lifetime lifter need to do to bring her or him out of the situation and still ensure that the major money lifts are growing. As the old-school terminology of 'plateau-busters' suggest, the answer might lie in training the 'same but different' exercises. Here's how some of the helpful short-term substitutions can help entertain a bored lifter while not sabotaging any of the strength gains on the primary lifts.

Now, hold on. Before we do delve into these, please note that in no way can the big primary compound lifts be substituted. Hip dominant(as against knee dominant) individuals will often experience a higher degree of upper leg hypertrophy training on a good dose of front squats compared to back squats. However back squats still have a higher potential of adding a 'WOW' amount of solid muscle to the entire body, which reclaims its king status. Same goes for the regular deadlift as against extension based exercises like back-extensions, straight legged deadlifts etc. Bench press whether with a dumbbell or a barbell will be a better muscle builder than the fashionable pec-dec flies.

1. Short term substitution for the back squat: Although I seldom find squats to be boring me as long as I am progressing on them in some way or the other, especially when I am trying out novel ways to make barbell squats more and more available everywhere, there are times when we just need to distance ourselves from the manly leg exercise. These are times when front squats come as the next best thing. Holding the barbell across your clavicles using either the classic clean grip or the bodybuilder cross grip, the placement of the load ensures a more upright spine and loads the quadriceps and other knee extensors more than the gluteal complex responsible for generating hip extension.

A training block lasting a few weeks where the primary leg exercise is chosen as the front squat effectively shakes things up and restores focus owing to the novelty that comes in. At the same time, the added focused strength helps making your back squats more stable out of the hole once you return to them.

2. Floor Presses substituting conventional Bench presses. Much like making the barbell squat available virtually anywhere, another of my similar pursuits covered the bench press. The gym I train at has the barbell stands situated too close to each other making it a very dangerous assembly to unrack your bar from before pressing it.

Franco Might be cool hoisting a house from such narrow stands; you and me possibly might need an expert spotter.
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In other words, a spotter becomes necessary for every time the weights need to be loaded, unloaded as well as the bar is racked or unracked to safeguard that I do not end up crushing my skull. Again, my quest for training with minimal assistance on spotters brought me to explore the floor press.

While floor pressing a barbell, you need to get under the parked barbell on the floor and perform a barbell hip bridge until the bar rests on your abdomen and your hands with the elbows braced on the ground and the forearms hinged vertically between the bar and the ground. From here, you gradually lower your abdomen and your back is now flat on the floor with your knees bent at about 90 degrees and feet flat on the floor. This is the beginning of the floor press. Now, press the bar up like a conventional bench press and then bring it down till your elbows rest on the ground. Repeat. The movement when executed correctly should look like this:

Above is a great video from the youtube channel of ATHLEAN-X showing in great detail how this lost gem can be tapped into for some good upper body push strength workouts.

3. The Several methods of manipulating the pull ups: The Pull can very correctly be termed as the squat for the upper body. Its obvious back muscle recruitment benefits aside, the exercise also challenges your abdominal musculature in a novel way, provided you employ lesser of momentum and are as strict as possible during your pull.

Reversing the grip on the pull ups and doing chin ups can be a great change of pace

However, if you are doing the pull ups as a part of something much bigger, such as a program having 6 to 7 big basic movements, using the conventional methods to improve pull up performance such as ladders may rob the available bandwidth from the rest of the exercises. Such cases demand trying variations such as the chin ups instead of the pull ups or vice versa. In fact, if your gym does have a decently weight-stacked machine, training the lat-pull down for a few weeks isn't a bad idea too to mix things up positively. This, especially when hypertrophy is your primary concern.

4. Carry heavy things to replace the conventional ab training. Exercises such as different forms of loaded carries like farmer walks, waiter walks etc are deceptively tough inclusions but can be real game changers. Most people might look at a farmer walk as a grip or trap strengthener, while in fact, if utilised correctly, it can leave your midsection really fried,

A similar approach can be trying the suitcase deadlift. You may not be able to lift really appreciable weights in this formidable exercise at first, but as you progress through it and the weights rise up, you may slowly start to appreciate the benefits which include the stabilisation strength development throughout the core.

The Suitcase Deadlift

5. Use Fat Gripz or similar products to augment conventional arm training. I utilised a rubber based grip thickening pair recently. Although my poundage on exercises such as the barbell curls did not shoot up as much as they did for the conventional width bars, I experienced unprecedented arm growth. The increased width of the bar does challenge the grip in ways that go beyond just the weight on the bar. Moreover, the increased circumference of the bar in use also placed the elbow and wrist joints at much lesser risks of injury compared to conventional width bars.

The Fat Gripz or similar bar-thickening sleeves can add that much needed grip and arm strengthening brutality to your lifts while making them safer.

Training modalities such as these rubber based sleeves that increase the bar circumference to up to 3 inches are a very economical investment that go a long way in developing an uncommon rugged muscularity in your arms while safeguarding your joints. Try them for a thrilling jolt to your training.

Keep Spicing it up

Variety is absolutely needed to mix things up. Do not let boredom halt your consistent training experience. Try these novel substitutions and let the newfound refreshment give you a mileage in taking your game towards the far end of your lifetime fitness spectrum. Enjoy them.

Saturday, 29 July 2017

No Squat Rack? No Problem

Do you know what is the common link between all the ill-equipped gyms I have been to during travelling? Apart from absence of a sufficient heavy weight plates and kettlebells, it is often the squat rack. Worse than this is the fact that most gyms opt for replacing the squat rack with a smith machine. Now for those of you who do not already know of it, a Smith machine only delivers movement capability in a linear vector, which is not how your body moves in the real world. A bad deal.

So, anyway, the real deal is that we mostly end up without the equipment we believe is almost indispensable to developing a physique that has the lifting capacity of a Caterpillar P-5000 Work Loader:

The goal is to make training develop an exoskeleton around you

Like many, I was disheartened too by growing up among gymnasiums which had less than necessary back squatting hardware. In fact, during my childhood, the availability of a power rack in a gym was a distant possibility to say the least. I only got to train on my first power rack when I was 21 years old and moved to an entirely different city.

But eventually, the presence of sturdy squat hoist stands or power rack apparatus kept getting shadowed by presence of more and more benches and treadmills and other flashy pieces to impress the hunky dory gym princesses wrapped in spandex in whichever gyms I went to.

It was all a quest for a workable substitute to heavy squatting until I pondered upon the information contained in the manual called Power to the People, written by Pavel Tsatsouline. Contained in there, among several other gems of knowledge and experience was a minimalist hypertrophy program called The Russian Bear, which seemed too deceptively ill equipped at first, but has been a staple in my programming since I first tried it last year, in 2015. Why, you might ask? Because it worked like a deadly weapon. It seemed to be just the answer to the question, what to do when confronted with no squat racks around.

Without a speck of doubt, no amount of 'alternative' training can replace heavy squats. The kind of magnification that squatting heavy for reps gives me is phenomenal and irreplaceable. As a corollary, heavy deadlifts themselves have an anabolic coefficient unparalleled in the annals of exercise science.

There you have it: deadlifts. Coming back to the program at hand, the Russian Bear is a combination of high - tension deadlifts and presses done in multiple intensity repetition brackets: Heavy, intermediate and relatively light(well, almost, again it depends on what you choose to call light. On some days, 60 percent of my 1 rep max seemed like lifting a Buick).

The Approach

All you do is do the following exercises:

1. Deadlifts
2. Overhead Presses

in the following pattern:
 Pick a weight heavy enough to do 6 - 8 repetitions in good form. Then
Set 1: Perform a set of five repetitions with that weight
Set 2: Use 90 percent of the weight lifted in previous set and perform five repetitions with that weight
Set 3 Onwards: Pick 80 percent of the weight lifted in set 1 and perform as many sets of 5 as you can until you cannot complete a set with good technique. That would be your last set of that exercise for the day. These sets are referred to as the 'Back - Off ' sets.

The Deadlift: Your partner in strength that won't make you miss those Squats

The number of sets done with the 80 percent weight can range anywhere from 4 or 5 on your less-recovered days to all the way up till 20. The program does call for going as high as 25 sets, but looking at the crunched up timelines we are all running along, that kind of volume might require a duration of up to one and a half to two hours which becomes a big no-no for many of the office-bound deskies that are among us. I personally limit my back-off sets to a maximum of 20 on both the exercises which kind of strikes a deal between an effective volume hit and time-efficiency. That said, do go about with this program keeping in your time-wallet, enough 90 minute sessions since that is a minimum that I have found might be needed by trainees of different capabilities on this program. Those 90 minutes would however be some of the most physically rewarding ones that you have spent in your exercise career till date.

By Pressing Overhead, she is engaging the core and the entire assembly of pressing muscles in her body excellently

The principle behind the effectiveness of such a simple, high volume program is the efficient way it increases the time spend under tension managing fatigue easily. The program also calls for not increasing the rest period between sets overly, thus inciting a turbulent human growth hormone response pattern. I occasionally rest under 60 seconds on my back - off sets.

The results from such a program are terrific due to the fact that there is a continuous feed of nutrients flushing into the muscle cells and the way it builds a tremendous state of capillarity. Due to these increased pathways of nutrition, the muscle cells respond by growing alarmingly faster than most methods. These are the kind of wonders that a high volume approach can build.

So, there you have it: a barbell, sufficient heavy weight plates and two exercises, the deadlift and the overhead press. How difficult could it be to screw a program with as less moving parts as this? In my dictionary, I find this program to be fool-proof. At least as long as you keep making progress on this program.

Many gym-rats wearing the 'Squats are the King of exercises' T-Shirts might argue here about the leg-development merits of a high volume deadlift approach. My time pulling the bar from the floor has shown me enough moments of surprise when my leg development witnessed phenomenal progress and it was rather hard for me to believe that I wasn't squatting AT ALL during these times. Again, the magic of high volume and high tonnage at work .

If you belong to the community that swear by their Bench Press numbers and cannot just let go of your Bench Numbers, no matter what, this might bring a smile to your face. You can very conveniently opt for a Bench Press instead of the overhead press. Really, the Gods of hypertrophy will still bless you with equal candour. But the underlying principle remains the same. You train with two exercises and you employ these different weight classes and the volume. And life will be an ever - progressing approaching.

Now, let go of your squat-woes and get on to doing some hard work in the gym.

The sweet smile of victory might remain on your face once you reap the golden benefits of high volume, high tension training.

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Strength Training: The silent suffering we all must undertake

Question: What makes us great?
Imagine a slice of life where I spend all my time getting better at my techie desk work. I'm sure the individuals involved in analytics and study of systems' behaviours will tell you that it is never going to be a linear journey upstream for me. Eventually, we are all destined to run into a state of chaos and hardships, professionally, before we even start seeing something even remotely like success and acclaim. My take on greatness exemplifies those select few who have the appetite to savour such tough times and win the fight with themselves over whether to go through such times or to sit back and stay within the comfortable confines of ordinary life.

But there's more to these tough times than just going full frontal, piercing through the snow. Have you heard many great guys singing praises of themselves going through the shitty times ever? I, for one, haven't. Much like success, greatness leaves clues as well. The secret to greatness, as my immature pursuit for it found out, lies in taking up the hard life and not speak of it broadly.

Silence builds an inner strength. A strong character is forged in peace. The hammers that produce character seldom make any sound.

And how do we, the millennial somethings, make this calculated form of hardships a part of our lives?

Here is a good news: Training for strength in any form, mostly lifting progressively heavier weights provides just the right amount of stimulus combining the pain, hard work, labour, satisfaction of creating something worthwhile and the discipline that the life of a desk jock living his twenties or early thirties in 2016 lacks.

For the readers who love posts with bullet points:

1. When the immovable iron is crushing you under its impossible weight, all you can think of is to be grateful to be alive. Hatred, envy, money, power and other vices seldom have a place in your thoughts.

2. There is hardly any feeling as good as the realisation that a gruelling training session just got over. I have developed a sense of thankfulness over the years, every time I am getting done with the lifting for the day.

3. If you are of the masochistic kind, step it up a bit by training alone and without any music. It's a very time-honoured way of developing a realisation within oneself of how easy the life outside the gym really is. We have luxuries we rarely notice. Some of these are the facilities like internet, entertainment, comfortable living spaces. posh transportation and many other delights that our feature-rich life is unknowingly blessed with. Trust me, all of them revolve in front of my eyes, when I am struggling through a set-after-set ordeal of repetition barbell squats in a lonely gym.

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4. Hard workouts shape your thoughts. I got the idea to write this blog post exactly when I was crushing and getting crushed by double my bodyweight on the bar in a garage gym with the sound of road rollers constructing a road outside the gym as the only music available. You have nothing consoling surrounding you except cold emotionless iron bars and piles of iron plates gazing at you in hopes that you understand that you are not going to enjoy the entire experience. Sounds familiar doesn't it? Yes, life's like that too.

5. It's an almost evolutionary phenomenon how getting under a heavily loaded bar on a bench or preparing for a gigantic deadlift with our shins getting scratched by the barbell knurling forces us to empty our minds and focus only on the biggest purpose  in front of us. Purpose. It's a lovely paradox how we need an activity totally contrarian to our daily lives to remind us what the purpose of life really is. Ironically, I walk out of the gym with a better sense of the goals and purposes of my life.

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6. Being desk bound makes us lazy. I started looking at seemingly simple tasks of daily life as epic and troublesome activities. Simple grocery buying, meal preparation, household cleaning, gardening and similar essentials begin to make us tired. Taking care of children and being a worthwhile spouse all demand a substantial amount of personal calibre. Individuals who train with an eye towards progress and diligence have a surprising carryover of these virtues to the day-to-day chores of a time-crunched family living. They are near-flawless creatures that can equate the physical transformation skills to the efficiency gap that needs to be filled in their daily lives.

7. It makes us patient. There is no button available to suddenly transform life from tough to easy in the gym, sadly. There is no device to make you lift a pile of locked iron automatically. We need to make ourselves move. It takes time to master the skill of strength. And like all valued challenges of life, this silent patience built in the gym stays with you for life.

8. Hard training is a kick in the (proverbial)balls. It cautions us of how exceedingly sheltered our lives are getting. It makes sure we never forget that, in spite of us having a family, an army of friends and a circle of like minded individuals standing by our side, life is a quest one undertakes alone. Believe it or not. All the people who are there as a backing do have their role. But a man's or woman's true worth gets exhibited in those lonely dark hours when they walk alone through difficult situations. The sooner someone realises that life is a an interspersed journey of group jogging in the park and solo walk through the dark woods, the better. It's those solo walks that needs us to work on.

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Greatness has a lot to do with a daily dose of misery. Some recognise misery as a happy state of progressing. The others need to understand that not going through hard knocks frequently is the reason why they cry like a weakling at the basest, minimal calamity that life suddenly throws at them.