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.

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Five ways I used to jive up my quest for a fitter body

It'd be a no-brainer to say that when I look back at what I was ten years ago, I find myself much smarter, more read and more useful as a human being in general than what I used to be. A big part of such self-analyses is getting to know what things have been more useful for this improvement than others. A lot of things do stand out.

Considering that this is a blog dedicated to the pursuit of fitness, today's post serves the purpose of detailing out five of the most rewarding things that I have done(or made to do) with my life which have resulted in the most far reaching changes in the way I look, feel, perform and treat the ones around me.

Now, most of this stuff wasn't what I planned to do when I started off in the first place. When I got my hands across the first ever textbook on weight training I read in my life, my instant reaction, like every other guy new to this awesome set of methods was to jump right away and get my hands wrapped around the nearest barbell around. It was a life of extreme mindsets and I lived in absolutes. After literally hundreds, if not thousands of pitfalls, fast forward to today, most of the beliefs(even disbeliefs) I had were literally laughable by my today's standards.

Anyway, considering, that is all a part of learning and growing up, I'd not miss all the nuggets of lifelong wisdom that also came along the way. Without further set of long speeches, here is what I find to be the most paying-back investments that have helped me shape up the guy I see in the mirror every morning and my insight into helping people reach their fitness goals.

1. Read, and never miss to read from the right sources:

I was fortunate to have come across some of the brightest minds that the Fitness Industry has every produced during my early school and college days. I was an inquisitive kid(actually an apparent introvert on the outside, but things have changed ya know... *wink*)

Some works from some of the most prominent names in the industry really changed the way I thought. Of them, Dan John's articles, blogs and books remain a big piece.

I had one of my most thought provoking aha moments of learning when I sat down patiently to study Charles Staley's Escalating Density Training by heart. Let me tell you, this is one of the most rules defying and contrarian approaches to training ever taken, and yet, is one of the most effective investments you can do introduce a positive change in the way you look at training your body. The entire time I read it was filled with smiles of learned understanding.

Charles Staley

The solid knowledge works of enlightened minds such as Eric Cressey, Tony Gentilcore and Mike Robertson helped me understand how the clinical domains of Joint biomechanics, Anatomy and Kinesiology intersect with resistance training for strength gains. I was finally able to understand the meaning of several clinical jargon that was thrown around a lot in fitness based discussions.

Mark Rippetoe, the undisputed guru of the science of weight training(or the guy who has come up with the most concise textbook on how to learn and improve the big lifts, Starting Strength) authored how application of fundamental physics can help a lifter improve his numbers without injuring himself or herself.

Mark Rippetoe

Lately, the cerebral prodigy of Bret Contreras, the uber simplified advice interspersed with experiences from a history of martial arts by Tom Furman and the versatile training wisdom and innovative ideas of Ross Enamait never fail to catch my reading attention.

Finally, Pavel Tsatsouline, or the evil Russian as he is famously known is a big inspiring figure I have been consistently learning from. Be it his time-tested strategies of kettlebell training or his sharp strength enhancement wisdom as outlined in works such as Power to the people or Beyond Bodybuilding (I keep reading these two again and again and find a new gem of knowledge almost every time) or longevity and joint health improvement knowledge shared in Relax into Stretch or Super Joints, Pavel is seldom wrong.

The evil Russian

Of course there are uncountable great names deserving a mention here who couldn't be included. But if you have caught the drift, the point here is how important it becomes to keep acquiring knowledge from as many right sources as possible, as you advance further in your game of strength.

2. Accept criticism without remorse, even from the most unlikely sources:

Being young, during my teens, my immature outlook on most subjects of life made me immediately reject any form of criticism thrown at me and the methods I used. I had little idea that that would be one of the most grave behavioral mistakes I am going to commit, while hoping to have a really progressive future.

Such an attitude, as I reflect back today seems to stem mostly from living in the absolutes. At some points of time, Training all out and getting burned out with no traces of life left in my body after a workout seemed to have been my favorite rage. At other times, I could not imagine pushing myself to the limits at all, always maintaining a comfort zone of mine. Carbohydrates seemed to keep coming and going from my list of ingredients for a superb diet. I found it continuously tough to stick to a program for more than a couple of weeks, without jumping to the newest training method, exercise program described in the most reader-savvy fashion in the monthly fitness magazine. Hell, it even happened that after watching my favorite action star doing a physical exercise maneuver in a movie, I instantly went gung-ho to replicate it in my morning workouts.

Do any of the Van Damme fans remember doing this after watching the movie Double Team?

In other words, life seemed to have got hooked to living in absolutes. Something was either made to be immediately followed, or NOT AT ALL.(We all remember the exercise articles that state that so and so are the exercises should never ever be done in the gym).

To my rescue, with age came wisdom and I learned to accept what went against my strongly held notions. I started accepting random people's pointers coming to me in the gym as I trained and questioning my current form. I started attending any seminar or workshop held in my locale discussing exercise and nutrition. And as I started opening up, I began to derive meaning in almost all forms of communication I could hear or overhear, tweaking exercise order/selection/using more cardio/utilizing ignored sports into my curriculum.

And guess who gained form it the most? Me, by seeing changes in my appearance which i always wanted but could never see where the issue lied. It was then that I knew that people may appear wrong but may often have the right intentions for our good when they critique our methods.

3. Surround yourself with the people who want to go where you do:

Years ago I used to train at a dungeon like local gym that was filled with exceptionally hard working and strong dudes from my locale. Although I couldn't match their strength levels in most lifts, what it did to me was make me constantly yearn for more and never stop improving When you always have a goal hanging in front of you, retiring with a feeling of 'having nailed it' is a very infrequent happening..

To make it more specific, you may often identify people from the folks around you who happen to share the exact similar interests as you do. I find it a fascinating idea to garner such companies towards attaining the common goal faster. I you are a kettlebell training enthusiast, why not find a local interest group around who is wishing to find you.. Aspiring powerlifters hoping to compete in their maiden meet may find it really helpful to hang around with similar guys who have done it in the past. Yoga practitioners can have a really soul satiating discussion when other Yogis are around.

As the saying goes you are the average of the five people you spend your time the most with, right?

4.  Slow down:

We in the current generation are masters of the art of swiftness.. or swift key pressing or swift swiping, to put it more correctly. Typing on a keypad has even been replaced with a swipe maneuver to add to the speed. In order to account for the immense cloud of information overload available around us, we HAVE TO be fast. We cannot afford to not buy that Smartphone hanger for our car windshield since everyone in the office has already done that by now. We can't miss to share the recent article we read on 'how to make out if your spouse is cheating on you' before anyone else shares it on Facebook.

We cannot afford to lose in the race.

What we may not realize is that in the zeal for winning, we are actually losing. Losing on all the real important stuff we grew up learning about in the pre-Android and pre-IOS eras. They may no tbe mastered by doing four status updates, Facebook group posts, re-tweets, online shopping orders and answering seven office emails simultaneously. We need to slow down. Radically slow down.

In fact most of us may become severely paranoid at the thought of slowing down our thoughts fearing it may result in, I don't know, maybe being considered mediocre among our peers, get fired, or whatever.

But the truth is, I got a very Nirvanic vision about where I was going with my physical training when I stopped, sat back and took a very relaxed and patient 30,000 feet view at my plans. Even nagging issues get resolved with a patient and positive approach. Impatience may kill most abundant problem solving abilities of even some sharp individuals; so is what I have seen even in the office cubicles or meeting rooms happening.

For example, while abbreviated rest intervals may have their own place in weight training, resting more between really challenging sets, preparing for the next challenging set is always going to be better than rushing for the bar. Not only does it let your CNS, respiratory and muscular apparatus recover more from the previous set, it also helps us better focus for the upcoming lift/set.

In short, the key to being fast may lie in slowing down. That's a message which may take a really long time to resonate with our contemporary generation.

5.Master the art of clear communication:

This should come as a surprise, however I can posit the number of positive changes I made to my training style and the mistakes I corrected once I started to express my thoughts clearly across. Communication is a two way business and thus it may even be of benefit to us if we learn to process feedbacks given to us. By almost anyone.

Being more patient readers and listeners can be a formidable add to our set of skills while we are going about trying to add to our knowledge about the extensive ways in which our health and bodies can be improved. I got to know the very fundamental gaps in my knowledge once I re-read the books and articles highlighting a particular subject area, literally several times over. The tactic also worked while I was talking to people after a workout about the specifics of how to hit more depth in a squat or improve my pull during a deadlift, or maybe how to make the best tasting omelet ever while discussing it with dad.

Clear communication may also help fitness professionals trying to reach out to a wider audience to get their message across more clearly. Which is also what the premise behind starting this blog was when I decided about it. In any situation, a professional or individual who is able to express the concepts or ideas in his minds clearer may get an edge over his peers and maybe more useful to the society overall.

That sums up the rants for this time. I will be returning soon with more content loaded. Hit the like button and share if you liked this blog post. Do feel free to share across your social networks. I welcome your prized feedback.

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Gym discontinuation phobia, training options at home, yoga and more

The week has been one filled with a tonne of traveling, which explains why I had kept blogging on the back burner for this short while. Apparently, what eats away our productivity more, working at my office workstation or browsing endlessly on facebook at night the anxiety to come up with something market-shattering with every blog post is a question tougher than answering why Kattappa Killed Bahubali.

Anyway, here are some really interesting scenarios queried by several fitness friends of mine and the thought processes which I take in such situations:

Question: "I'm planning to join a gym to get in shape from a considerably long time now. However, one thought haunts me. I am being told that once I stop going to the gym, I will not only be loosing all my hard earned results, the state in which I will be left is going to be even worse than what I started with. I also read in a magazine how the rate at which I put on fat on my body is going to be higher than what I did before I started exercising. Is this tradeoff worth taking the exercise route? I'm confused."
Answer:It may not be wrong to say that people may gain more weight than what they started with after discontinuing a workout regimen. Here's why:

Once we engage in a physically demanding endeavor such as continued, progressive resistance training, our caloric needs increase. As a result, after a period of 6 to 8 weeks of following a workout program religiously, we may find out that our appetite, especially during the peri-workout window circling around 3-hours post our training session gets boosted up. Most individuals report unseen levels of hunger after an intense bout of weight training or any other form of anaerobic training.

Our eating patterns transform and necessities enable us to eat more calorifically dense foods(Nuts, Cereals, dairy) in order to bridge the gaps between the needs of our next training session and the supply of nutrients we influx into our bodies through food. As our workouts keep getting more challenging(Since every resistance training exercise involves a progressive overload over a period of time) our training needs keep getting more advanced reaching a point where absence of quality nutrition may end up in experiencing black-outs and nausea/vertigo while training.

Compare that to a situation where training suddenly gets to a halt and your body transforms into a sedentary phase of living. Although our physical activities and as a result, the demands have jolted their brakes, our desires to eat more and the emotional attachment to the good old carefree eating days still remain our favorite toys we are not ready to lose. As a result, we are now living in a state which is the complete nadir of what was going on when you were a serious trainee within the gym. And since during those initial 8 to 10 weeks of your gym membership or following of that particular exercise program, your motivation levels were sky high and knew no bounds, you actually lapped quite close to one of your very best performances under the bar. This just made things worse and increased the contrast between your metabolic rates then and now. As a result, the excessive calories consumed now on are for sure going to find a way to get their existence justified within your bodies, and mostly will choose the path of least resistance. Simply said, you will now give the calories you consume, a reason to be settled and stored as the metabolically less active state: Stored Fat. Body fat percentages rise and the once cherished look in the mirror slowly starts drawing the dissatisfied looks from you.

Why do we get even fatter than what we started with? Devastated with the aforementioned episode of self body image destruction, most ex-trainees might descend into a state of very mild trauma. And delicious food choices, as we know them, most often are more entertainment than nutrition, especially in less active situations like this one here. If something takes you out of a state of depression, we should take more of it, right? Well, so does out hypothetical early retiree from training. It's then that this friend of ours starts experiencing a host of unwanted symptoms in his body composition, including a sudden, unexpected surge in hunger pangs, surprisingly poor food choices, inability to control cravings and an overall retarded sense of well being.

Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson might be able to gulp junk in his meantime, but YOU after a sabbatical from exercise may not. Sorry!

What went wrong here? Was it the training which can be put at fault here? As most readers reading this anecdote may be realizing by now, it was not the time when the subject was putting all the efforts to get quality training stimulus while exercising in the gym. Things in fact went wrong when all the quality effort was aborted while the adjoining eating patterns were not simultaneously and accordingly tailored.

Question: "I'm a housewife and have a history of having trained with weights seriously for a couple of years. My goal is to train for strength and hypertrophy improvement. Recently, most of my time is spent taking care of my kids at home, which does not allow me to travel to train at a good gym. Is there a way I can train at home and replicate the kinds of results I got while I used to train at a fully equipped gym? I understand it becomes unreasonable to ask for matching results at home, but, there's got to be a way, right?"
Answer: Absolutely yes. There are way lot ways to improve one's physical strength and conditioning than what most of us would believe. For instance, here's a program called Gravity Iron by Tom Furman, one which I have followed for a good amount of time while having very limited access to a gym. One of the best things I can recollect from my workout notes was the almost perennial possibility of progression there. The program prescribed performance of deadlifts twice every week. I substituted it with kettlebell swings with a 32 Kg bell, in absence of a barbell at home and it worked awesome. Every bodyweight lift consisted of a target number of repetitions which can be completed in any number of sets depending upon how advanced an exercise we have selected. There is a bodyweight pushing movement such as the pushups, a bodyweight pulling movement such as the pull ups or bodyweight rows(I did these on the TRX). I enjoyed doing it for months, while progressing in my bodyweight movement performance, all in the confines of my room.

Another working option comes from the work of Pavel Tsatsouline who has written extensively on utilizing bodyweight training for strength development in his book, The Naked Warrior. The premise here lies in performing submaximal sets of a pair of bodyweight exercises which have minimal topographic overlap in terms of the muscle groups utilized, eg: The one arm push up and the One legged squat or Pistols.

The regimen here tells your to keep performing sub maximal practice sets of selected exercises(usually not more than two) throughout the day, in order to grease the groove or train the neural pathways to perform that movement more efficiently. In other words, you keep getting stronger at those lifts. You may need to make sure that you are never tired, always refreshed at the start of a set and never ever reach failure on any of the sets. What's more, you can do your workout almost anywhere you are, the office, the home, even in a hotel room; the likelihood of getting your training session done gets higher. Equipment needs are negligible; in fact the only set of equipment I may suggest here is a pull up bar since that is a piece tough to arrange in a typical house design here in India. At the end of a training block of 8 to 12 weeks, you may be amazed at the ability you would have gained from all those repeated sub maximal efforts spread throughout the day. Even more magnificent would be the carryover of strength to other lifts especially in terms of tension generation capability of the body under heavy loads.

An aside to the Grease The Groove concept is this magically effective and simple program by Pavel called The Fighter Pull Up. Read it here; it might be one of the best pieces of advice you may ever have read on bodyweight exercise training.

Once you have gained significant prowess in the Naked Warrior exercises, the One Armed Push Up and the one legged squat variations such as the Skater Squats or Pistols(Believe me, it will be a hell lot of time before you reach a comfortable expertise level in these movements, especially if your bodyweight is towards the higher side), you can periodically test your strength using challenges such as Doing 50 consecutive Pistol Squats and similar bodyweight training feats as featured here in this blog post by Eric Moss SFG, SFB. This plan entails an uber-simplified and very gradually progressing approach towards achieving these milestones of strength/strength-endurance ensuring solid technique is being forged in the process.

Paul Wade's Convict Conditioning is robust long term bodyweight mastery plan one can utilize in almost any kind of home set-up.

These and several other ideas suggest how sky is the limit when going ahead and designing a strength training program using minimal equipment at home and decent levels of physical improvements can be gained, given consistency is being adhered to.

Question: "I travel a lot and was recently suggested by a friend who is a follower of Yoga tutelage led by Swami Ramdev based in Haridwar, India, as an exercise medium. How effective is Yoga going to be for helping me lose some kilos?  Is it really all that people claim it is?"  
Answer:If I am a proverbial couch potato whose favorite pastime includes surfing through the plethora of TV channels while sipping Soda along with donuts for major parts of the day, while I am not busy sitting for chronically prolonged hours in office: Then YES. getting involved in a regular Yoga session is definitely going to be a weight loss tool for me. This is because it brings me out of my immobile and sedentary state and makes me move my joints through their complete range of movements. Several intermediate to advanced Yogic poses may require us to hold a solid isometric contraction for a prolonged time. Asasnas such as the Mayurasana, or the elbow lever is a great bodyweight strength and balance feat to practice. Adho Mukha Vrksasana or the handstand pose can be a daunting practice for even strong folks who have less exposure to bodyweight training. The padmasana is an excellent hip mobility drill which can be a useful tool for loosening up the hip joints preparatory to several activities. The sheershasana or the headstand is one of the best ways to strenghten the entire spinal column for taking up compressive stresses and strengthening the adjoining musculature. Naukasana or the boat pose helps develop isometric strength in the abdominal muscle groups and chakrasana is a drill which can help alleviate back pain in chronic sitter and reverse the ill effects of prolonged sitting.

Bhujangasana is an asana which I use a lot for lengthening tightened frontal abdominal musculature and hip flexors after a long day at office.

And we aren't even discussing yet the benefits of Pranayama or the yogic science of breath control and meditation. What separates pranayam from the traditional yogic poses is the ways in which it enforces breathing techniques and lets the body connect with itself(one of the key ways in which yoga acts as an effective physical and mental recovery drill). Pranayam drills such as kapaalbhaati pranayam, anulom vilom, Bhrasrika Pranayam etc can be done anywhere and heal several ailments including digestive issues, endocrinological disorders and restoring of balances, improving alertness, relieving stress and igniting metabolism.

While there is a boat load of benefits that can be accredited to a regular yogic practice, there are of course a lot of maligned thoughts which may not be direct benefits of yoga per se. This brief post may not be enough really to summarize the immense changes which we can all enjoy after a regular practice of Yogasanas in our living room every morning.

That said, there is still some category of benefits which may not be as readily obtained from a singular practice of Yoga as can be gained from a combined approach consisting of resistance training and appropriate cardiovascular training; not to mention the amount of dietary cleaning that might be required alongside. In other words, we may not be able to expect our body fat percentage  to drop significantly by a mere application of Yogic principle. When I say significantly, I am considering a decent level of drop in body fat in beginning training population owing to their inactivity from so many years. However, as you progress with your practice, the need for a higher amount of training stimulus than bodyweight alone will be felt. At this point, you can incorporate a calculated and modulated approach of weight training.

That's a quick nitty gritty for the week. Do comment and share your thoughts on whatever you liked or disliked about the post.