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.

Thursday, 26 May 2016

How important is sleep really for us?

I am really sleepy as I speak to you. And this has been a result of not sleeping well, inspite of knowing how messed up it is going to make me look.

If you are like me, sleep might come to you as only slightly more important than work. In fact, if most of us had our way, we would swing a magic wand and let go of all the need we have for sleeping and make a very fashionable use of all that time to do cool stuff.

Alas, life (and biology)!

However taking a moment to get off our all-night-safari-jeep and appreciating what good sleeping nicely does to us will make you reconsider your stand. Here's some of the goodies that sleep is loaded with:

Do check out another piece I've written on the subject of sleep's importance for health and fitness nuts, HERE!

1. A well slept night can be the difference between a confident lift and a shaky one where your eyes are burning and you are guessing in the middle of a weight, why the hell am I doing this?

2. Training requires you to effectively remember the lifting technique or the act of moving the weight from one point to another. Remember those days when you used to memorize vast chapters before history exams? Somehow we used to remember better when we were fresher as compared to the when we were sleep deprived. It works the same way with weight training.

3. Imagine that you suddenly find yourself under a weight weighing twice or even more times your bodyweight. To come out alive of such a situation, you might require significant degree of alertness to quickly tighten up yourself and generate sufficient tension to support the weight without injuring yourself.

 Sleeping properly can thus help you stay more awake during your heavy training sessions where you might be required to generate force and tension to prevent injuries. I myself have suffered insurmountable spinal pain from lifting heavy when I wasn't fresh. Here is the first hand account.

4. It's a cascading damage. One less than optimal training session renders the very next one ineffective due to a misplaced target weight milestone which in turn brings the performance during the next one down which will be the lower denominator for the next in line, and so on. A properly recovered and alertness and focus driven session can bring your lifting numbers back in place.

A sharp focus, right from the start of the lift requires to have slept properly.

Now this doesn't mean that for someone who has followed his or her sleeping hours like a religion will never experience symptoms of partial recovery during lifting. Sometimes we miscalculate the amount of rest we might require, a common phenomenon in busy lives. Moreover, when surpassing a current max weight, most trainees might need to stay at that new max longer than they might expect. Overreaching without sufficiently recuperating on previous endeavors of surpassing can force you to stop any ongoing training and wait till you feel fully fresh and ready again to conquer the next target weight.

5. Often not recovering enough is what renders a bad rap to lifting too. Most trainees who aren't sleeping enough even after going through intense weight training programs start to experience visible signs of damage and incomplete repair. I myself start to develop facial acne. Hair-fall and dark circles around the eyes AREN'T uncommon too. So is loss of appetite. Accumulating stress can also jettison a high cortisol response resulting in a peculiar fat deposition profile (a classic case of how exercise based stress can also make you fat).

People can conveniently ignore the sleep-gap in this situation and the only element to be blamed becomes the training. Try to not fall into such misunderstanding and ensure adequate sleep adherence.

ironically, a seemingly lethargic sleep is when you are most actively reaping the benefits of hard training.
Ever felt immensely fuller and more focused, clearer in the head after a longer than usual sleep? Chances are that you have been seriously underslept in the recent times. Try to use these reasons as an excuse to get to bed earlier tonight and become a higher bad-ass than you are.

Feel free to shower your thoughts on the subject of sleep for better health and looks. Hit share if you loved the post!

Friday, 20 May 2016

Random Traning Insight: The Front Squat and The Drag Curl

A better set & rep scheme for the Front Squat:

Low repetitions are a better choice than high reps when it comes to the front squat. A recent inclusion of front squats in my current program further strengthened this thought.

Front Squats a rare mix of two entirely different classes of muscles involved. On one hand, we have the highly heterogeneous mix of fast and slow twitch fibers residing in the lower body(the quadriceps, VMO complex, the calves) and on the other, we have a big combination of mostly fast twitch only upper body muscles like the mid back and neck muscles which play a key role in executing a technically correct front squat. As a result there is a varying fatigue curve against time for all the involved muscle groups. In all possibility, your upper body muscles responsible for keeping the bar in place might get exhausted way before the lower body muscles might even start experiencing symptoms of fatigue.
Due to the frontal placement of the load, the front squats are merited with loading the quadriceps to a higher degree than back squats

Basically, the front squat requires you to keep your elbows elevated and scapulae depressed during the entirety of the set. As such, it places tremendous demands on your lower trapezius and rhomboids, both of which are not very slow-twitch dominant muscles(The Rhomboids are approximately 55 percent fast twitch and the lower trapezius is )

Significantly involved in stabilization of the cervical spine and the neck region is the sternocleidomastoid, a muscle that is about 65 percent fast twitch, that makes it a muscle that can have a very high level of activation for a relatively shorter time. The entire neck musculature is also called into play during the front squats since the need to keep the bar directly above your mid foot makes it roll back a lot a times choking you. The exacerbated requirement to breath deeply and retain such breaths makes the entire neck musculature to remain in overdrive throughout this period.

The role of spinal erectors is priceless in an exercise like this which requires more midline stabilization under the load than any other lower body exercise. Again, the muscles that run along the spine such as the erector spinae might start to loose peak activation levels much before the quadriceps, VMO or the calves. Trying to stay upright under the bar starts to become a struggling affair.

In light of all the above constraints, the most effective way of utilizing front squats in a program targeting muscle hypertrophy is to use lower number of reps per set and in turn trying for a higher number of sets to match the volume used in case of a back squat. This ensures technical correctness and sufficient muscle building potential derived out of execution of this exercise.

The Drag Curl as opposed to the plain old bicep curls

One of the exercises in my current program called for a movement to train the biceps. The choice here mostly becomes the barbell curl(and very obviously so). However, this age-old choice might come with a set of challenges:

1. It's a single joint movement
Although you might utilize isometric and limited range-of-motion assistance from your back and hip muscles to execute really heavy bicep curls, the exercise by definition remains a single joint one and as such mandates minimal to near zero involvement of other muscle groups.

This does comes with increased risk of joint use injuries especially around the elbow and wrist joint. At the same time, jerky and small range of motion movement especially at the lumbar spine in case of incorrectly executed cheat curls can leave one with an injured low back.

2. You really cannot go as heavy as you'd really want to in regular curls
Following from the previous point,  we have all never been able to go real heavy in bicep curls without sacrificing some form. You know, that real 'big-wheels-on-each-side' kind of weight.

The solution to this set of problems came to me as a great exercise devised by one of the brightest geniuses of the iron sport, Vince Gironda.  The exercise is "Drag Curls".
Vince Gironda - The Iron Guru

Drag Curls allow you to use your shoulders to hyperextend your humeri while also curling the weight at the ellbows. Here's how it goes:
1. Pick a barbell with about shoulder wide grip and stand straight with a shoulder wide stance.
2. Drag the bar along your upper body all the way up to your lower chest with the barbell touching your body at all times. You do this by simultaneously flexing the elbow joint and hyperextending (pulling the barbell back towards you) the shoulder joint
3. At the top position, your arms are fully flexed, your elbows are pulled back behind your body and the bar is in contact with your upper chest.
4. Do not elevate your shoulders. This is not a shrug.
5. Reverse the movement in a controlled manner all the way down to the point where the barbell is hanging in your arms to complete one rep

By using multiple joints here, you immediately get rid of both the issues faced in a standard curl. You will be surprised to know how heavy you can go in a drag curl compared to a conventional curl. Bigger weights are always the precursor to bigger muscles and involvement of both the shoulder and elbow joint to balance the loading makes it a much safer exercise as well.

For the same reason, you also happen to recruit more number of muscles giiven your range of motion is good. You do get a good recruitment of the upper traps, the posterior heads of the deltoids and good grip work since you are lifting a bigger weight now.

Hopefully these pieces of information will benefit the trainees who haven't come across these thoughts so far. Try utilizing these tools in your quest for strength and hypertrophy. Let me know of your questions and experiences in the comments below. Would love it if you share the post as well. Cia, until then!