Sunday, December 31, 2006

Weighted Pushups

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Bench pressing (for me) is ancient history. I don’t do it. It was bothering my shoulders, so I stopped. Funny thing, though; I found that I could do all sorts of pushup variations — totally pain-free.

Rotator cuff problems from excessive bench pressing are common. If you are among the afflicted, give it rest. Once you are pain-free, start with a few pushups, gradually adding reps, then weight.

Here’s another thing. When you do pushups with a barbell plate or a dumbbell on your back, you have to stay tight from head to toe. Otherwise, the weight falls off. So weighted pushups are more of a total upper-body exercise than bench pressing. Try them. You’ll see.

Dive Bombers, Hindu pushups, and declines with your feet on a stability ball are good, too. Mix them up. You may find that you don’t miss bench pressing even a little a bit. I sure don’t.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

The BMI is Almost Worthless

Once again, medical doctors seem to authenticate what Jack LaLanne preached for years. A simple cloth tape measure put around your waist is a better indicator of a healthy body weight than the BMI (Basin Mass Index). Or as LaLanne puts it: "Your waistline is your lifeline."

Hauling around too much fat is bad, no matter how it is distributed. But belly fat is the most dangerous kind. It is more directly linked to a greater chance of developing heart disease. Learn more in a news report about a Kaiser Permanente study done in Northern California.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Olive Oil Gets Another Gold Star!

Much has been written about the benefits and advantages of the so-called "Mediterranean Diet." But what is it really?

Mostly, it emphasizes a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, and the liberal use of olive oil. Saturated fats are minimal.

Among the fats that are known to be good for us are those from fatty cold-water fish, avocadoes, nuts, seeds, and olive oil. For some recent findings on the benefits of olive oil and a Mediterranean style diet, go here.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Bulking Up to Make the Team

Recently, I watched a TV special about immense football linemen in today’s high schools, players in their teens weighing in at nearly 300 pounds. Apparently, it has become commonplace. Their girth is supposed to get them scholarships to high powered collegiate football programs and then, for some, to make it into the pros.

Some of course will reach those goals. Most, however, will not. But the price they will pay is almost certain to be serious health problems at an early age and a shortened life span.

Typically, teens aren’t known for looking very far down the road. But you have to wonder: Where are their parents and what are they thinking? Today, Junior may be hell on wheels as a high school lineman. But being beefed-up to NFL size as a teen is a prescription for early cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, and arthritis, to name a few of the “perks” they can look forward to.

That’s a big price to pay, don’t you think?

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Clean and Military Press

Looking for one exercise that involves nearly all of your body’s pushing and pulling muscles at once? Well, the clean and press qualifies, big time. Until 1972, it was one of the lifts in the Olympics, along with the snatch and clean and jerk. The reason it was dropped is interesting but for another time.

Watch the video to see how it is done. Use either a barbell or dumbbells. Points to emphasize are: Be sure to bend your knees until you are in a semi-squat position, keep a naturally arched back, your head up, and look forward as you begin the clean. Stay tight and start your pull by straightening your legs, whipping your hips forward, and then pulling with your lats, traps, and arms.

When the barbell or dumbbells reach maximum height, dip under the weight, bring your elbows forward, and catch the weight above your chest. Stand straight (that's why they call it the military press) and keep your abs and glutes tight as you press the weight overhead. Exhale as you press the weight.

Low-rep sets develop overall body power. To get your heart pumping, move into the 10 to 15 rep range. But don't let your form get sloppy and risk injury.

Note: A military press differs from a push press. With the push press, once you have cleaned the weight, you bend your knees and use leg drive to assist in driving the weight overhead.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

European Blubber

The United States isn't the only nation with a huge (no pun intended) obesity problem. Here is what many European countries are planning to do to reverse the dangerous trend. Go here.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Love That Fish

Evidence of the value of eating cold water fatty fish or taking fish oil supplements keeps adding up. If you still need convincing, read this.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

You Don't Have to Get Naked to See The Problem

Have we gone crazy in America? Our kids and grandkids are getting fatter every year, and parents are letting it happen. Who is in charge here anyway? Take the TVs and computers out of their bedrooms. Get them outside to run and play. Raise hell with schools that provide junk food. Teach kids why it is important to eat healthful foods and in moderation. Take charge. Check out the Naked Chef.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

More on The "White Death"

They are the Big Three of crap foods: Sugar, processed flour, and trans fats. Which is the worst? Who knows? They all do their damage. Let's look at sugar. The soft drink people sell, sell, sell their sugar-junk drinks to our kids and grandkids and they get fatter and fatter. Bulletin: Diabetes and heart disease happen! Now here's one more good reason to get sugar out of your life: Sugar significantly increases your chances of having pancreatic cancer, according to a study by researchers in Sweden.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Horizontal Pull-Ups

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Pull-ups, chin-ups, and their many varieties are great for upper-body strength and development. One of the least seen varieties is the horizontal pull-up and it is a good one. In some ways it may give you even more bang for your buck than vertical chinning.

Doing pull-ups from an almost horizontal position requires keeping your abs and lower-back muscles very tight as you pull with lats, rhomboids, biceps, and forearms. And the beauty is that all the equipment you need is a sturdy horizontal bar and a bench or box on which to elevate your feet.

Here’s how they work: Go beneath the bar and grip it with both hands at slightly wider than shoulder width; extend your legs and place your feet on the bench; straighten your body, keep it taut, and pull your chest to the bar. Later, you might try using an underhand grip.

If at first you are not strong enough to do them with your feet elevated, keep your feet on the floor and bend your knees. As you grow stronger, gradually straighten your legs. Once you can get 8 or 10 reps with straight legs, start putting your feet on higher objects, gradually working toward being horizontal.

Bonus tip for advanced trainees: For a rugged upper-body workout, try super-setting horizontal pull-ups with dive bomber push-ups. Only the strong survive!

* To see dive bomber push-ups, click on "August 2006" in the "Archives" column.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The Miles Take Their Toll

On the car radio today I heard an interview with someone famous (I have a reason for withholding his name). He is a senior (age 75) in good health, yet boasted that he has never done any form of regular exercise. The interviewer laughed and said that her father, a senior, has never done anything other than mow his lawn and he’s in good health, too. On the other hand, she, the interviewer, a young woman athelete and marathon runner, said she has bad hips and knees.

I don’t want to make too much about one case of anecdotal “evidence,” yet I have to admit that I wasn’t too surprised to hear about her hip and knee problems. My opinion on long distance running is that most people are not suited to it. Too many senior long distance runners that I’ve seen have broken down body parts.

But if long distance running happens to be your preferred form of cardio — and you are not noticing signs of excessive wear and tear — then keep at it. In my own case, I guess I was never a good enough distance runner for it to become important to me. Instead, I like to hike and do some wind-sprints. You don’t see many achy knees and backs among hikers and sprinters.

My second concern with long distance running is that it is catabolic. It tends to wear away muscle tissue. The better way to go (unless you want to be a competitive long distance runner) is by doing a combination of resistance training and short but regular doses of any cardiovascular activity.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Using The Scale To Your Advantage

In a study confirming the obvious, the New England Journal of Medicine reports that stepping on a scale daily is the way to maintain your desired weight, once a healthy bodyweight is achieved. Obvious, yes, but it's still worth reading. The story from Reuters is here.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

All Natural Bodybuilding

Deborah Jackson, our favorite grandmother (yes, I said grandmother) all-natural bodybuilding competitor, is recently retired from a New York City law firm. She has relocated in South Carolina.

Retirement for Deborah does not mean idle time. On November 4th, she will compete in the NPC Eastern USA contest in New York City. And she’s presenting the Feb .10, 2007 All Natural Bodybuilding & Figure Championship in Florence, South Carolina. Details here.

Anyone interested in all-natural bodybuilding competitions and training should bookmark Deborah’s web site. She knows what it takes to succeed and generously shares her knowledge.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Hamstring Stretch and Shoulder Rotation

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This easy to learn stretch and relaxation movement is great for relaxing tense neck and shoulder muscles, and stretching hamstrings and Achilles tendons.

Run the video a few times and then try it.

Softly lean forward, with arms folded, one leg extended, toes pointed up; slowly rotate your shoulders 12 to 20 times. As your muscles relax into the stretch (do not force yourself), softly lower your hips and shoulders more. Keep a straight but relaxed spine. Then with your opposite foot forward, reverse your shoulder rotation for 12 to 20 times.

This is a great one after a workout, or really at anytime during the day, or before going to bed.

Do you sit at a desk or work at computer? Stand and do the rotation and stretch for a few minutes every hour and notice how much better you feel.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Many Women Don't Know They're Pre-Diabetic

Are you getting fatter around the middle? Do you have a family history of heart disease or diabetes? You could be headed for the same trouble, especially if you're over 40 and female.
So says a report from the Associated Press.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Weightlifting May Cut Teen Diabetes Risk

Research has shown that strength training can help overweight adults lower their risk of diabetes. Now, a small but promising study found that pudgy boys who lifted weights twice a week for four months lowered their risk for Type 2 diabetes without losing weight, a good sign that has inspired more research.

Of course, getting their body fat percentage to normal would make the picture even brighter. But let's accentuate the positive. Go here.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Confession is good for the Soul

It has been three years since I have done a bench press. I know, I know. Bench pressing is the very heart of most upper-body training. And when it comes to measuring a guy’s upper-body macho-ness, if not his worth as a human being in general, you know what they always ask: “How much can-ya bench press?”

When I was a young buck and working out with a couple of studly training partners, an Olympic set and a sturdy bench were absolute essentials. Later, when my training buddies moved on, I had no spotters. You need spotters for heavy bench pressing. So I switched to dumbbells and devices like Magnum bench press machines. It was a little different, but they were still bench presses.

Four or five years ago, I started having achy shoulders, off and on. I knew something wasn’t right. What I also knew is that too much bench pressing puts your rotator cuffs through hell. So I decided not to do them for a while. My shoulder pain went away and never returned.

Do I miss bench pressing? At first I did. I had it my head that an iron workout really isn’t a workout at all without some serious grunting under a loaded Olympic bar while flat on my back on a bench. I got over it.

Today, I do standard pushups (sometimes with barbell plates resting on my back), push-ups with my feet elevated on a stability ball, Hindu push-ups, dive bombers, and, of course, overhead presses. Guess what. No shoulder problems. Zero. Nada.

And why is that?

I’m not really sure. It could be that the slightly different angles required in those movements make a significant difference. Or maybe it’s the fact that so many more muscles come into play doing push-up varieties. Maybe they are more natural movements, more in sync with the way our bodies are designed.

Has the good old pectoralis major region been slighted without the almighty bench press? I don’t think so. Nobody’s asked recently how much I can bench. Maybe it’s my age and gray hair. But if they should, I’ll ask how many dive bombers they can knock out. Now there is a challenge!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Headline Mumbo Jumbo

Just today a story broke about average life spans in America. Here’s how some in the media played it. Headline: “New Study Shows How Long You Live Depends on Where You Live.”

Briefly, the study from the Harvard School of Public Health pointed out that Asian American women living in Bergin County, New Jersey live the longest (on average 91 years). While American Indians in South Dakota had the shortest life spans, averaging just 58 years. The rest of us in other regions fall somewhere between the two extremes.

Judging by the headline, being an Asian American woman in Bergin County, New Jersey or an American Indian in South Dakota determines your fate.

But not so fast. Buried near the end of story is the important part. The researchers found that the most important contributors to earlier mortality, in order of importance, are:

  1. tobacco
  2. alcohol
  3. obesity
  4. high blood pressure
  5. high cholesterol
  6. diet
  7. physical inactivity

So the headline was deceptive. An individual’s longevity has little to do with where he or she lives. Instead, life choices usually determine lifespan. It may be fair to discuss sociological reasons why Asian American residents of Bergin County, New Jersey make better life choices than American Indians in South Dakota. But it is life choices that account for the differences, not geography.

While we’re at it, look again at the list of contributors to early mortality. The last two on the list, diet and physical inactivity, are usually the reasons for the three early mortality factors just above them, high cholestrol, high blood pressure and obesity. That is the real story.

Monday, September 11, 2006

BMI vs. Waist-Hip Ratio

Much has been written lately about the deficiencies of the Body Mass Index (BMI) for determining overweight or obesity. Without getting into a lot of detail, it comes down to this: Very fit, muscular people are often mistakenly classified as overweight because the scale and the BMI formula do not differentiate fat from muscle.

So, if the mirror and your belt size are not enough to tell you if are too fat, use the waist-hip ratio method for greater accuracy than the BMI. It doesn't require calipers or other doodads to get your answer. Just a simple cloth tape measure. Here's how to do it.

Measure the circumference of your waist (at the smallest point) and of your hips (at the largest point) and divide waist size by hip size. For example, if you are a woman whose waist is 32 inches and your hips 37 inches, you divide 32 by 37, for a ratio of 0.86. This puts you at slightly above normal. For women, a ratio under 0.85 is normal; for men, a ratio under 0.90 is normal.

I wouldn't go so far as saying that scales are obsolete, but they do not always tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Sugar: The White Death

A study in The Lancet shows that someone who eats four ounces of sugar daily is five times more likely to have a heart attack than someone who eats two ounces. (The average American eats five ounces of sugar per day.)

Instead of worrying about some obscure food additive, first get the big killers out of your life: 1) For God sake, don't smoke; and 2) get the sugar out of your diet.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Yea! for a High Protein Diet

HealthDay News reports that eating more protein can help increase levels of a hunger-fighting hormone called peptide YY (PYY), according to British scientists.

Question: Did they really need another study to figure this out? Okay, I shouldn't be sarcastic. They may be a little behind the real world curve, but at least they're now providing scientific studies to back up what old school weightlifters and bodybuilders have known all along. Read all about it here.

P.S. By a "high protein diet," they don't mean Atkins.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Dive Bomber Push-Ups

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ive Bombers are great for developing upper-body strength and flexibilty. They can be difficult at first but certainly doable with practice. Be sure to master the form before adding reps.

Watch the video a few times before trying them. Begin with your feet and hands a little wider than shoulder width apart. Your hips are in the air and your shoulders back behind your hands.

In a smooth, controlled motion, lower yourself to the ground and project yourself forward and up, to the position you would be in at the top of a forward, extended push-up, looking forward and up.

Now smoothly reverse the motion to return to the starting position. Don't hold your breath. Breathe smoothly.


Note: Dive Bombers are similar but not the same as Hindu push-ups.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Circuit Gyms

Here's an intersting report on circuit gyms. You know, those 20- to 30-minute in-and-out storefronts with exercise stations. Curves is the most well known. But others I didn't know about, men's and women's, are popping up around the country. I checked their web sites (they're given at the end of the report), and a couple of them looked okay (Cuts Fitness, especially). Quick and efficient but with a more serious workout than Curves. Report: go here.

Friday, August 18, 2006

A Perfect Way to Start Your Day

Karen Giles stopped in yesterday morning. Karen is the Pilates instructor at the gym where we workout. She and Patty have common interests in knitting and fitness and like to compare notes. Karen is middle-aged and of course in great shape, a beautiful woman.

It was early and I asked her if she'd like to try the breakfast shake that Patty and I begin our mornings with. I'm not the greatest chef in the world, but I have great confidence in my breakfast shake. Karen loved it and asked for the recipe.

That makes it unanimous. I have prepared it for quite a few friends now, and every one of them has asked how it's made. Now several of them tell me they start their mornings the same way that Patty and I do.

Want to it try it? Here is how it's made. I think you'll find it delicious and, believe me, it is absolutely loaded with nutrients your body is screaming for.

Breakfast Shake Ingredients for One Person

Put in a blender:

  • 1-1/2 tablespoons of Ground Flax Seeds (Use a coffee grinder. Be sure to clean the blades afterward because the oil residue will become rancid.)
  • 1 – Measuring scoop (20 grams) of whey protein powder. Get the kind that is almost 100% protein. Unflavored is best because the berries will provide the flavor. We like the Bio Chem brand.
  • 1 heaping tablespoon of unflavored, nonfat yogurt – the kind with friendly bacteria. Nancy’s brand is excellent.
  • 1 – cup of fresh or frozen mixed berries (I mix strawberries, blackberries and blueberries.) Get the kind without any sweeteners added.
  • 1-1/4 cups of soy milk, unflavored, no additives.

Blend and enjoy.

Approximate calories: 395

The quantities of ingredients can tweaked upward to increase calories, if that is desired (for young bodybuilders, for example). But most people like it about the way I've explained. Once in a while, I’ll leave out one of the berry varieties and instead add some kind of fruit. But most of the time, I stay with the berry mixture alone. Berries are loaded with antioxidants and you can’t beat their flavor.

Monday, August 14, 2006


Patty and I just returned from a road trip up the California coast and into Oregon. We hiked in redwood forests and stopped at desolate black sand beaches scattered with bleached driftwood. Sometimes you need a reminder of just how beautiful it is.

The picture here is of Patty about to climb one of the redwoods somewhere between Eureka and the Oregon border. Just kidding about the climbing part. But we did have an invigorating hike through groves of these great giants. That anyone is still cutting them down is nothing less than a sin.

And of course we worked out: One motel had an exercise room with a treadmill, stair climber, and stationary bike. We alternated push-ups, sit-ups, and Hindu squats with cardio. Then we found a gym in Crescent City where we could do our regular weights routine.

In some ways it’s good to be home. On the other hand, we found places that we know we’ll revisit. We also saw some that passed the I-could-live-here test.

Traveling the northern California coast? Patty and I couldn't recommend more highly Ravenwood in the heart of Redwood National Park. The tastefully decorated rooms are spotlessly clean and at the best rates you will find. We don't know how they do it. Nice people, too.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

American Heart Assn. Summary of Recommendations for Omega-3 Fatty Acid

People without documented coronary heart disease (CHD):

  • Eat a variety of (preferably fatty) fish at least twice a week.
    Include oils and foods rich in alpha-linolenic acid (flaxseed, canola and soybean oils; flaxseed and walnuts).

Patients with documented CHD:

  • Consume about 1 g of EPA+DHA per day, preferably from fatty fish. EPA+DHA supplements could be considered in consultation with the physician.
  • Patients who need to lower triglycerides:
    2 to 4 grams of EPA+DHA per day provided as capsules under a physician’s care.
  • Patients taking more than 3 grams of omega-3 fatty acids from supplements should do so only under a physician’s care. High intakes could cause excessive bleeding in some people.

Evidence from prospective secondary prevention studies suggests that taking EPA+DHA ranging from 0.5 to 1.8 grams per day (either as fatty fish or supplements) significantly reduces deaths from heart disease and all causes. For alpha-linolenic acid, a total intake of 1.5–3 grams per day seems beneficial.

Increasing omega-3 fatty acid intake through foods is preferable. However, coronary artery disease patients may not be able to get enough omega-3 by diet alone. These people may want to talk to their doctor about taking a supplement. Supplements also could help people with high triglycerides, who need even larger doses. The availability of high-quality omega-3 fatty acid supplements, free of contaminants, is an important prerequisite to their use.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

One-Legged Deadlift

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I love free weights. I occasionally use machines, but I would have no problem skipping that. I think free weights are superior, more functional to real life, and engage more muscles (mostly the core). I also love something that challenges me more than brute strength, ie. flexibility and balance. Hence, the one-legged deadlift.

Try it on your next leg day. I think it is a winner.

Jennifer in Austria

Friday, August 04, 2006

Danger in Some Household Products

Exposure to a chemical compound commonly found in air fresheners, toilet bowl cleaners, moth balls and other deodorizing products may cause reduced lung function and have a long-term adverse effect on respiratory health, researchers report. Go here.

This isn't surprising. A list of dangers could be extended to household pesticides and herbicides, too. And the thing is, almost none of these products are really necessary. There are many safe and natural alternatives that serve the same purposes.

Here is a convenient list of reliable sources for checking on which products are thought to be harmful. Also listed are sources for safe, inexpensive and natural substitutes. You might want to bookmark it for future reference.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

How to Do Hindu Squats

First, watch the video (you may have to click on the arrow twice).

Note that I am doing them barefoot. If you like wearing shoes, that’s okay, too. Try them both ways.

Note also that at the bottom of my squat my heels come up and my thighs are against my calves. That is the proper form. If you cannot get all the way down or have a problem balancing, descend as far as you can and do them flat footed, if you have to. Then work on gradually squatting deeper and with proper form.

Breathing: Unlike breathing when squatting with a barbell, you exhale on the way down. Inhale deeply coming up and while drawing back your arms. Once you get used to breathing this way it will seem very natural.

Repetitions: Hindu squats can be done in one long set (which can build tremendous endurance) or broken up into sets. I like to mix mine with my weight training. Once you learn the right form, decide how you want to integrate them into your training.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Hay Caliente!

We are having a heat wave where I live, north of San Francisco. We’ve had 11 consecutive days of 100-plus temperatures. It cooled a little yesterday, but our temperatures are still far above normal.

Unless you go before sunrise, it’s too hot to hike in the hills, our favorite form of cardio. So it’s off to the gym with its treadmills, elliptical trainers, stair steppers, and stationary bikes. The machines I refer to as instruments of unrelenting boredom. I’m kidding. We do prefer the great outdoors, but with such extreme heat they look pretty darn good.

Patty and I both use the treadmills. And I have to admit, the ones they have now are pretty slick. There are various programmed workouts you can do on them, such as hill running, random, fat burning, etc. You can also enter your bodyweight and fitness level. All this stuff goes into the computer and provides a read-out on a screen in front of you as you trot along. Want to know your heart rate? Just grip the handles and the contraption measures your pulse.

If it sounds like I’m falling in love, I’m not. This technology has its place. But our dog, Tyra, can’t go with us on a treadmill. There is not the scent of the woods or the sight of deer and birds or the sound of leaves in the wind. No, on most days, we’ll still take our cardio outdoors.

Patty has a fancy iPod and says listening to the beat of up-tempo music is a big plus on the treadmill. I believe her. Mostly, the music selection coming out of the gym’s speakers is dreadful, at least to people in my age group. Funny thing though, over the years I’ve learned to tune it out while pumping iron. But on a treadmill you naturally seek a rhythm, and that tends to bring the beat within the awful noise and often putrid lyrics to one’s attention.

I guess we’ll survive it. The forecast is for our normal temperatures to return in a few days. They’ve been saying that for 10 days now.

Monday, July 24, 2006

More Evidence that Light Drinking May be Heart Healthy

A study of men and women age 70 to 79 found that those who downed one alcoholic drink per day had a significantly lower risk of heart problems or death than those who didn't imbibe, researchers said. To learn more, go here.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

It's Never Too Late to Start

If you're reading this blog you probably already know that exercise works wonders, even if you start at middle age or later. Here is yet a another study to support it, reported in Health Day. Check it out. It never hurts to reaffirm that by staying fit you're also being smart. Health Day.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Confused About Soy?

A recent post (6/22/06) reported on a study confirming the benefits of soy and heart health. But it seems not everyone agrees. For some, the jury is still out, according to some reports on WebMD.

I like soy milk and use it in shakes and, combined with nonfat milk, I pour it over oat cereal. I like the way it tastes. However, soy contains a specific estrogen-like compound, daidzein (which appears to be responsible for some positive effects of soy on cholesterol levels in women, one study shows).

But estrogen! Some guys hear the word estrogen and red flags go up. If I eat soy will I grow breasts? Another fear is that it can diminish one's libido. Enough! Enough! What is true? Is soy a miracle food that some experts have claimed or something to be avoided? My guess is that it falls somewhere between the two extremes.

Most of the scientific information that I have found casts soy in a positive light. But maybe it has been oversold as a miracle food and its benefits exaggerated. I certainly wouldn't use it to the exclusion of other sources, but soy remains on my own list of healthful protein. So far, I haven't developed female characteristics, my libido is just fine, and my cholesterol levels are right where they belong.

Any thoughts you'd like to share? Click on "comments."

To learn the latest on what the doctors are saying about soy, go

Smoke, Smoke that Cigarette

Tobacco will kill a billion people in this century if current trends hold, public health officials said today. That's a lot of folks.

Suspicious as I am about press release statistics (read Thomas Sowell's The Vision of the Annoited for eye openers on that subject), is there anything good that can be said about smoking?

For the full story on the report, go here.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Was Benjamin Franklin right?

According to a report from HealthDay, moderate beer consumption may be a plus for both men and women. Story here.

Oh, I almost forgot:

"Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy."


Thursday, June 29, 2006

Stretch and Strengthen Those Thighs!

I like to end my workouts with 5 to 8 minutes of relaxed stretching. One movement I enjoy not only stretches (the hip region, inner thighs, and quadriceps)— it strengthens those areas as well. I learned the movement years ago while practicing Tai Chi with an early morning group in the park. It is a stretch practiced in most martial arts and for good reason.

Give it a try. If you like it, integrate it where it works best for you. I just happen to like it as part of my stretching.

To begin, stand with your feet spread wider than shoulder width. Smoothly, drop down to one side as shown here.

Now, move your upper body -- without moving your feet -- across your center . . .

and over to your opposite side. Now, move back-and- forth, smoothly, without coming up.

As you grow more flexible, build up your reps.

If you have difficulty balancing or you are at first too tight to shift side-to-side, that is normal. Be patient. For balance, hold on to a pole or any sturdy support and slowly lower yourself to one side. Hold for a bit. Then come up. Do the same thing on the other side.

It may seem very awkward at first, but if you do it a few times at each workout, before long you will be sliding side-to-side with ease.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Soy component linked to heart health benefits

A specific estrogen-like compound, daidzein, appears to be responsible for the healthy effects of soy on cholesterol levels in women, a new study shows.

Women with high levels of daidzein in their blood had lower levels of triglycerides, higher levels of HDL-C or "good" cholesterol, and healthier ratios of total to good cholesterol levels, Dr. C. Noel Bairey Merz of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles and colleagues found.

More information here.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Heart Health

The American Heart Association on Monday released new lifestyle recommendations that urge Americans to cut calories and artery-clogging fats, and to replace "screen time" with exercise. Read the story here.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

What is "Periodization" Anyway?

In my book for senior beginners, I explain a straight line progression plan for building strength and fitness. You begin lifting a weight you can manage without straining for 12 repetitions. At your next training session, you do 13 reps. Then 14 at the following workout, and, finally, 15.

Then you add 5 to 10 pounds to the bar, go back to doing 12 reps, and begin the progression over again. It works in a similar way with cardio. Say that you choose walking. At each workout, you add some minutes to your total. That is how classic straight line strength and fitness progression works.

It is a solid beginner's plan — for a while. But eventually, you hit a wall. Call it what you want, a “sticking point,” a “plateau,” or whatever. If you simply try to push through it while doing the same things in the same way, you inevitably experience physical or psychological burnout.

The great Russian weightlifters realized this long ago and came up with an effective training protocol known as periodization. It works, more or less, like the following:

For 4 or 5 weeks, they trained with rather light weights (light for them anyway), doing 10 to 20 reps per set.

• Then during the next 4 weeks, they did medium reps per set (5 to 8 reps) with heavier weights.

• Finally, they would do low reps (2 or 3 per set) with heavy weights for a few weeks, culminating in a competition.

• After the competition, they would do 1 or 2 weeks of “active rest,” doing some kind of non-lifting type of exercise such as running, swimming or cycling.

Following the active rest period, they would begin another cycle.

You may not be a power lifter; nevertheless, once you have progressed beyond the beginner stage, all training, whether it is for a particular sport, bodybuilding, or general conditioning, should follow a somewhat similar format of 1) gradual buildup, 2) peaking, and 3) active rest.

Why? Because no one can continually push to the limit at every workout and make progress. While on the subject, it should be noted that Russian lifters do not train to failure. Total, all out efforts are reserved for competitions only. Most of us are not in competitions. Still the principle remains the same. Test your limits once in a while, but trying for a personal best at every workout only leads to dreading your training, injury and or eventual failure.

Train with variety. Mix it up. Change your routine. Do high reps for a while. Then switch to medium reps with heavier weights. For cardio, push to better yourself for a while. Add some sprints. Then back off and do something different and with less intensity for a couple of weeks.

You will not only make greater progress, you will enjoy training more.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Fitness Fads & Buzz Words

With so many fat, out-of-shape people these days, I want to be careful about being critical of almost any form of exercise. I think it was Bill Phillips who said practically any exercise is better than no exercise at all. And I agree.

Yet some of the things I see or read about are almost comical and too delicious to ignore. Two that come to mind are: 1) the use of the term “core exercises”; and, 2) witnessing some bizarre workout antics on stability balls of different sorts.

Core Exercises: Listen to talk around a gym and you would think until some recent discovery, people didn’t know how to exercise the center of the body, meaning the abdominals, sides and lower back. Today it’s core this and core that. Of course this is pure nonsense. Various sitting up movements, leg raises, side bends, back lifts and extensions have been part of balanced training for as long as there have been barbells. You worked your “gut” and low back. Core is just a new word for it, often spoken with great reverence. Come on now. It’s your gut and your back.

Stability Balls: I have nothing against them. Nothing at all. Stretching out over a ball feels great and switching from sit-ups on a slant board to a stability ball is a nice change of pace. Yet I’ve seen some contortions on them that border on the extreme and ridiculous. A beginner balancing on a ball while doing one-arm dumbbell presses, as he salutes his trainer with his free hand, must be seen to be appreciated. I exaggerate only slightly. The reasoning given by trainers for putting people through this sort of nonsense is that it improves one’s balance and “recruits stabilizer muscles,” or something like that.

Picking up odd shaped objects from various angles can be a good way to develop practical, useful strength. But let’s also be careful here. Lifting weights while standing on one leg and balancing on an unstable object can be dangerous to one’s health, especially as you get older.

I’m all for lots of variety to keep things interesting: free weights, cables, machines, sandbags, kettlebells, stability balls, bodyweight calisthenics, boot camps, pilates, and aerobics classes. You name it. They all have a place. But let’s not get silly. If something looks ridiculous, it probably is. And perhaps even dangerous.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Training Logs: Are They Essential or Useless?

Not long ago, the famous Cooper Clinic [founder: Kenneth Cooper, M.D., author of Aerobics and other fitness books] made an offer to the nation by way of the Sunday newspaper supplement, USA Weekend. Free of charge, you were invited to create your own training log and health profile through Cooper's web site.

What was intriguing is the information you submitted was automatically converted into a training value according to the Cooper points system. So I filled out the forms to find out if I thought it was worthwhile. Unfortunately, before the first week was over, a notice of discontinuance came up when I accessed Cooper's web site. Apparently, they were overwhelmed with responses and their system couldn't handle them. So they discontinued the offer. Too bad. From what I saw, it looked like a heck of a good resource.

I believe that keeping some sort of training log is necessary for most people. Without one, most workouts end up being hit or miss, and naturally there is no frame of reference if you want to know how you were doing a month ago, two months ago, two years or more.

My own logbook is anything but fancy. It's a simple 5 x 7 pad. The Cooper Clinic method required more involved record keeping than I normally do, but from what I saw I think it might have been worth the extra effort. Nevertheless, my little notebook records have served me well so far.

For something more formal, you might want to check out the new logbook Dave "The Blond Bomber" Draper offers at his Iron Online web site. If you've read his books or have seen his web site, you know his material is first rate.

Bill Phillips came out with a training journal for people taking the Body-for-Life Challenge. I've looked it over and it's a good one, but designed exclusively for the Body-for-Life Challenge. I wish it had been available when Patty took the Challenge in 2000. Phillips simplifies things to begin with, and with the training journal, BFL seems more foolproof than ever.

Bottom Line: Most of us need training records of some sort. It's an old story: If you have no record of where you've been, and have no plan for where you want to go — chances are you're spinning your wheels.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

A Real Doer

In my last newsletter and in yesterday's blog post, I commented on being a “doer,” rather than someone who merely thinks, reads or talks about living a healthful lifestyle.

Here is one real doer who responded:

“Thanks for your news letter: I have been a doer for a long time. But since last Sept to Jan 06 I had throat Cancer that really laid me up for the whole time, though I was able to walk a little and that helped me mentally more that physically. That Cancer is now in remission but it has been found to have spread to the brain. We have kept up the walking and today added rowing, in fact, I am working on 9 million meters and today I started a light weight lifting program. Weak but determined. Thank you again for your newsletter, I should have kept my subscription but I let it lapse. Doug”

Thank you, Doug. Your strength and perseverance set an example for all of us.

Doug kind of puts things in perspective, don't you think?

Get up from your chair. Rise from the sofa. Take that first step to fitness. Take small steps to begin but never stop stepping forward. You can do it.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Be A Doer

My wife Patty is a schoolteacher and used to give workshops to other teachers around the country on classroom control and getting the most out of students. She often told me that one of the ways she improved her own abilities was by exchanging information with other teachers. It made perfect sense to me.

For example, I subscribe to other fitness newsletters, read books, and observe trainers for the same reason, to continually upgrade my knowledge of the subject and how best to explain it to others.

In a recent newsletter from Matt Furey, I was struck by these comments: “The study of Zen is not Zen” and “the study of exercise is not exercise.” Think about those statements because they say a great deal. They also got me wondering about something.

The Gray Iron Fitness Newsletter has a pretty big subscriber list that is continually growing. What I was wondering about, but can never really know, is what percentage of my subscribers is actually exercising and practicing a fitness lifestyle.

Back to the quotes about Zen and exercise: Are you actually doing something to improve yourself physically, rather than merely absorbing information? If you are, congratulations! You already realize that knowledge alone is not power. It is knowledge acted upon that is power.

If you happen to be someone who has been reading, thinking or talking about fitness, but have not begun to actually live a more healthful life, why not start doing it now? Get up. Move around. Walk. Small steps and distances are ok. Extend slowly, but extend. Move, improve and persevere, and you will find the way to a healthier more fulfilling life.

Be a doer.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Do Seniors Rule?

People 55 and older make up about a quarter of all gym and health club memberships nationwide. And the percentage is increasing, making seniors the fastest growing age group becoming gym members. Check out "It's Not Your Daughter's Health Club Anymore."

Monday, May 08, 2006

The Fat Man Walking

Steve Vaught isn't the first person to walk across America, but his reasons and story may be unique. Read a few (or many) of his journal entries and don't miss the photographs.

Am I the last one to know about him? Maybe. But in case you didn't either, take a good look at this web site: The Fat Man Walking.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

The Right Stuff

I got an e-mail from a long-time subscriber to the Gray Iron Newsletter. He has what Tom Wolfe called “the right stuff.” In 2003, Pauly was diagnosed with Hodgkins B-cell lymphoma in his right shoulder. He began treatment and finished in 2004. He returns for check-ups every 6 months. He is 54 and lives in Buffalo, New York.

Let Pauly finish the story.

“My overall shoulder strength is slowly returning. This weekend I did overhead dumbbell presses with 60s for 15 reps, 65s for 12 reps, and 70s for 12 reps at the end of my dumbbell press workout. (I clean the two dumbbells and then do my presses.) I am trying to get to 100s for 10 reps.

“After my dumbbell presses, I do barbell overhead presses from the rack; I follow an old Doug Hepburn pressing routine. (The old timers will recognize Doug's name.) I return to the doctor in late June 2006 for a check-up and I hope to be doing 75s for 10 reps in the overhead dumbbell press.

“I started training in the mid-1960s under the guidance of my older brother. Our Dad had purchased a York weightlifting set for my brother in the early 1960s. I have been training ever since. I lift every day. I also pull a weighted sled in my back yard and at the local park.

“One of my mottos to live by is ‘Live to lift and lift to live.’”

Are you impressed? I sure am.

Good going, Pauly!

Monday, May 01, 2006

Cardio Workouts: How Intense Should They Be?

First off, I like to hike in the hills and woods. Treadmills and stationary bikes are mostly for stormy days, as far as I’m concerned. What I can’t imagine is being on a wonderful trail in the hills, then stopping, locating my pulse (to be accurate, you’re supposed to do it within 5 seconds of stopping), counting the beats, multiplying, etc. Nonsense. Won’t do it.

For me, the “talk test” works just fine. You probably know how it works: Once you are warmed up and have worked up a little sweat, try to speak in short sentences. Utterances of just a few words. If you can do it without gasping for air, you are at about the right pace. On the other hand, if you can talk on and on while not even breathing hard, you are taking it too easy. So pick up the pace.

Yes, it’s subjective. Yet it’s pretty reliable and, most of all, doesn’t intrude on the outdoor experience.

For a little more precision, there are all sorts pulse rate monitoring devices you wear like a wristwatch. And I certainly have nothing against them, since a quick glance at a monitor isn’t much of an interruption.

Of course, even convenient heart monitors can be misused. A man came to a cardio-kickboxing class I was teaching and kept stopping during the workout to read his monitor. I guess he was obsessed with precision because he would come to a halt every few minutes.

After the class, I asked him if he liked the workout. He said he did but was a little disappointed that he didn’t get his heart rate high enough. Gee, I wonder why?

When I use a gym treadmill, I do appreciate the newfangled heart monitors where you just grip the handrails for a few seconds as you run. And boom! There is your heart rate right there on the screen. No stopping for pesky calculations. Pretty neat. I’m not a complete Luddite after all.

Lets get to it. What should one’s heart rate be during an effective cardio session? Here are two ways to figure it:

The Standard Method (most commonly used):

• Take the number 220 and subtract your age from it. That is your Maximum Heart Rate (MHR). Do not exercise at or near your Maximum Heart Rate.

• Exercise instead at your Target Heart Rate (THR), which should be between 60% and 90% of your (MHR).

• Beginners’ Target Heart Rates (THR’s) should be in the 60% to 70% range. Intermediates, 70% to 80%. And advanced exercisers, 80% to 90%.

• Do not go above 90% for sustained periods.

• To increase your aerobic capacity, train at least 3 times per week, and approximately 4 to 6 weeks in a category, before moving up to the next level.

The Karvonen Formula (considered more precise than the Standard Method):

• Determine your resting heart rate (RHR) by measuring it before getting out of bed in the morning. Count your heartbeats for 10-seconds and multiply by 6. That is your resting heartbeat. (As your cardiovascular system becomes stronger, your resting heartbeat will become lower. So you will need to repeat the measurement.)

• Now determine your Maximum Heart Rate (MHR): Subtract your age from 220. That is your MHR.

• Subtract your resting heart rate (RHR) from your maximum heart rate (MHR).

• Multiply that figure by the intensity percentage you want (between 50% and 85%).

• Add your resting heart rate (RHR) to that figure.

• That is your Target Heart Rate (THR) using the Karvonen Formula.

Or, if you’d rather not mess with the math, click here. Enter your age and resting heart rate and, like magic, the computer does it for you.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

I'm Too Cool For My Nikes.

I joined a gym today.

This is the first time in my life that I have paid to workout in a was difficult to sign that contract. I have taught thousands of fitness and kickboxing classes and have always had the perk of a free gym membership. Doing this was like throwing in the towel and giving up.

I waited and wanted to continue my classes here, but have yet to be accepted by the Austrian government as competent to stay in the country. Yes, I am married to an Austrian, so that should secure me a visa, but they want to know that I am not a criminal. So I have been dealing with bureaucracy for the last 8 months. I STILL don't have a visa.

I just got tired of waiting and working out at home. I have a Total Gym and some odds and ends in the free weights department. Enough is enough. With the warmer temperatures, bikini season is soon upon us, and with that thought, I ran in that gym waving my credit card and pen.

So I'm in. It has been 8 months since I worked out at a gym and it was really nice to just be out of the house and not have the threat of my 2 year old walking under my squat. Plus he doesn't like the upbeat music selection that I like to play at high volume. And I just don't get pumped up by the Baby Mozart soundtrack.

No more endless downtime while I change the dumbbells to increase the weight. Just kilometers (metric land here) of dumbbells. What I had forgotten about the "gym scene" is that it is kind of gross. Sweaty, stinky, and a germ haven. But I am willing to forgive all that because there is a serious squat rack.

But there are some disturbing things going on here in Austria. The first thing that comes to mind is the smoking in the lounge area. Indoors, people. Right there in the gym. So there is this smoky kind of undertone to the place. Like working out in a pool hall. Not to mention that it is just plain weird to see some guy all pumped up sitting at a table, puffing and drinking his low-carb fat burner.

I also don't get the flip-flops in the gym thing. I even mentioned it to the manager because it was just so weird to me, and his answer was only the muscle-heads do it because they aren't on the cardio machines! Have you seen someone squat 250 with flip-flops on?! Plus I just don't want to look at these guys' feet...sorry.

Don't get me wrong, I am thrilled and excited to be there! Perhaps I will embrace the flip-flops one day -- but forget about the smoking! Never.

America's Heart Health Report Card

Just read something worth repeating. The National Institutes of Health reports that only 3 percent of Americans practice what they call the "big Four" habits to prevent heart disease. You read that right: only three percent!

I'm always suspicious of statistics, but even if they were fudging a little to make a point, you and I know there's a big problem, on average, with America's health habits.

For the record, the NIH's "big four" health practices for preventive maintenance are:

1. Healthy diet
2. Regular physical activity
3. Proper weight
4. Don't smoke

Bet you could have guessed those. Pretty basic.

Click here to read more.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Heart Attack City

Apparently, our good "friends" at McDonald's and KFC are more generous with their trans fats in the U.S. than in some other nations. As the saying goes, "With 'friends' like these, who needs enemies?" Check it out here.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

A Challenge

To All BFL'ers ( in lieu of your cardio day) and Fitness Folks:
I have a challenge!

All you will need is a deck of cards and a watch to make a note of your start and finish time. The goal is to do this as quickly as possible. I can usually knock it out in 20 minutes. Take the deck of cards, assign each face an exercise. I use:

Spades- burpees* (see below)
Clubs- push-ups
Hearts -sit-ups
Diamonds - alternating lunges

Shuffle the deck, flip each card and do the exercise according to face. The number of reps is the number on the card. I do 10 reps for the "royalty" cards. For example:
Jack of Clubs= 10 push-ups.
2 of hearts= 2 sit-ups
Set the clock and keep moving.

*Burpees are also not for the faint of heart. They look somewhat easy but use almost every muscle in the body and get the heart rate up there.

Begin in a squat position with hands on the floor in front of you
Kick your feet back to a pushup position
Immediately return your feet to the squat position
Leap up as high as possible from the squat position
Repeat, moving as fast as possible (for a live demo)

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Another Diet Pill Warning

Anyone who visits my web site or reads the newsletter knows my opinion when it comes to diet pills: Unless you are under a doctor's care, don't mess around with them.

Most diet pills are worthless and some are dangerous. The only 100-percent safe way that I know of to normalize bodyweight is with portion control eating and a balanced menu of foods. Click here for a recent report on yet another highly suspicious diet pill.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Ode to Body For Life

First off, I love Body For Life. I love looking at the champions. I read the book, watched the videos, and pondered Bill's sexuality with my goofy friends. Seriously folks, the guy was walking around NYC in his underwear! Where I come from (San Francisco), the men that do that are batting for the other team.

I am all over the Body For Life Tracker and I have seen serious living proof that is works. My stepmother, shown here, made this incredible transformation. I know it works. I love the blogs written by those of you in the trenches. But the truth is I have never done Body For Life. I am not even sure why, because I know it's a great program, I know it works, and everyone is doing it, so there is lots of support.

But let's get down to business. I don't do Body For Life because:

1) The workouts are boring. Yes, I have done them with friends and I will be honest here...I find weight lifting pretty boring. I like more dynamic workouts. I like to mix it up with plyometrics or sports. I need diversity and consistent change. I will lift weights, but my schedule is more random than BFL.

2) I have food original! I have weird reactions to high protein diets. I have experimented enough to know how my body works and these eating plans (ahem...diets...oh god, did I just write diet?...slap me) with more than 30% protein start giving me problems. Long story, so I just don't do it.

3) OK, this one might get me in trouble, but it seems that it's not really Body For Life. Most people go off this plan and then start it over and over. I'm not perfect either. I also will follow a program for a set amount of time, knowing it will end and I can then look forward to returning to my normal eating patterns.

4) I'm a rebel at heart. Becoming more mature, and the big one, having two small children puts the kibosh on most of my swimming upstream tendencies. But I can refuse to jump on the bandwagon of BFL. I know, childish and stubborn... but to know me is to love me.

That about sums it up. Perhaps one day I will get over it and join the party. I am feeling kind of directionless. God knows, and so does Bill Phillips, that BFL is a solid strategy! And the Free Day...let's not forget the Free Day!!!

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Running: There is Good News and Bad News

Many people I've talked to suspect that too much long distance running may cause arthritis in knee and hip joints. I have wondered about it, too.

Both my daughter and I have taught exercise classes in health clubs and have talked about the high number of distance runners we've met in our classes with knee, back or hip problems. We both think that overuse injuries may be more common among long distance runners than most other exercisers.

However, dedicated runners and joggers may be pleased to know that somebody with an M.D. after his name, an orthopedic surgeon to be exact (Nicholas DiNubile, M.D.), says that running does not cause arthritis. On the other hand, he says if you have arthritic knees or hips -- running will make things worse.

I used to be a distance runner myself, although never a very fast one. I enjoyed it and ran distances up to 15 miles. Yet, it seemed to me that too many runner acquaintances developed chronic joint aches and pains. So I naturally wondered if all those miles and prolonged pounding on their joints was the cause.

I can't be sure, either way. But I have to assume the doctor’s statements about running are based on scientific study, while my thoughts represent only my limited personal observations and a "gut feeling" about it. Yet this much I know: Running is a high impact activity generating forces five to seven times body weight on your knees and hips. So it is perfectly reasonable to ask, can this be beneficial after one reaches the age of 50, 60, 70 or more?

Personally, I rarely run for long distances anymore, so you know what I think. For cardio these days, I hike, a lot of it uphill, and do occasional sprints. If the weather is really bad, I'll go to the gym and hop on a treadmill or recumbent bike. Usually, I'll do sprint intervals, and I rarely stay on any apparatus over 25 minutes, and that includes my warm-up and cool down. I do not have arthritis; but my intuition tells me that the endless pace and pounding of long slow distance running is not such a good thing to do at my age.

My running friends probably disagree with me and would tell about somebody 80 years old or more still doing marathons. I wouldn't doubt them, and to each his own. If distance running or jogging is enjoyable and you have no arthritic problems, I say, fine. Go ahead and do it. But anyone experiencing chronic joint aches and pains should consider what the orthopedic doctor said: running will make arthritic knees or hips worse. If you are having chronic joint pain, find out if arthritis is the reason for it. If it is, switch to aerobic options that will not aggravate your condition.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Two Choices

The following came in my e-mail.

"Subject: Two Choices

"What would you do? You make the choice! Don't look for a punch line; There isn't one! Read it anyway. My question to all of you is: Would you have made the same choice?

"At a fundraising dinner for a school that serves learning disabled children,the father of one of the students delivered a speech that would never be forgotten by all who attended. After extolling the school and its dedicated staff, he offered a question:

"'When not interfered with by outside influences, everything nature does is done with perfection . Yet my son, Shay, cannot learn things as other children do. He cannot understand things as other children do. Where is the natural order of things in my son?'

"The audience was stilled by the query.

"The father continued. 'I believe,that when a child like Shay, physically and mentally handicapped comes into the world, an opportunity to realize true human nature presents itself, and it comes, in the way other people treat that child.' Then he told the following story:

"Shay and his father had walked past a park where some boys Shay knew were playing baseball. Shay asked, 'Do you think they'll let me play?' Shay's father knew that most of the boys would not want someone like Shay on their team, but the father also understood that if his son were allowed to play, it would give him a much-needed sense of belonging and some confidence to be accepted by others in spite of his handicaps.

"Shay's father approached one of the boys on the field and asked if Shay could play, not expecting much. The boy looked around for guidance and said, 'We're losing by six runs and the game is in the eighth inning. I guess he can be on our team and we'll try to put him in to bat in the ninth inning.'

"Shay struggled over to the team's bench put on a team shirt with a broad smile and his Father had a small tear in his eye and warmth in his heart. The boys saw the father's joy at his son being accepted. In the bottom of the eighth inning, Shay's team scored a few runs but was still behind by three. In the top of the ninth inning, Shay put on a glove and played in the right field. Even though no hits came his way, he was obviously ecstatic just to be in the game and on the field, grinning from ear to ear as his father waved to him from the stands. In the bottom of the ninth inning, Shay's team scored again. Now, with two outs and the bases loaded, the pot ential winning run was on base and Shay was scheduled to be next at bat.

"At this juncture, do they let Shay bat and give away their chance to win the game? Surprisingly, Shay was given the bat. Everyone knew that a hit was all but impossible 'cause Shay didn't even know how to hold the bat properly, much less connect with the ball.

"However, as Shay stepped up to the plate, the pitcher, recognizing the other team putting winning aside for this moment in Shay's life, moved in a few steps to lob the ball in softly so Shay could at least be able to make contact. The first pitch came and Shay swung clumsily and missed. The pitcher again took a few steps forward to toss the ball softly towards Shay. As the pitch came in, Shay swung at the ball and hit a slow ground ball right back to the pitcher.

"The game would now be over, but the pitcher picked up the soft grounder and could have easily thrown the ball to the first baseman. Shay would have been out and that would have been the end of the game.

"Instead, the pitcher threw the ball right over the head of the first baseman, out of reach of all team mates. Everyone from the stands and both teams started yelling, 'Shay, run to first! Run to first!' Never in his life had Shay ever ran that far but made it to first base. He scampered down the baseline, wide-eyed and startled.

"Everyone yelled, 'Run to second, run to second!'

"Catching his breath, Shay awkwardly ran towards second, gleaming and struggling to make it to second base. By the time Shay rounded towards second base, the right fielder had the ball, the smallest guy on their team, who had a chance to be the hero for his team for the first time. He could have thrown the ball to the second-baseman for the tag, but he understood the pitcher's intentions and he too intentionally threw the ball high and far over the third-baseman's head. Shay ran toward third base deliriously as the runners ahead of him circled the bases toward home.

"All were screaming, 'Shay, Shay, Shay, all the Way Shay!'

"Shay reached third base, the opposing shortstop ran to help him and turned him in the direction of third base, and shouted, 'Run to third! Shay, run to third.' As Shay rounded third, the boys from both teams and those watching were on their feet were screaming, 'Shay, run home!' Shay ran to home, stepped on the plate, and was cheered as the hero who hit the 'grand slam' and won the game for his team.

"That day, said the father softly with tears now rolling down his face, the boys from both teams helped bring a piece of true love and humanity into this world.

"Shay didn't make it to another summer and died that winter, having never forgotten being the hero and making his father so happy and coming home and seeing his Mother tearfully embrace her little hero of the day!

"AND, NOW A LITTLE FOOTNOTE TO THIS STORY: We all send thousands of jokes through the e-mail without a second thought, but when it comes to sending messages about life choices, people think twice about sharing. The crude, vulgar, and often obscene pass freely through cyberspace, but public discussion about decency is too often suppressed in our schools and workplaces.

"If you're thinking about forwarding this message, chances are that you're probably sorting out the people on your address list that aren't the 'appropriate' ones to receive this type of message. Well, the person who sent you this believes that we all can make a difference. We all have thousands of opportunities every single day to help realize the 'natural order of things.' So many seemingly trivial interactions between two people present us with a choice: Do we pass along a little spark of love and humanity or do we pass up that opportunity to brighten the day of those with us the least able, and leave the world a little bit colder in the process?

"A wise man once said every society is judged by how it treats it's least fortunate amongst them.

"You now have two choices:
1. Delete
2. Forward
May your day, be a Shay Day, sunny today and tomorrow."

Monday, April 03, 2006

Flab to Fab

One of my BEST friends in the whole world is Rebecca. She is 45 years old and has 3 children. When I met Rebecca it was the summer of 1989. I remember her brilliant green eyes and an enviable 6 pack abs! Well, 3 kids and some rocky roads in her marriage packed on the pounds. When I left California 8 months ago, Rebecca was over 200 pounds. She had done Body-For-Life, Atkins, Carb Addicts and I don't know what else. She had some results but the weight would always return. LOOK at her now! She has lost 70+ pounds and had gone from a size 16 to 4 in 6 months! I would not have believed it myself until I saw her just 3 weeks ago. In a word, AMAZING!
How did she do it? Food Addicts Anonymous. I won't pretend to know how this program works, except to say that there is no sugar (that includes alcohol) and no wheat. It is very disciplined, a 12 step program, sponsors and meetings. She is happy with this eating plan, feels satiated, gets lots of support and is a size 4!!!!
Here's to you Rebecca. I love go Girl!!!!

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Sunscreen Makers Get Sued

As summer approaches in the Northern Hemisphere, sun worshippers may want to read the following from Reuters.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Does muscle weigh more than fat?

Well, yes and no. First, one pound is one pound. Period. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about one pound of fat, muscle, or cotton balls. One pound is one pound.

However, if you were to put one pound of fat on a table in front of you, and then place one pound of muscle next to it, the pound of fat would take up more space than the pound of muscle. Fat is kind of fluffy stuff that jiggles and spreads out. But muscle has greater density and therefore takes up less space.

Most important, remember that your metabolism must speed up just to maintain your new muscle, making you a more efficient fat burning machine. One the other hand, there is no limit to the amount of fat a flabby, non-exerciser can store on his or her body. Sounds awful, doesn’t it?

And it is

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Back From Iraq

I put up a post (“From the Gym to Iraq,” Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2005) about our young friend from the gym, Brad Avots. Brad was a college student when we met him. In a few short years, he graduated from college, went to USMC Officer Candidate School, earned a commission, and served in Iraq.

Last week, I walked into the local Starbucks and there he was, home on leave. We had coffee and talked. Getting an unfiltered perspective from someone who actually served in Iraq can be illuminating. He was grateful that all his Marines came home safely with him. His new assignment is with the Marine Corps Recruit Depot (MCRD), in San Diego.

Patty invited him to speak to her middle-school class and he generously took time out from his leave to do it.

The physical side: Annually, all Marines must pass the USMC fitness test. A perfect score is 300. I forget his exact score but it was right up there, pretty close to perfect. Believe me, that means you are in top shape.

Semper Fi.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Is Your Doctor Religious?

I've never thought much about whether my doctor is religious, so it isn't a question I would normally ask.

However, if you were to have asked me if I think most doctors are religious or not, I would have guessed that they probably aren't. Then I came across an article that said doctors, on average, are more religious than most of us think. In fact, they may be more religious than the patients they treat, on average.

Maybe the findings will surprise you as much as they did me. Either way, it's worth reading at "Your Doctor May be More Religious Than You Think."

Friday, March 17, 2006

March 17th

Today is St. Patrick's Day. I am Irish on my mother's side of the family and English on my father's. Probably some other ethnic groups were tossed in along the way, but mostly it's Irish and English.

More interesting is my wife’s connection to the date. Her dad, whose ancestors were Mexican, was born on St. Patrick's Day, so they named him Patrick. As far as I know, there were no Irish in the family tree, but they always ate corned beef and cabbage on his birthday.

Personally, I do not care for corned beef and cabbage. But I do like Guinness. And as it turns out, Guinness really is good for you. Check it out here. I’ll bet you knew there would be a health item in here somewhere.

Happy St. Patrick’s day!

Thursday, March 16, 2006

The Food Cop

Today’s newspaper got my attention with a story about a nutrition professor they called the “Food Cop.” The professor, Marion Nestle, teaches a university class called “Food Politics and Policy.”

One of her complaints is with the enormous amount of money spent to market junk food to kids. No need here to go through the litany of health issues today's overweight and obese kids are likely to face as adults. We’ve heard the warnings.

Most in the food industry have no love for professor Nestle. Their goal is to sell and sell more and more. And her advice is, “Eat less, move more, eat lots of fruits and vegetables, go easy on junk foods.” Try to imagine her at a McDonald’s or Burger King franchise pep talk.

An achieved goal of successful societies is the defeat of famine; but, unfortunately, it often ends in embracing gluttony. On a personal and local level, think about people gatherings of any kind. What’s usually front and center on the conference table? Sugar and fat laden “treats.”

It’s your body. Be strong and say, “No thank you.”

Saturday, March 11, 2006

To Excel, Get a Training Partner

Some training ideas from the "old days" are worth bringing back. One of them is having a training partner. I don’t know when the idea of having training partners died out, but you don’t see much of it in gyms today.

Of course it used to be that most gyms were independently owned and the actual owner would get you started with a routine. Then once you got acclimated, you would usually buddy-up with someone. The two of you, or sometimes three, would spot each other, count reps, and give encouragement. The only personal trainers in gyms in those days were the owners.

I realize we can't go back to 1950s, but that doesn’t mean some of the things done back then aren’t worth revisiting. And having a training partner is one of them. Or even better than having one training partner is having two. Generally, the timing and rest periods between sets is almost perfect when three people exercise in consecutive order. And for squats and bench exercises, it is ideal having a spotter at each end of the bar.

I have nothing against paying a personal trainer. Some of them are excellent, and there are people who would not workout at all without a trainer to push them. However, employing someone to work with you three days a week is very expensive. And most of the time you and a training partner can figure things out for yourselves, once you learn the fundamentals. Certainly you can arrange periodic consultations with a personal trainer if further guidance is necessary.

I don’t know the statistics, but, if I had to guess, I would say that far more beginners stick with their training when they have training partners. If you don’t train with someone now, think about trying it. Find someone with similar objectives and a compatible attitude. I bet you’ll enjoy training more than ever.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Self-Delusion and the Scale

Ever run into someone middle-aged, or a senior, who claims to be fit simply because, “I weigh the same as I did in high school”? Well, old Jack LaLanne had that kind of self-delusion figured out long ago. He has always told people to forget the scale. Instead, he says to put a tape measure around your waist. Now, is that measurement the same as it was when you were 17 or 18?

Inactive adults over age 30, on average, lose about 3 - 5% of muscle tissue every 10 years. So it’s possible at age 60 to weigh the same as you weighed in high school — and still be too fat. That’s because all that lost muscle has been replaced by flab, which typically collects around your waist. “Your waistline is your lifeline,” says LaLanne.

The solution: Get into the weight room. Strength training prevents the reduction in muscle tissue that causes your body metabolism to slow down. A slower metabolism means your body collects more fat and makes your bones more vulnerable to conditions like osteoporosis.

Pump iron, people. Pump iron.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Scientific Tests Say These Supplements Don't Work

Two popular supplements have taken hits in the news. The first was Echinacea, which many people believe stops the common cold from developing. Recent tests hailed as scientific found no evidence that taking the herb does any good at all.

Next, the news came out that when put through scientific tests, the popular combination of Glucosamine and Chondroitin did not do much for arthritis relief or other joint aches and pains.

Personally, I was never enthusiastic about Echinacea, anyway; but for several years, I’ve taken a Glucosamine/Chondroitin supplement. I started taking it because of a nagging shoulder pain, and gradually the pain went away. I’m still taking it today.

Logic tells me it is possible my shoulder may have been getting better anyway, and relief happened to coincide with my taking Glucosamine/Chondroitin. Such coincidences are not unusual. On the other hand, maybe it really worked.

There will be further studies and eventually we’ll know if Glucosamine/Chondroitin has real value or not. Meanwhile, I’ll continue to take it, until I’m convinced that my result was coincidental.

Sometimes tests are flawed and/or one test seems to contradict another. But in time the truth usually comes out. On the other side of the coin, there are thousands of scam artists out there making millions selling questionable "cures" to a gullible public. Anyone who needs convincing only has to consider all the diet pills being sold.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Wisdom is Where You Find It

“The irony of commitment is that it is deeply liberating — in work, in play, in love. The act frees you from the tyranny of your internal critic, from the fear that likes to dress itself up and parade around as rational hesitation. To commit is to remove your head as the barrier to your life.”

—Anne Morriss
"The Way I See It"
. . . printed on a Starbucks paper coffee cup.

Monday, February 27, 2006

The 350 lb Nutrition Consultant

I had a neighbor who weighed 350 or more. The irony is that he was a chiropractor who also promoted himself as a "nutrition consultant." I often wondered how patients could possibly have confidence in his advice. The paramedics arrived one day and found him dead. It was probably heart failure, but I never knew for sure. A multitude of things can go wrong when you are that obese. He was a relatively young man, perhaps in his late 40s or early 50s.

I thought about him when a man wrote me yesterday and asked for some advice. He is in his late 50s and weighs 345 lbs. As you would expect, he is suffering from some physical problems, and his doctor has placed him on a weight loss and exercise program. The man sounds like he is taking the advice seriously and I hope that he is. I suggested that he work with a trainer and follow closely his doctor’s instructions. Weighing that much, it is probably best for him to begin by walking short distances and then gradually add time and distance to his walks. That's what I would have him doing. Some weight training would be added later.

No matter how overweight or out of condition you might be today, with the right attitude, instruction and persistence, you can become fit. Beginners would do well by following my program explained in Gray Iron: A Fitness Guide for Senior Men and Women.

Friday, February 24, 2006

More Good News About Green Tea

According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, people who regularly drink green tea may have a lesser risk of mental decline as they grow older. The evidence about the benefits of green tea keeps growing. Check it out.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

The Hindu Push Up/Dive Bomber Combo

If I had to choose only two or three exercises to achieve a good full body workout, one of the upper body exercises would be what I call the Hindu/Dive Bomber Combo.

This one comes close to working every muscle group from the hips to the top of your head, and at the same time giving your legs a little work and a nice stretch, too.

What I’ve done is combine two push-up varieties to create a nearly perfect core and upper-body strengthener. Let’s start with the first part, the Hindu push-up. In spite of the ubiquitous Matt Furey promoting them, most people I meet, even gym people, don’t know how they are done, and many people have never even heard of them.

Then there are some people who know the movements but want to argue over which one is better, Hindu Push-Ups or Dive Bombers. Ignore them. Both are good and each places a little more emphasis on different muscles than the other. Doing the Combo gives you the best of both worlds.

Here is how they are done:

The starting and ending position of the Hindu push-up is in photo 1. Legs spread apart wider than shoulder width. Hips elevated. Hands on the ground, a little wider than shoulder width. Eyes looking backward.

Smoothly, bring your body forward by dropping your hips to the down position (photo 2) while sliding your head and shoulders forward . . . then extend your arms, raise your head and look forward (photo 3).

Now, push your hips back up to the starting position, eyes once again looking backward (photo 4). That’s one complete rep.

The entire movement should be a smooth, steady and rhythmic motion.

That is half of the Hindu/Dive Bomber Combo. Here is the second half.

Dive Bombers:

They start just like the Hindu (photo 1).

Then, just as in the Hindu, bring your body forward by dropping you hips (photo 2) while sliding your head and shoulders forward to a pushup position.

But this time, push straight back and up, while raising your hips back to the starting position (photo 3).

As with the Hindu Push-Up, the Dive Bombers are done in a smooth, steady and rhythmic motion.

To do the Combo, alternate your reps: do one Hindu followed by one Dive Bomber. Back and forth. Break up the workout into sets; or try one long set, not to failure, but close.

I like to work them into almost all of my upper body routines. Try it.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Your Most Loyal Training Partner

A columnist in our local newspaper wrote about the health and fitness advantages of owning a dog. He had some impressive statistics to back up his thesis. More important, though, he described the pure joy he sees in his Labrador retriever as they run along a beach, and the wonderful companionship they share.

This is our dog, Tyra, an Australian Cattle Dog mix, a working breed, a herder, intelligent and requiring lots of exercise. A veterinarian once said to us that you can tell ACD owners because they are in good shape. Their dogs keep them that way.

Patty and I don’t need much nudging to hike, but Tyra let’s us know we couldn’t get away with not going if we wanted to. We usually hike at the same time of day, and Tyra begins to pace as that time approaches. As soon as she sees us reach for our trail shoes, she’s headed for the door, tail wagging, excited and ready to go.

We prefer our cardio workouts outdoors on trails in the hills, rather than on machines in the gym. Rain doesn’t stop us either, unless it is really coming down. Then we head for the gym and the cardio machines. Well, that’s fine for us, but Tyra doesn’t care if there are muddy trails and a downpour. So I put on my rain gear, stand outside in the park and we play fetch.

Having trouble keeping a regular schedule for cardio? Think about getting a dog. If you’ve never had a dog, try volunteering to walk the dogs for exercise at your local humane society. It’s a great way to do good deeds and at the same time find out if you’d like a regular training partner, the most loyal one you'll ever find.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Some Notes on Physical Imperfections

As we age, most of us collect a few chronic physical annoyances. For some, they are more than just annoyances. Some are serious, even debilitating. Few of us get through life Scot-free. If you are one of the lucky ones who seems to be escaping unscathed, the rest of us are envious.

I have been fortunate. I live a fitness lifestyle and I’m enjoying the health benefits of my commitment. Yet I have had pneumonia several times since I was a kid. I also have a mild degree of Essential Tremor, or ET, which causes hand trembling. (No, it is not Parkinson’s.) ET tends to run in families and my dad had it. Apparently, John Adams, the second President of the United States, had it, too, incidentally. Since the other half of my productive life is making art, an unsteady hand isn’t exactly an asset. But many people have far more serious things to deal with than that.

What should be remembered is that a great number of chronic health issues improve or even disappear altogether with regular exercise and good eating habits. Bad backs, high blood pressure, and dangerous cholesterol levels are three examples that commonly get better with regular exercise and weight loss through proper diet. And practically any medical condition improves with a combination of a fitness lifestyle and the wonders of modern medicine.

Nevertheless, some diseases strike suddenly without warning; and, of course, genetic factors, the luck of the draw, are beyond our control. However, we cultivate many (perhaps most?) problems ourselves from years of overeating, too much alcohol, smoking, or other drugs that assault our minds and bodies. I use an expression, “living off your youth,” to describe someone ignoring nature’s laws. It means that when we are young we can get away with excess and abuse. Yet gradually bad habits take their toll.

Today, there are growing numbers of school kids at risk of becoming diabetic. People who study disease trends say the rising percentages are the result of more overweight and out-of-shape kids than in previous generations. It seems that junk food, overeating, and lack of physical activity have lowered the “living off your youth” period clear down to elementary and middle schools. Anyone with doubts about this should click here.

The Gray Iron Fitness Blog is about adults, and mostly seasoned ones at that. So what is all this information about children? Well most of us have kids and/or grandkids. It’s up to us to set a good example. . . .

The Google ads at the top of the page can be fascinating. The way they work is that Google uses some kind of word search of the blog’s text. Instantaneously, ads appear with some matching characteristic to the text. Sometimes the results are not what you would expect.

For example, I often mention my disdain for diet pills. So what ads pop up? Ads for hoodia diet pills. It isn’t a perfect system. Here is a little item from Quackwatch:

“ has concluded that hoodia supplements have not been proven safe or effective for reducing appetite or body weight and the quality of the products is uncertain. Hoodia gordonii is a rare cactus-like plant protected by conservation laws in South Africa and Namibia. Its stems and roots are used in supplements. It has been speculated that more product is sold today than could possibly be made from all the Hoodia plants in existence, which would mean consumers might not be getting what they expect. Access to the report requires a subscription or a $10 fee. See and search for “hoodia.”

Monday, January 30, 2006

Fitness News Briefs

The Gray Iron Fitness Blog is but one month old, yet steady on its feet and growing.

Blogging's interactive nature makes it easy for newsletter subscribers (and any other viewers) to comment, question or disagree with posts. The only rule is that remarks be relevant to the post being addressed and be in good taste. Personal attacks are verboten. And no politics, please. Other than that, let 'er rip!

P.S. A few early comments to posts did not get online because I hadn't figured out how to do it yet. My apologies to you if that happened.

Recent News Briefs:


    Even if you have normal blood pressure and cholesterol levels, you are subtracting years from your life if you are too fat. That is what the latest studies show. Full story. . . .


    Here is proof that all news is not bad news. Full story. . . .


    More good news: Full story. . . .


    Brazilian Diet Pills: This is new one on me. Full story.

    Remember that most diet and "anti-aging" pill advertising is cleverly worded deception. Get truthful information from a physician you trust, a pharmacist, or registered dietician.

    Don't get taken!

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

FDA to approve "fat-blocker" for over-the-counter sales

Am I a killjoy or what? Even if approved by the FDA for over-the-counter sales, I'm still no fan of diet pills. Okay, so the FDA people apparently tested a "fat-blocker" that does dispose of some fat after it's been consumed, and I guess nobody got sick and died using it. Nevertheless, if you take diet pills, it ought to be only a minor part of an overall fitness and dietary program -- and taken under a doctor or nutritionist's supervision. At present, a doctor's prescription is required for the pills that are likely to soon be available over-the-counter.

Yes, some people will use the product in a responsible context. But you know human nature. Now being told that there really is a "free lunch" after all, those looking for an easy way out will gobble up the "magic pills," while doing nothing to change disastrous eating habits. In fact, many overweight people will likely eat even more bad fat than before, figuring that the pills will block it.

Excuse my skepticism, but you know I'm right. There's still no short cut to health and fitness that doesn't require healthful eating and regular exercise. Bottom line: over-the-counter fat-blockers will not do anything to solve the nation's obesity problem. Probably they will make matters worse.

Read more about the latest diet pill panacea.