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.