Saturday, May 30, 2009

Saturday upper body workout plus "The Fred"

Split routines are really not my thing. But what the hey, it's only for four weeks, and change is good, right? Also, my TRX and kettlebell workouts are total-body, so it's not like I'm really getting away from the kind of training I prefer ... and the fact is, upper-lower splits work very well for building strength, which is certainly one of my goals.

So, here's what it was:

alternating sets: incline BB press, 1x6x65 (warmup), 3x5x85; BB row, 1x6x65 (warmup) 3x5x85

alternating sets: flat DB press, 2x10x40's; recline rows, wide underhand grip, 3x10

tri-set: prone reverse flyes, 1x10x10's; 1x10x8's; BB curls, 2x10x30; pushups, hands on SB, 2x10

Next week my plan is to add a set to the flat press and the tri-set at the end, and try to increase my weights on the incline press and the barbell row. But we'll see.

I felt like doing a little cardio in addition to my weight training, so I finished with some walk/run intervals on the treadmill. The pattern was 1 minute of effort at 7 mph, 2 minutes of recovery at 3.5 mph, repeated 9 times, with the twist being that each interval was performed on a slightly higher incline than the one before. I didn't go crazy or anything: I began with an incline of .5% and ended with an incline of 4.5%, which made for a workout that was challenging but not oh-God-this-can't-end-soon-enough awful. Really, I kind of liked it and will probably do it again. When I do, I will refer to it as "The Fred" in honor of my friend Fred Cook, from whom I stole the idea for the workout. Check out his blog, Luck Is For Rabbits ( if you want to be entertained and inspired. (Gotta love a guy who takes up Thai boxing at age 59!)

Friday, May 29, 2009

Morning kettlebell practice

I've blogged about this one before.

5 Turkish getups each side
50 swings
4 Turkish getups each side
40 swings
3 Turkish getups each side
30 swings
2 Turkish getups each side
20 swings
1 Turkish getup each side
10 swings

All performed with my 12 kg kettlebell, which I believe is the right weight for me for almost all exercises now because it really puts my technique to the test. Quite simply, if my shoulder isn't packed down properly when I attempt a getup with 12 kg, I'm going to fail. With 8 kg I can fake it; therefore that weight is too light for me. On swings I feel as though I'm just about at that point with the 12 kg kettlebell and might need to think about moving up to 16 kg, which means I'll need to spend some money. I've been thinking about getting a 16 kg bell anyway for my DH, who I think would really enjoy kettlebell training if I could persuade him to give it a try.

I also practiced cleans for a while, and I think I'm seeing some progress. As suggested in Enter The Kettlebell I began by taking a good hard look at my rack (get your minds out of the gutter, all you non-kettlebell people!) and troubleshooting that before anything else.

Thing about the rack position is, it's supposed to be a rest position. It's the end point of your clean, the start point for your press, and the place where the kettlebell sits when you're doing a set of rack squats. It's supposed to be comfortable, and mine wasn't. Part of the problem was that I was allowing the weight of the kettlebell to pull my wrist backward, out of neutral. But even when I straightened out my wrist it still didn't feel comfortable until I tightened up my grip. I am in the habit of using a very loose, open grip when I lift, partly to save my strength and partly to avoid unnecessary spikes in blood pressure. It's a reasonable thing to do when working out with free weights, but it's not appropriate for kettlebell training. Quite simply, you have to keep control of the thing or it will swing wide and clonk you in the wrist. I wasn't, and I've got the bruises to show for it.

Not only that, but in order to avoid the clonk I'd allowed myself to get out of the habit of maximally contracting my glutes on the theory that if I generated less power at the start of the lift there'd be less of a wild swing and clonk at the end. Not good. At all. Fixable, though. It's just a matter of retraining my body through practice, practice and more practice until every part of the movement is automatic.

I'm so not there yet, though! When I practice there's always this voice in my head screaming at me to drive down my heels, lock out my legs, contract my glutes, shove down my shoulderblades and for God's sake tighten up my grip!!!!

Did I just admit to hearing voices in my head? Who here is surprised, really?

TRX vs. Jungle Gym

I'm not an advocate of spending more money than absolutely necessary on fitness equipment or anything else. Other things being equal I'm always going to opt for the less expensive model. The problem is, other things are seldom equal, at least when it comes to fitness equipment. The pricier versions generally are sturdier, have greater functionality, and are more user-friendly. Then the question becomes: just how much are you willing to pay for that extra sturdiness, functionality and ease of use?

If, like me, you work in the fitness industry it often makes sense to pay top dollar for top-of-the-line equipment, at least if you're planning to use it with clients. My clientele is very diverse: I've worked with men and women as young as 18 and as old as 81, as short as 4'10" and as tall as 6'6", as light as 95 lbs and as heavy as 275, at all levels of physical conditioning and with all different kinds of goals, from enhanced athletic performance to simply being able to climb the stairs in their home without discomfort. For that reason I'm willing to pay more for equipment that's versatile enough that I can use it with clients of varying body types and fitness levels without compromising their safety and comfort.

If, however, I'm buying equipment for my own personal use, I don't necessarily need that same level of versatility since the only person whose safety and comfort I need to consider are my own. Sometimes that means I can get away with paying a little less. For instance, I would never pay extra for weights covered with vinyl or neoprene. They might feel a little better in my hands than unadorned iron, but not enough that I'm willing to shell out the extra bucks. Kettlebells, however, are a different story. A kettlebell that I'm buying for my own personal use doesn't have to be a pretty color (although just between you and me, I would totally pay extra for a kettlebell that was ballerina pink) but it's got to have a nice smooth handle with no nasty seam that's going to rip up my palms unnecessarily. Otherwise I'm not going to use it, and fitness equipment that doesn't get used is a waste of money at any price.

This is why I think that if you're at all interested in suspension training it makes sense to invest in a TRX Portable Gym instead of the far less expensive Jungle Gym from Lifeline. The straps on the TRX are much easier to adjust, making it possible to transition quickly from exercise to exercise for a more challenging and "metabolic" workout. (Note: I'm getting very sick of the word "metabolic." From now on I'm going to call this type of workout "Ed" in honor of my mother-in-law's significant other, who thinks Ed is a fine name for just about anything.) It also has a much more secure anchoring system that's compatible with doors, bars, sturdy tree branches, you name it. It's got nice padded handles instead of flimsy plastic things, and it's got separate foot cradles that do a superior job of holding your feet in position when you're doing suspended pikes, pushups, planks, hamstring curls and so forth. Frankly these exercises are hard enough on their own without the added frustration of your feet slipping out of place every other rep.

For a more in-depth comparison of the two systems, with video, check out this site:

(And while you're there, do a search for "Jillian Michaels" and "kettlebells" just in case you can't get enough of hearing people rag on Jillian for her completely irresponsible demo on "The Biggest Loser.")

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Infamous TRX Workout--Phase 3 Conditioning Circuit A

What a workout this was! Not only were the exercises slightly more advanced than in Phase 2, but the work intervals were a full 50 percent longer (up to 45 seconds from 30) and the rest periods between exercises were 33 percent shorter (down to 20 seconds from 30). The rest periods between rounds, however, were back up to 3 minutes as in Phase 1 of the program.

Here are the specifics:

1-leg squats with tempo, 45 sec. each leg
oblique atomic pushups, 45 sec.
low rows with feet elevated, 45 sec.
crossover balance lunge with tempo, 45 sec. each leg
suspended side plank with reach through, 45 sec. each side

Oblique atomic pushups are suspended pushups with an oblique jackknife between each rep. An oblique jackknife is a jackknife where instead of taking your knees to your chest you bring them in the direction of one elbow or the other. It's even more fun than it sounds, trust me.

I was a bit nervous about the feet-elevated low rows, so I opted to elevate my feet only about 8 inches or so. As it happened, though, I didn't find these to be too horribly awful.

The 1-leg squats, however, were vile. "With tempo" basically means you do them as fast as you can without losing your form. Forty-five seconds of fast squatting generates some serious lactic acid. Ouch.

I didn't find the crossover lunges to be quite as bad. I struggle a bit with form on these, as the temptation is to allow my hip to shift to one side while my foot everts. But I can do them correctly if I don't try to go too fast, so that was what I opted to do even though it meant the workout probably wasn't quite as "metabolic" as it could have been.

The side planks were pretty doable on my left side, but I struggled a bit on the right. Even though these are mainly for the core they also put a fair amount of stress on the shoulders, which in women especially tend not to be superstrong. Simply holding a side plank for 45 seconds would be too much for many exercisers; doing it with the feet suspended would be almost impossible.

Overall I found the workout to be an order of magnitude harder than Phase 2 because of the longer work sets. If I were designing the workout I think I might've chosen to keep the exercises exactly the same as in Phase 2 because I feel that it's enough of an additional challenge simply to work for 45 seconds instead of 30. There are many ways to make a workout progressive, but I'm not sure it's desirable to incorporate too many at once.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Wednesday Kettlebell Practice: Getting Ahead of Myself

This workout was probably not a good idea. But I saw it on Mike Stehle's wonderful site,, and couldn't resist giving it a shot.

It's quite simple:

KB snatches, R, 12 kg x 15 sec., rest 15 sec.
KB snatches, L, 12 kg x 15 sec., rest 15 sec.
Burpees, 15 sec, rest 15 sec.

Repeat 15 times for a workout that takes just over 20 minutes.

My cadence throughout was a uniform 6 reps per work set, so I ended up doing 180 snatches and 90 burpees total.

So why was this not a good idea?

It all comes down to technique. I love timed sets but tend to think they work best if you select exercises with which you are very familiar; otherwise you may find yourself sacrificing quality for quantity. I've made some progress with kettlebell snatches but am not yet proficient enough to be doing timed sets with them. In fact, when I realized my cadence was always going to be about 6 snatches per 15 seconds I decided just to pretend I was doing 6 rep sets starting on the half minute, and weirdly that worked better. I found it easier to focus on my technique once the element of time pressure was off. Is this true for anyone else, or am I just a weirdo?

(Note: the two are not necessarily mutually exclusive.)

Hands don't feel too bad. I've got a bit of a torn callous at the base of my ring finger, but I can deal. I'll have to get some Corn Huskers.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Strength Workout B

This will be my last time doing this particular workout. Weeks 5-8 of the Infamous TRX Workout also have two strength workouts per week but they're pretty different: Workout A is all upper body with some very low rep stuff in the beginning (good for maxing out strength gains), while Workout B is all lower body and core. I don't love split routines, but for 4 weeks I can deal.

Today's session went okay. Well, sort of. Another exerciser was using some of the equipment I needed for the workout, and while she let me work in, I couldn't keep my rest periods exact. Since I was starting to run into time constraints I finally ended up subbing in dumbbell cross-body arm extensions for the cable rope pulldowns just so I could get my workout done in time to teach cycling at 12:30

So, the workout:

general joint mobility stuff to warm up and activate my glutes and lower traps, then a couple sets of squats with relatively light weight as a specific warmup.

Then it was down to business:

BB squat, 1x6x145, 2x6x155
DB stepups onto 16" bench, 2x6x30's, 1x8x30's
DB military press, 3x6x25's, supersetted with pullups, 3x6
DB cross-body arm extensions supine on stability ball, 3x10x15, supersetted with stability ball jackknives, 3x10

Then, cycling. I had a new playlist all ready in case the California Supreme Court did the right thing in regard to Prop. 8 (songs you might hear at a gay wedding reception :)), but since they didn't I used one of my other playlists. I should maybe make one that's all protest songs.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Cool article on the benefits of resistance training for older adults

The title of the article is "Resistance Exercise Reverses Aging In Human Skeletal Muscle," and you can read it here:

The basic gist, as near as I can tell, is that resistance training reverses a lot of the mitochondrial dysfunction that is widely thought to be implicated in human aging.

I know it's not exactly news that exercise is a Good Thing (TM) for adults of all ages, and that older adults who exercise tend to be stronger and better able to perform the functions of everyday living than older adults who don't. But even I was surprised at the extent to which resistance training apparently reprograms our bodies to perform as they did when we were young.

Monday kettlebell practice

One of the beauties of the RKC system is its simplicity. There are six foundation exercises: the swing, the clean, the press, the squat, the Turkish get-up, and the snatch. That's it. There are, of course, many other valid and wonderful things you can do with a kettlebell, but the main point of these is to help you get better at the foundational exercises.

My personal favorite assistance exercise is the windmill to overhead squat. I find it very helpful with the shoulder retraction and depression that's an integral part of the hardstyle "lock." Also, it flows nicely and looks cool, and it's just a nice way to change things up when I feel the need. It pairs nicely with snatches, presses, get-ups ... basically, any exercise where the end position consists of you standing there with the kettlebell overhead and your arm locked out.

Still, much as I enjoy more choreographed routines that incorporate a variety of exercises, sometimes it just feels good to get back to the basics. On those days I like to pick two foundation exercises and do alternating sets. Generally when I'm working on the foundational stuff I prefer to do reps instead of timed sets because I find it easier to focus on technique when I'm not trying to get in as many reps as possible in a minute or 30 seconds or whatever. Today, for instance, I opted to do alternating sets of squats and snatches, with each set starting on the minute and consisting of 10 reps total. I worked for 20 minutes total, so did a total of 100 squats and 50 snatches on each arm, using my 12 kg kettlebell throughout. The squats took a little longer to complete than the snatches, but on average the work to rest ratio during the workout was about 1:1. So, a relatively leisurely-seeming workout that really allowed me to think about what was happening on each rep. I noticed, for instance, that on my left side I have a tendency to get sloppy on the descent during snatches when I'm a little fatigued. This is when self-talk comes in handy: "Keep the damn shoulder back and down, you miserable worm!" and that sort of thing.

(Note: I never talk to clients that way, and I would never work with a trainer who was verbally abusive. But for some reason I don't pay attention to myself unless I'm calling myself names. Is there a support group out there for people like me?)

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Last night I dreamed about kettlebell clean and press ladders ...

5 rungs to the ladder, 5 sets.

Woke up and thought about attempting it, but quickly realized I'm not ready for that, not with my 12 kg kettlebell. So instead I did the following:

c&p ladder, 5 rungs
50 swings
c&p ladder, 4 rungs
40 swings
c&p ladder, 3 rungs
30 swings
c&p ladder, 2 rungs
20 swings
c&p ladder, 1 rung
10 swings.

Later I will do TRX conditioning circuit B, the one with the sprinter's start and the pike pendulums. Might try going for a little longer than 30 seconds per exercise, just to see how it goes.

Not sure why I'm writing in incomplete sentences. Too much Twittering, perchance?

Saturday, May 23, 2009

RKC vs Girevoy Sport

Because I am very much a kettlebell novice, I'm not even going to try to describe in my own words the difference between the two styles. Instead I'm going to refer you to a couple of useful essays on the subject, one written by Scott Stevens, RKC:

and the other by Steve Cotter, IKFF:

Both, I think, are fair discussions, which is why I chose those two as opposed to some others. Let's just say that the proponents of the two styles can get a bit passionate about the subject :)

As a bonus, this blog post authored by Dr. Mark Cheng, RKC Team Leader, does a great job of explaining the hard style lock that it pretty much the foundation of the RKC style of training.:

Master it, and you will have the ultimate stability and strength that will enable you to get massive amounts of iron up over your head without killing yourself. Get REALLY good at it and you'll even be able to get up on your pointes. I'm serious: the only real difference is that when you're en pointe it's the tips of your big toes , not your heels, that are driving down through the floor. The knee lock and the glute clench are identical, as are the bracing of the core and the depression and retraction of the shoulderblades. Your ballet teacher won't think to phrase it in quite that way, most likely, but physiologically it's the same thing happening.

Even so, do not attempt to swing, clean, press or snatch a kettlebell en pointe. It just sounds like a really bad idea. (It's a shame I'm so lazy about taking pictures, because this would be a hilarious "what not to do" photo assuming I didn't kill myself.)

Tactical Strength Challenge

It's a three-event strength and conditioning competition. The three events are: powerlifting deadlifts (1 rep max), pullups (max reps), and kettlebell snatches (max reps in 5 minutes). Your combined placement in the three events determines where you place overall; therefore there are no weight classes since some of the events favor the lighter competitors while others favor the bigger folks. Males perform the snatches with a 24 kg kettlebell (16 kg for novices, 32 kg for elite), while women use 16 kg (12 kg for novices).

If I really trained for this I think I could make a respectable showing. It sort of fits with my personal goal of getting RKC certified since the current certification standard for women weighing less than 123.5 lbs is 100 snatches in 5 minutes using 12 kg. (Note to self: do not gain weight.)

I am not a competitive person, but I like having an event to train for, and I really can't see myself doing a physique competition because I don't enjoy bodybuilder-style workouts and I think the dieting would make me miserable. The expense also gives me pause. I've only got so much disposable income, and I'd rather spend it on kettlebell training. It just seems like a much better investment in my personal and professional development, particularly since it won't require me to give up peanut butter and cocktails.

Strength Workout A(gain)

I gotta say, I'm glad I'm on week 4 and won't be doing this particular workout again. This was only my 4th time doing it, but even so, I'm bored. I have workout ADD and it's a problem, truly, because certain of my physical goals (kettlebell mastery, stronger feet, improved balance and flexibility) cannot be achieved except by doing the same thing over and over until it sinks in.

Anyhoo, as you may recall but probably don't, Strength Workout A is the one that starts with deadlifts. My plan for this week was not to try to break any new ground in terms of weight, but rather to increase the number of reps performed at the weights used last week.

Here's how it went:

Deadlifts: 2x6x115 (warmup); 1x6x145; 1x6x155; 1x6x165

I felt okay about my performance all things considered. My grip gave out on rep 5 of the last set so I needed to take a second or two to regroup before performing my last rep. Still, not bad. I don't see many guys deadlifting close to 150% of their bodyweight. Heck, I don't see many guys deadlifting 150% of MY bodyweight :)

Next up was barbell forward lunges: 3x8x95. Again, same weight as last week but more reps.

Then, dumbbell incline press supersetted with dumbbell bentover rows:

Presses: 3x8x40's
Rows: 3x6x45's

Finally, stability ball crunches supersetted with incline curls, 3 sets of 10 each exercise. I completed the first set of curls using 20's for all reps, but hit failure midway through on the second 2 sets and had to finish with 15's. I pretty much knew I that would happen but I opted to start with the 20's anyway because I think using the 15's for all 10 reps would've been a bit too easy. The other option would have been to do more than 10 reps with the 15's, but given that I despise doing biceps curls I preferred to get it over with in as few reps as possible.

I think Phase 3 of the Infamous TRX program is an upper/lower split, though I couldn't swear to it. I've been trying not to look ahead at what's coming, because I don't want to get ahead of myself. I did, however, take a peak at the TRX conditioning workouts for Phases 3 and 4 and they look truly terrifying. Not only are the rest periods shorter, but the work periods are longer--up to 45 seconds from 30. The exercises are getting more challenging as well. I think there's even some plyometric action coming.

(Note: If you have a suspension trainer you owe it to yourself to attempt pistol jump squats. Do them once, acknowledge their greatness, and vow never to speak their name again.)

In other vaguely workout-related news, I am now the proud owner of a pair of Converse All Stars. Lifting barefoot at my gym is not allowed, which basically I consider to be a sensible rule given that there are any number of overenthusiastic teens who consider it to be good lifting form to fling their weights at the floor at the end of each set. But the obvious downside is that most athletic shoes are too cushy to be appropriate for, well, any exercise that you would do standing up. Converses, however, are low-tech, not particularly cushy, and a respectable choice when going barefoot is not an option.

Mine are bubblegum pink. They are adorable. I tend to go in for pink and adorable. I like to think it makes me even scarier somehow.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Oh, yes, and my workouts this week ....

I've been slacking a bit, sort of. I didn't feel great Monday, so decided to take a rest day. I actually felt a little worse on Tuesday, but sucked it up and worked out anyway before teaching spinning. It was my third time through Strength Workout B of the Infamous TRX Workout:

Joint mobility to warm up, then 2 sets of barbell squats @100 lbs to warm up, then

Barbell squats, 3x6x150; 1x12x115

DB step-ups onto 16' bench, 3x6x30's

superset: pullups, 3x6; DB overhead press, 2x8x25's, 1x6x25's

superset: SB jackknife, 3x10; cable rope pulldown, 3x10x50

I woke up feeling a little funky in my lumbar spine which is why I didn't try to go real heavy on the squat. It just wouldn't have been smart. In fact, I should probably have backed off on the weight even more than I did because I feel as though my range of motion was compromised.

I didn't feel wonderful on Wednesday either, so I took another rest day. Well, it was an active rest day since I had ballet.

In case you were wondering, pointe shoes hurt. Think about having all your bodyweight resting on the tip of one big toe. That's basically what's happening when you''re doing something like an arabesque or pirouette en pointe. I weigh about 115, which is a lot of weight to be resting on an area that's maybe half a square inch. When the pain gets too bad the natural tendency is to fall back a bit so your weight is spread out over a little more surface area ... but that's wrong and it looks ugly and if you do it in class all the other ballerinas will make fun of you and poke you with sticks.

Okay, not really. Still, next time you go to a school dance recital check out the pointe girls if there are any. Unless it's a company school the odds are pretty good that 3/4 of the girls won't really be up on their pointes. If one of them is your daughter, try not to be offended by the old bat behind you who's muttering, "Pull UP, ladies!" under her breath. She's doing it with love. At least if she's me, which she very often is, she's doing it with love.

I had another ballet class today, and also struggled through TRX Workout A, Phase 2. Same parameters as last time, except this time I went for 4 rounds.


I know I've posted about this before, but this is a subject near to my heart because as some of you know, my dad has been living with a form of non-Hodgkins lymphoma for almost 10 years now. So anyway, here I go again:

Lift STRONG is a collection of articles, some of them quite lengthy and substantive, from leading fitness experts on a variety of topics. The collection, which is on CD-ROM, retails for $24.99, with all the proceeds going to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. For your money you get over 800 pages of material--some of which admittedly is fluff, but much of which is excellent:

Alwyn Cosgrove - The Cancer Diaries
Adam Campbell - How to spot an expert
Alan Aragon - Nutrition for general health is only as complicated as you make it
Bill Hartman - Training deficiencies for increased strength
Bob youngs - 7 considerations for goal setting
Brain Grasso - Art of coaching
Chad Waterbury - 369 method
Charles Staley - Why I don't want to powerclean
Chris Mohr - Exercise for cancer patients
Chris Sugart - Display adaptability
Craig Ballantyne - Fat loss for busy men & women
Dan Jon - Training programs are great
Dave Tate - Back to the future
Dax Moy - Integrated movement
Doorman - Lifting the training veil
Eric Cressey - Build the athelete
Gray Cook & Brett Jones - Safe Strength
Harry Selkow - Quitting is not so easy
Jack Reape - Frequency
James Smith - Considerations of planning training
Jason C. Brown - Kettlebell Training for Sport
Jason Ferruggia - Optimal vs Reality
Jim - Smitty - Smith -COT
Jimmy smith - Management post breast cancer
Jo DeFranco - NFL linebacker in-season strength program
Joe Dowdell - Recovery & Regeneration
Joe Stankowski - Quest for the golden monkey
John Alvino - Themorgenesis and fat loss
John Berardi - Acid base nutrition
Julia Ladewski - Pre-season basketball training
Keith Scott - Self Assessment
Lee Taft - Olympic style lifting and explosive lifting mini-book
Lori Incledon -Anemia and athletic women
Lori Incledon - Scientific approach to changing body composition
Lou Schuler - you'll always be a busboy
Lyle McDonald - Abbreviated training
Mark Phillipi - Ed Coan program
Michael Stare DC - Fundamentals of optimal spine health
Mike Boyle - The lunge
Mike Mahler - High octane cardio
Mike Mejia - Hard gaining made easy
Mike Roberston - Goal setting
Mike Roussell - The secret
Nick Grantham - Combat circuits
Patrick Beith - Complete 40 yard dash training
Pavel Tsatsouline - RKC ladder
Rachel Cosgrove - Best shape of your life
Robert Dos Remedios - 10 things I see in gyms today
Ryan Lee - Time saving workouts
Steve Shafley - Frugal training
Steven Holt - The routine that worked wonders
Susan Hill - the power to change
TC Luoma - Corn-fed blubber
TC Luoma - Heart of the matter
Todd Hamer - Coaching
Tony Gentilcore - The question
Tony Renolds - Level one workout
Zach Even-Esh - Outdoor fitness

The Rachel Cosgrove article alone is over 80 pages and probably worth $24.99 in itself (except that if you're reading this you're one of my fitness buddies and you probably already know most of what's in there.)

And Alwyn's cancer diaries are incredibly moving. They're the e-mails he sent to friends and family while he was undergoing cancer treatment, and they brought tears to my eyes.

Cancer sucks. But Lift STRONG doesn't. Just order already. It's great information and a great cause and you totally won't be sorry, I promise.

NB: In the marketplace of ideas ...

everyone is entitled to an opinion. Mine in particular.

Not every opinion, however, is of equal value. The ones that are supported by facts are worth something. The others, not so much.

This is why I am the first to admit that my views on certain subjects, such as nutrition, are all but a waste of bandwidth. About all I know is what "everybody" knows, and while I certainly have opinions they're nothing you should take very seriously.

When I don't know what the hell I'm talking about, however, I do always try to be up front about it. Not everyone does, which is why you should be a critical reader online and elsewhere. When reading an opinion piece always ask yourself: What are the author's credentials? Where is his or her evidence? Does s/he have an agenda, and if so, what is it?

This is just my opinion, of course, but unlike my views on nutrition I think this one is actually worth something :)

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Some controversial-ish thoughts on nutrition

Please note that the thoughts are not mine. I don't HAVE thoughts on nutrition, particularly. Or rather, I do, but they're not very well-informed thoughts so it's not a topic I discuss much. I do, however, like to hear what other people have to say on the subject, especially when what they're saying is a little outside the mainstream.

Here's an example: you know that thing about not eating after 7:00 pm? Bob Garon of Synergy Kettlebell Training in Arizona doesn't agree. He argues that humans are hardwired to do most of their eating at night since for most of human history it simply hasn't been feasible for homo sapiens sapiens to do much eating during daylight hours.

It makes some sense when you think about it. Agriculture, after all, has only been around 10,000 years or so give or take a millenium. Before that we were hunters and gatherers, meaning that during the daytime we were probably too busy foraging for food to take time out to eat. Or not. I tend to think our ancestors feasibly could have brought snacks with them when they went forth from their caves on foraging expeditions. Mammoth jerky left over from the last big hunt, for instance, or dried fruits and nuts. Arguably the snackers would've had more energy to outrun sabertoothed tigers and such, making them more likely to live long enough to pass on their genes to the next generation. Of course it also could've gone the other way, with the snackers too weighed down by their burden to outmaneuver the tiger. All we can really do is speculate.

(Note: to be an evolutionary success story you don't actually have to outrun the tiger. You just have to outrun your foraging buddies)

The other thing this theory fails to take into account is that evolution is ongoing, and tends to happen rather quickly once humans start modifying their environment. Take dogs, for instance. From St Bernard to chihuahua, all evolved from wolves and not that long ago, either. Most of today's breeds are no more than a few hundred years old, many much less. Genocidal maniacs aside, humans generally have not set out deliberately to modify their own species in the same way that they've bred dogs for certain characteristics, but nevertheless plenty of modifications have occurred. Lactose intolerance, for instance, is quite common in people whose ancestors didn't consume much cow's milk, but it's a good bit rarer in people from, say, Scandinavia who've been enjoying a dairy-rich diet for generations.

(Note: I think that's true, anyway. I can't remember where I read it, so it's entirely possible I just made it up, which is why you really shouldn't take anything I have to say on the subject of nutrition all that seriously.)

So, anyway, I'm not entirely persuaded that for optimum wellness we all need to be eating like cavemen, shunning foods such as grain and dairy that were not available in Paleolithic times and consuming most of our calories at night. On the other hand, if certain foods seem not to agree with you or you've not had success with the mini-meal approach, I think the way of eating advocated by Bob Garon is well worth a try.

I know conventional wisdom is that we need to be eating regularly throughout the day so that our bodies don't start burning muscle for energy, but the truth is that that isn't going to happen unless you've been fasting for a few days. In fact, there's evidence that short-term fasting results in elevated growth hormone and other physiological changes which tend to promote fat loss.

Brad Pilon, the author of Eat Stop Eat, is a big proponent of intermittent fasting for weight control. He recommends fasting for 24 hours 1-2 times per week, and not worrying too much the rest of the time. It's an approach that definitely has some appeal for people like me who sometimes forget to pack a lunch and two snacks and can't always be bothered to figure out whether they've got exactly the right ratio of carbs to protein to fat in each of their mini-meals. I'm not sure how well it'd work for someone with extreme physical goals, but for those of us who aren't competitive bodybuilders or Ironman triathletes, I think it'd be fine.

(True confession: I skip meals all the time, either because it's not convenient for me to eat or I'm not hungry. Of course I don't look like a physique competitor nor do I have the strength of a powerlifter or the endurance of a triathlete. But I'm pretty lean, respectably strong, and above average in endurance. I'm not hypertensive like my father and brother, and I'm not diabetic like my mother, my aunt and my uncle. Basically I'm living proof that above-average fitness can be achieved without eating 5 or 6 times a day, although of course if that's what you like you should stick with it.)

The other thing I like about Brad Pilon is that he isn't a fearmonger. In a recent interview with Craig Ballantyne of Turbulence Training, he commented that it really doesn't make a whole lot of sense to worry about environmental toxins in, say, non-organic meat that you've prepared on the barbecue since the danger from nitrosamines is far greater than the danger from pesticide residues and such. That's not to say that it's not a good idea to minimize one's exposure to toxins wherever possible; however when you look at the big picture a non-organic burger here or a can of diet Coke there probably isn't going to make much difference when you consider all the toxins to which we are involuntarily exposed in the air we breathe and the water we drink.

Brad Pilon's focus on the big picture makes a lot of sense to me. When my father was diagnosed with early stage renal cancer a few years back, my mother was convinced it was his habit of putting saccharin in his coffee that was to blame, but given that he's been a two-pack a day smoker for more than 50 years I kinda think we can absolve the Sweet'n'Low of blame in this case.

In fact, there's no real proof that artificial sweeteners such as saccharine, aspartame and Splenda are even all that harmful according to Body Transformation guru Joel Marion. Like Brad Pilon he indulges occasionally and claims not to be any the worse for it. According to Joel Marion a human would need to ingest 200 cans of diet soda a day before he or she would need to be concerned about the neurotoxic effects of aspartame. That's not to say that some people aren't highly sensitive to it, but people can be sensitive to all kinds of things--eggs, soy, peanuts--that are harmless to most. If you believe it bothers you, don't have it, but if you've never experienced any ill effects from diet soda or other artificially sweetened foods you're not going to improve your health to any measurable degree by giving them up, so why do it?

I think what appeals to me about what these three very different health experts preach is that in each case the underlying message seems to be: don't make it harder than it needs to be. If you want to eat at night, you can make that work for you. If you can't be bothered to eat every 2-3 hours, you may not need to. Make the best choices you can, but don't worry so much about toxins in your food or what have you. Don't give up foods you enjoy if there's no real evidence they're harmful if consumed in moderation.

To read more of what Bob Garon, Brad Pilon, and Joel Marion have to say on nutrition and wellness, check out these links:

Sunday, May 17, 2009

"Beautiful" Sunday

The name "Beautiful" comes from my RKC-in-training friend Sarah (, and it certainly fits although in all honesty if the naming had been left to me I would have called it somethimg more like Sweat-Inducing Hurlfest. Good stuff, at any rate.

Here's what it was:

one-armed swings, 30 sec. each side
cleans, 30 sec. each side
rack squats, 30 sec. each side
presses, 30 sec. each side

Rest 1 min.

I did 5 rounds of that, using my 12 kg. kettlebell for all 5 rounds. I was able to maintain a pretty steady pace throughout, and I do think I'm seeing some progress in my cleans. No limp-wristedness at any rate, and I also had an insight re: grip. I've been keeping mine relaxed so the bell can swivel around into the rack position, which is sort of what you're supposed to do except that you also need to keep enough control that the bell doesn't swing wide and clonk you on the wrist. It's finding that balance between control and relaxation that's key, and it's what I need to work on.

Actually, that could be a metaphor for my entire life, but that's a whole other topic.

Saturday's workout, before I forget

Not surprisingly, I woke up on Saturday morning feeling a bit as though I'd been in a fight. It was pure DOMS--no low back pain or joint whatsoever. So it's all good, except that I do think it affected the quality of my Saturday workout. It was TRX Conditioning Circuit B, the Phase 2 version of which is as follows:

sprinter's start, 30 sec. each side
chest press, 30 sec.
single-arm row, 30 sec. each side
suspended lunge with running arm pattern, 30 sec. each side
pendulum with pike, 30 sec.

3 rounds, 30 sec. rest between exercises, 2 minutes rest between circuits. Theoretically. In practice, I had trouble transitioning seamlessly between sides on the suspended lunges, so I got a bit of an unscheduled rest break there. Not that flailing around like a clutz trying to find my balance so I can start the set is particularly restful, but you know what I mean. I also had a bit of trouble on the second set of pendulums. My feet kept slipping out of the cradles, which isn't usually an issue for me but I guess I was just having a particularly clumsy day. Maybe the DOMS was screwing with my proprioception? It can happen.

I also had a little trouble with my foot placement for some reason. With suspension training it's the vector angle that determines the level of resistance, so if your body position isn't correct it's the equivalent of choosing a weight that's too heavy or too light. Usually I can hit my mark almost instinctively, but yesterday it just wasn't happening. I felt like Goldilocks: feet too far back and the chest press was too hard; too far in and it was too easy.

Ehhh ...whatever. We all have days when things don't quite click during a workout.

Oh, and while I'm on the subject of suspension training, here's a more beginner-level TRX metabolic circuit I put together for a senior client who's actually quite strong and has tons of endurance but also has some stabilization and balance issues:

circuit, 3x:

2-leg squat to parallel, 30 sec.
chest press, 30 sec.
body row, 30 sec.

15-30 sec. to transition between exercises, 1-2 minutes rest between circuits

circuit, 3x:

balance lunge, 20 sec. each side (she did great with these!)
triceps extension, 30 sec.
biceps curl, 30 sec.

Again, 15-30 sec. to transition between exercises, 1-2 minutes rest between circuits

We also did some more targeted core work not involving the TRX. Suspended planks, jackknives and pendulums would probably be a little much for her at this point although I believe they'll be appropriate quite soon :)

With seniors who're a little nervous about the TRX, one of the ways I sell them on it is by pointing out that it's made of parachute material so it's superstrong and can easily bear their weight. So often when people are afraid they'll hurt themselves it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy even when they're more than strong enough to do what I'm asking of them!

Personal training is all about helping people believe they can succeed. Once the mental makeover happens, the physical one is bound to follow!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

What's a healthy body fat percentage?

If you've picked up a fitness magazine any time in the last decade you've probably read something to the effect that scale weight doesn't matter, it's your body fat percentage that determines whether your diet and exercise regimen (or lack of same) is working for you. And that's absolutely correct as far as it goes. You may even know that for adult women a body fat percentage of 22% is considered to be ideal from a health standpoint, while for adult men 15% is considered to be optimum.

But what may be confusing you is that in that same magazine you're not likely to see a single model whose body fat percentage is anywhere close to that healthy ideal. The typical Oxygen model has a body fat percentage in the single digits, while the typical fitness model in a publication like Fitness or Shape has a body fat percentage that's only slightly higher, not because she's carrying more fat but because she doesn't have as much muscle mass as the Oxygen models. Men's magazines are the same: most of the models in Men's Fitness and the like have a body fat percentage that's a good ten points lower than what's recommended for health.

Because of this, most people have no idea what a healthily lean body actually looks like.
Okay, let me rephrase. I don't mean to say that that magazine models are unhealthy, although some of the women in particular undoubtedly are, at least if they try to maintain their physiques at that degree of leanness year-round. Generally speaking, as long as a woman has 10-12% body fat, that's sufficient to regulate hormones and allow for menstruation. For men, it's more like 2-4%. There's a range of healthy body fat percentages, and while most fitness models hover at the extreme low end of the range they're within it. As are most professional athletes. As are many of the celebrities in "glamour" professions such as acting, who must maintain lean physiques in order to be considered for roles that demand a degree of physical attractiveness.

Anyway, the upshot of all of this is that while we are constantly barraged with images of people who're at the very low end of the healthy body fat percentage spectrum but only rarely see images of people who're at the higher end--the end that's actually considered optimal for health for most people. Or rather, we may see images of these people, but generally not as something to emulate. On the contrary, if female they're likely to be criticized for their "lumpy" thighs or "flabby" arms, and if male they may be tweaked for their "love handles" or "beer belly." Remember Britney Spears at the VMAs a couple years ago, when she wore that black bikini thing and sleep-walked her way through "Gimme More"? She totally deserved the bad reviews of her performance, but honestly her body looked perfectly fine to me. Taking into account the 10 or so pounds the camera generally adds, I'm guessing she was about 20-22 percent body fat. Fatter than a fitness model for sure, but by no means overfat though you'd never know it from the awful things her critics said about the way her body looked in the revealing outfit she chose to wear.

I not infrequently am hired by clients whose bodies look a lot like Britney's, who think they need to be a lot leaner in order to be healthy. They're often quite surprised to learn that from a health standpoint they don't need to change an ounce. Could they be even leaner without sacrificing health? Sure, and if that's what they decide they want I'm happy to help them achieve that goal. Otherwise, we can cross fat loss off the list of physical goals and move on to other important things such as building bone, increasing strength, and improving flexibility and balance. There's a lot more to wellness than just achieving an ideal body composition, right?

How fit are your feet?

I think I know why I've been breaking new ground in my lifting lately. It's because I've been working very hard on my feet.

(Organic, sustainable crack in my coconut water is another possibility, of course, but I really don't think it's that.)

I admit, the connection is non-obvious. I mean, when I deadlift it's not like I'm picking up the barbell with my feet, right? That would be interesting and weirdly impressive, and there's probably a clip on Youtube of some CrossFitter doing exactly that, probably with a ring handstand or some such thing thrown in. But it has nothing to do with anything I'm likely ever to attempt in this lifetime. Okay, this decade. As the song goes, never say never. At any rate, it has nothing to do with what I was doing at the gym yesterday, which was just your basic deadlift.

Let's take a second to review exactly what's happening when you deadlift. It's a hip extension, meaning that the muscles that are--or should be--doing most of the work are your glutes, which functionally are responsible for extending the hips so you can do fun things like pick heavy stuff (laundry, kids, Dino the 22-lb monster kitty) up from the floor without throwing your back out. Other muscles do come into play, of course, but they're meant to play a secondary role. The back extensors, for instance, are involved, but only as stabilizers for the spine. That, at least, is how it's supposed to work. In practice, one of the classic things that goes wrong with a deadlift is that people try to do the lift with their spinal erectors, which invariably leads to injury if what they're deadlifting is heavier than what those teeny-tiny stabilizing muscles can handle, which it probably is. If you want to lift serious weight without hurting yourself, you need to be using your glutes, which are the largest muscles in the body and the ones capable of generating the most power.

At this point you're probably saying, okay, fine, but what in the name of Goddess does any of this have to do with my feet? If I want to lift more weight wouldn't it make more sense to be working on my booty instead?

The answer to that question is a resounding "maybe." It all depends on why your glutes aren't engaging properly when you lift. Remember a couple days ago when I was rambling on about pistol squats? There's a phrase I used, "kinetic chain," that's basically a shorthand way of conveying the idea that our voluntary muscles--the ones responsible for movement and stabilization as well--are interconnected and work together. Consequently a dysfunction in any one muscle inevitably will have repercussions throughout the body.

Say you've got collapsed arches and flat feet. Weak muscles on the underside of the feet are going to destabilize your ankles and cause them to cave inward. Over time this will cause the muscles on the outside of the calves--the peroneals-- to become short and tight, and the muscles on the inside of the calves--the medial gastrocnemius--to become lengthened and weak. This puts you at risk for ankle strains and sprains, and if--when--you sustain such an injury the problem will become worse You may also experience inflammation of the ligaments and tendons in the ankle joint, as tends to happen when a joint is destabilized by weakness in the surrounding muscles.

And that's only the beginning. Above the peroneals and medial gastroc you have the knee joint, which is likely to be pulled inward if the peroneals are too short and the medial gastroc is too long. This in turn is likely to bring about a tightening-up of the muscles responsible for leg adduction and internal rotation of the femur ... and that brings us to the hips. At last! Betcha thought I'd never get there!

As you may recall from my previous post, the muscle that's primarily responsible for inward rotation of the femur is the tensor fascia lata (TFL), which sounds like a foo-foo blended coffee beverage but in fact is a muscle that sits on the side of the hips, in close proximity to the glutes. Therefore when the TFL is short, tight and overactive, the glutes tend to become lengthened, weak, and underactive.

Now, I don't want to oversimplify (yeah, right) and make it sound as though all glute problems originate with the feet, because that would be a lie. Sometimes it works the other way around. You might do something to your back that causes the muscles in the lumbar spine to tighten up, which again would result in weakening of the glutes and other muscles in the vicinity. Assuming your back issues don't cause you to give up on exercise altogether, the next thing to go wrong will likely be your knees, followed by your ankles and feet. You might find yourself experiencing lots of headaches as well, but that's a topic for another post. (Yes, that's a threat.)

Anyway, it doesn't really matter all that much where your problems originate. The real take-away message here is that all your muscle imbalances, even the most obscure and seemingly unrelated, need to be addressed if you want to perform optimally during exercise. It's not enough just to roll out and stretch your TFL and inner thighs. You have to address your weak links from the ground up.

So much for theory. Now we get to the practical part of the post, and I hope you're still with me. First thing I want you to do is take off your shoes if you're wearing them, and spread out your toes. Now press down hard with your big toe. You should feel your arches pull up and engage. Do this early and often, until it becomes automatic. Especially do it during resistance training. If your shoes interfere with your ability to press down and pull up--and they may if they're padded and cushy like most running shoes--get new shoes to wear when you lift. Better yet, lift barefoot if your gym allows it.

I already mentioned the towel-scrunching exercise in my previous post, so I won't describe it again. You can also practice picking towels up with your feet. Pens, pencils and cat toys also work. This might even be a valid use for that cute purple thing that came with your FIRM "kettlebell" workout :) (Sorry, FIRM fans!)

My personal favorite arch-strengthening exercise requires a Theraband. Sit on the floor, back straight and stomach muscles engaged (actually you can slouch and the exercise'll still work, but I'm a trainer and I'm not supposed to say that), and legs stretched out in front of you. Again, you'll want to be barefoot. Wrap the band around the ball of the foot and hold the ends in your hands, choking up on the band just enough to give you some resistance as you go into plantarflexion, which is trainerspeak for pointing your feet. Go slowly and deliberately, first pressing the ball of the foot away while keeping the toes flexed, then pointing the toes. Reverse the motion, flexing the toes and then the feet, to return to your starting position. Do this about 10 times on each foot, and you'll soon find it much easier to activate the muscles on the undersides of your feet so your arches stay pulled up during exercise. You'll see a wonderful difference in the stability of your ankles on single leg exercises, and you'll likely find you can use more weight when you squat and deadlift.

And, of course, it'll help with your pointe work, if that's a concern. That was actually my motivation when I added these exercises to my morning routine, but needless to say I'm thrilled about the other benefits I'm seeing. I've been doing gluteal-activation exercises for years but it's not enough just to fix the obvious weak links in one's kinetic chain. For optimal performance they all need to be addressed.

If you think weak feet may be holding you back, give some of these exercises a try and let me know how it goes.

Friday, May 15, 2009

PR Friday

This was a strength day. As I think I mentioned in a previous post, the strength workouts in Phase 2 of the Infamous TRX Workout are the same as in Phase 1. That's okay, though because I'm still making progress.

Here's what I did after my bodyweight warm-up:

Deadlifts, straight sets, two light sets just to get things going (I think I used 95 lbs, did 8 or so reps each set) then:

1x3x165 (can I have a WOOT! here?)

No straps, no hooks, no belts, no gloves even. Just me and my muscles, getting it done!

The last two sets, BTW, were just because I felt like it. They're not part of the program as written by Alwyn. But I really felt as though I had it in me after my third set to go a little heavier, and I wanted to give it a shot. Then after that I wanted to do a back-off set because again it just seemed appropriate. I was really excited about my grip not failing during the final set, because it took me a good 45 seconds to do the 12 reps and that's a long time to be holding a barbell that weighs 10 lbs more than you do!

Okay, I'll stop blowing my own horn now. No, I won't.

Next up were barbell lunges:


Then, dumbell incline presses supersetted with dumbbell rows. Again, personal records were set. I used 40's for all sets of the presses and 45's for all sets of the rows. I had no one to hand me the weights, but even so they got in place just fine. I even got 8 reps my first set. Only 7 on sets 2 and 3, though.

I finished with dragon flags done on an incline, and incline dumbbell curls, 3 sets of 10. I used 20's for 1 1/2 sets of the curls, then went down to 15's

Then I ran a few intervals on the treadmill.

After that I had a nice chat with one of my coworkers who is a natural healer. I don't really understand what it is that she does--it's not exactly massage, although touch is involved, and it's the sort of thing that if I didn't know her and know some of the people she has helped, I would probably think was utter New Age quackery. Anyway, we were talking about overcoming our reticence to market ourselves and actually charge money for these skills we've got. I was telling her she really needed to get a website, start networking, and all that good stuff, because if she doesn't start charging enough money at least enough to get her bills paid she won't be able to provide her service to anyone because she'll be too busy working at some job she hates just so she can put food on the table.

I probably need to take my own advice, at least somewhat. I've got enough saved from my 18 years practicing law that I'm not too worried about making mortgage payments and so forth. On the other hand, there are some special skills I want to acquire so I can share them with people--a kettlebell certification is high on the list--and that means working with a good trainer, and that'll cost $$$. I've also thought about a yoga certification although money is less of an issue there because a YogaFit certification isn't that pricey and it'd be adequate for 85% of my needs.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Troubleshooting the pistol squat

A pistol squat, in case you don't already know, is a full range of motion single leg squat with the free leg extended out in front. It's a tremendous test of leg strength, core strength, balance and flexibility, and it's completely safe if you're doing it correctly. But you probably aren't.

Next time you do a pistol, take a look at yourself in the mirror. Does your foot rotate outward? Does the arch of your foot collapse? What about your ankle? Does it also collapse inward instead of staying straight and strong? And what's your knee doing? Is it is it bowing in or out?

Now, ask a patient friend to watch you doing some pistols from behind. Does she notice the heel of your foot popping up off the ground? Your hips shifting to one side? Your torso rotating?

If the answer to any of these questions is "yes," it means you've got a muscle imbalance that needs to be addressed. The beauty of pistols is that because they are such a demanding exercise, they're a great way to pinpoint the weak links in your kinetic chain. Fix those, and your performance will go through the roof! That's the carrot. The stick is that if you don't, you're putting yourself at risk for joint pain and injury. And you really don't want that, because if you care about doing a proper pistol squat it means you're a fitness nut who would probably go insane if she were ever forced to take a lot of time off from exercise due to injury.

Now that I've gotten you paranoid about your pistols, here's what you should do:

Call me for a personalized assessment and corrective exercise prescription that will cost you an arm, a leg, and a left lung, but be worth every penny.

Only kidding! Actually, a personalized assessment by me or another qualified trainer is always your best bet because, well, this is what we do. Inevitably we're going to pick up on things that an untrained observer is going to overlook, not because we're smarter or anything, but because we know exactly what we're looking for. And, yes, we're worth what we charge. Or rather, as they say in the L'Oreal ads, YOU'RE worth it :)

That being said, you can learn a lot from a self-assessment, and once you have a sense for where you're going wrong you're already halfway to correcting it. Here's how:

Basically, all movement is the result of our muscles working in an integrated fashion. To move optimally all our muscles must be in balance. But in real life they almost never are. This can be because of trauma, improperly designed exercise routines, or activities of daily living that stretch some muscles while causing others to become short and tight. Say you have a job that requires you to wear dress shoes with a heel. Over time your calf muscles will become chronically short and tight, while your shin muscles will become lengthened and weak. If you're a runner, shin splints are probably an issue for you. And if you do pistols you likely have trouble keeping your heel grounded and your foot pointed straight ahead. You need to stretch your calves. Self-massage with a foam roller is also a good idea.

If collapsed arches are your problem, you probably have tight peroneals. The peroneals are the muscles on the outside of the calf that are responsible for foot eversion. Again, using a foam roller to massage these muscles will be helpful. You'll also need to strengthen the muscles on the underside of your feet; a good way to do this is by placing a light weight on one end of a small towel, then using your feet to scrunch the towel so that the weight comes toward you. There are also some great Theraband exercises to strengthen and stabilize the feet and ankles. More on this in an upcoming post.

If your knees buckle inward you've probably got tight, overactive adductors and tensor fascia latae (TFL). The TFL is a muscle on the side of the hip that is responsible for internal rotation of the femur and external rotation of the feet. (Strange, but true.) Again, you'll want to get out your handy-dandy foam roller for some self-massage followed by stretching of these areas.

You'll also want to strengthen your medial glutes, which tend to be underactive and weak when the TFL is tight. One of the most effective ways to do this is with lateral tube walking. Take a Theraband or length of tubing and tie it in a loop about 1' in diameter. The loop goes around your calves, somewhere between the knees and ankles. Come down into a semi-squat and do a side step, maintaining the squat throughout. Keep going for about 15 seconds, then reverse directions and come back the other way for 15 seconds. It's even more fun than it sounds, trust me :)

(Note to self: get camcorder so I can post instructional videos of me doing some of these admitttedly dorky-looking exercises for your edification and entertainment.)

The lateral hip shift is also indicative of tightness in the TFL and adductors, and the fix is the same: lateral tube walking. Leg abduction exercises can also be useful. No, not those stupid machines--you know the ones I mean. I'm talking standing side leg raises--what we call degages in ballet class. No need to point the feet, though, and don't try to turn them out either. In fact, try not to turn out. If your TFL is tight it'll probably be hard not to, but do your best.

There's also a nifty leg abduction exercise you can do using the TRX. Your feet go in the cradles, then you come up into full hip extension and maintain that position isometrically while bringing your legs out and in. Important: do not do this in front of your significant other, or he will make rude remarks.

The topic of corrective exercise is huge, and I've only just touched on a few of the most common dysfunctions that may be keeping you from complete and pain-free mastery of the pistol squat. If you think you may have one or more of these dysfunctional movement patterns, give my corrective strategies a try and let me know how they work for you.

NB: This post is all about injury prevention, not injury treatment. If you think you have a sports-related injury don't go to a personal trainer for help. Instead, go to a physical therapist or orthopedist. And, trainers, never be afraid to make referrals. It won't cost you clients. On the contrary, you'll probably end up getting some. Physical therapists make referrals too, and they tend to approve of responsible trainers :)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Infamous TRX Workout--Phase 2

Here's a quick overview of Phase 2: basically, the strength workouts are the same as in Phase 1, while the TRX conditioning workouts are somewhat more challenging both in terms of exercise selection and duration of rest periods. Basically, harder exercises and less rest.

Today I did TRX Conditioning Workout A. The exercises are a progression of the ones introduced during Phase 1:

single leg squats, 30 sec. each side
atomic pushups with a full pike instead of a jackknife, 30 sec.
deep rows. 30 sec.
crossover instead of regular balance lunges, 30 sec. each side
suspended side planks with hip dip, 30 sec. each side.

The prescribed rest periods were 30 seconds between exercises, 2 minutes between circuits. The circuit is meant to be repeated 3 times in Week 1 and 4 times in Week 2.

Here are my thoughts about the workout:

I found the atomic pushups with full pike to be very challenging but doable. The crossover balance lunges were a nice variation but not significantly more difficult than doing regular balance lunges where the leg goes straight back. (Note: if you have trouble picturing a crossover balance lunge, just think of an old-fashioned curtsey where the back leg crosses behind. It helps if you pretend you're at a debutante ball, wearing a big white dress and long gloves :)). The suspended side planks with hip dips were simply vile, and nothing helped with those.

I ended up taking about the full 30 seconds rest allowed between exercises, but found a minute's rest to be plenty between circuits. I'm not Superwoman or anything, but I'm quite familiar with metabolic resistance training and I've developed a certain amount of specific fitness for this sort of thing. It's the SAID principle at work. Give your body a reason to change, and it changes :)

For more details and a video demonstration of the exercises, go to John Berardi's blog on the Precision Nutrition website:

Three times through the circuit took me about 20 minutes, so I had a little time left for some kettlebell fun. I did 2-handed swings with 14kg, 10 sets of 20, and cleans with 8 kg, 10 sets of 10 each side, alternating exercises. Since I had 20 minutes in which to do 20 sets, I started each set at the top of the minute, then rested in whatever time I had left. My cadence was quite consistent throughout: the 20 swings took about 30 seconds and the 10 cleans each side took just over 40. I was pleased that my wrist stayed straight and strong on every clean, but there still was some clankage as opposed to a nice smooth swivel.

Then it was off to work to annoy some clients, and after that an hour and a half of ballet.

It occurs to me that while lots of people use the TRX, and lots train with kettlebells, and lots dance en pointe. there probably are not too terribly many people who do all three. On the same day.

I've got more pointe tomorrow, so I guess I should wait until Friday to deadlift :)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Tuesday: Weights and more!

In addition to teaching my usual Tuesday cycling class I did the following:

Straight sets:

Squats, two sets light to warm up, then: 1x6x135; 2x6x145

DB step-ups, 1x6x35s, 1x8x25's (just wasn't feeling these today)

superset: pullups, 3 x 5-6; DB overhead press: 1x6x30's (too heavy today!), 2x8x25's

superset: SB jackknife, 3x10; cable triceps rope pulldowns, 3x10x50

I sort of feel like doing some kettlebell stuff, but I think it'd be smarter for me to wait until tomorrow. I'm thinking 20 minutes, at the top of every minute do 20 swings or 5 cleans to each side, alternating exercises each minute. Or something like that.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Monday workout

It was TRX conditioning workout B, the one with the swimmer's start, deep chest press, 1-arm row, suspended lunges with hip-hinge and touchdown, and pendulums. 30 seconds each exercise (60 seconds on the unilateral exercises), 4 rounds. Again, 40 seconds transition time between exercises was allowed, but I only needed about 15-20 because I'm able to go pretty quickly back and forth between single handle and double handle mode. I also didn't take anywhere near the suggested 3 minutes rest between rounds. Even so, it took me close to 25 minutes to get through all 4 rounds, even though I was only working for 16 of those minutes.

Tomorrow I'll be doing Strength Workout B for the second time, and then it'll be on to Phase 2 of the Infamous TRX Workout. If I know Alwyn ... which of course I don't, except in the sense that I've read a couple of his books and umpteen of his articles, and if I ever met him and his fabulous wife Rachel I'd probably be all tongue-tied and blushing like a schoolgirl with a crush ... Phase 2 will look very similar to Phase 1 in terms of exercise selection, but the rest periods between sets will be shorter, and very possibly there will be a volume change as well.

More barbell complex workouts

These little gems were created by Alwyn Cosgrove, so you know they're good!

Complex A
Bent over barbell row
Hang clean
Front squat and push press hybrid
Jump squat (bar on back)
Good morning

Complex B
Romanian deadlift
Hang clean and front squat and push press (combination lift, perform one rep of each in series)
Reverse lunge (alternate legs)

Complex C
High pull (onto toes)
Squat clean (clean the bar from the hang and then drop into a full squat on the catch)
Military press (strict)
Jump lunges (switch legs)

Complex D
Jump squat
Squat and hold for 10 seconds
Military press
Push press
Squat and press (combination lift, perform one rep of each in series)

Alwyn's suggested progression is as follows:

Week one: 4 sets of 5 reps of each, 90 seconds rest
Week two: 5 sets of 5 reps of each, 75 seconds rest
Week three: 5 sets of 6 reps of each, 60 seconds rest
Week four: 6 sets of 6 reps of each, 45 seconds rest.

Another option would be an undulating periodization thing:

Do three complexes a week. On Day 1 do Complex A, 6 sets of 4 reps, with 90 sec. rest. On Day 2, do Complex B, 3 sets of 15 reps, with 60 sec. rest. On Day 3 do Complex C, 4 sets of 10 reps with 75 sec. rest. Then on Day 1 of the following week start in with Complex D, 6 sets of 4, yadda yadda yadda. Note that even on Day 1 you're not going to be able to use nearly as much weight as if you were doing straight sets. And that's okay, because this is meant to be a metabolic stimulus, not a hypertrophy stimulus. You'll get tremendous benefits in terms of general conditioning and muscular endurance, but if you're looking to maximize size and/or absolute strength you should do something else.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

The Randy Couture Grappling Workout

Whose idea was this, anyway??

Dang, this was hard!

Again, this workout is a barbell complex: 7 exercises, 8 reps per exercise, no setting the bar down until you're done unless of course you have to due to, oh, I don't know, muscle failure or cardiac arrest or something.

The seven exercises are as follows:

bent-over row
upright row
military press
good morning
squat push press from behind the neck

Let me state from the get-go that this is not a workout I would even consider giving to a client. I don't much like upright rows as an exercise because they mostly target the upper traps, which on most people tend to be overdeveloped. It's not that upright rows are inherently unsafe, but if you overstrengthen the upper traps you can end up creating a muscle imbalance that'll dangerously destabilize the shoulder girdle.

I don't care for good mornings either because I think they are a difficult exercise to execute correctly. Nine times out of 10, if you ask someone to do a good morning, instead of hinging at the hip and sticking his/her butt back, he or she will fold over at the waist. Not a great thing to be doing even with no weight resting on the shoulders, and downright unsafe with a barbell sitting there! If I'm even considering giving this exercise to a client I'll have him or her practice with something called a waiter's bow, which is basically an unloaded good morning with one hand behind the back, clutching a fold of skin. If the client loses her grip on the skin fold it means she is rounding her back, maybe due to tight hamstrings. Anyway, if she can't get down to where her torso is parallel to the floor without rounding, it means we've got stuff to work on before I'm going to want her doing any sort of good morning or deadlift with added resistance.

Last but not least, behind-the-neck presses are one of those exercises that I consider to be unnecessarily unsafe for just about everyone. Think about all the people you see in the gym who don't have sufficient flexibility in the pecs and anterior delts to be able to get the bar into position for an overhead squat. there's no way on earth those people are going to be able to execute a behind the neck press without hurting themselves.

Anyhoo, if you want to give this workout a shot but you're a little worried about the good mornings and the behind the neck push presses, a safer alternative for the former would be a stiff-legged deadlift and a safer alternative for the latter would be a front squat to push press.

Okay, enough with the preliminaries. Here's how it went down:

Rounds 1-4, I managed with a 40 lb barbell. In round 5 I hit muscle failure on rep 6 of the militaries and had to set the bar down and lower my weight by 5 lbs. I finished the round with 35 lbs, then did round 6 at that same weight. It took me about a half an hour, which I guess makes sense given that my usual tempo when I'm lifting is about 4 seconds per rep.

Not surprisingly I had tremendous lactic acid buildup in my shoulders and upper arms, and I pretty much knew from the outset I wasn't going to make it all 6 rounds at my original weight unless I modified the workout by extending the rest period or changing the exercise selection. I'm actually pleased I made it to round 5 without having to go down in poundage.

I'm also pleased I'm not feeling any ill effects from the deadlifts yesterday. No tenderness in the low back whatsoever.

Time to stop being pleased with myself and eat something!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Deadlifts and more!

Today was my second time doing Strength Workout A from the Cosgrove/Quelch/Berardi TRX experiment:

BB deadlift, two light sets to warm up, then, 1x6x135, 1x6x145, 1x6x155

BB front lunge: 3x8 each leg x 75

superset: incline DB press, 3x8x35's; bent-over DB row, 3x8x40's

superset: SB crunches, 3x10; incline DB curls, 3x10x15's

I was very happy with my performance. I used to have to use straps if I wanted to deadlift that much weight for more than a couple reps. I also had no trouble getting the 35's into place for the incline press. In fact, I'm pretty sure that if I'd had a training partner to assist I could've pressed 40's.

After I finished lifting I felt like doing a little cardio, so I did a few intervals on the treadmill: 6x 30 sec. work at 9 mph/60 sec. recovery at 4 mph. I haven't been doing much running lately so I went a little slower during the work periods than I have in the past, but honestly I could've picked it up some. Next time I will :)

Thursday, May 7, 2009

What passes for a rest day chez moi

I didn't lift today, but I did take 75 minutes of ballet, then taught cycling. I don't usually teach Thursdays, but I was covering for another instructor. It was difficult mentally to transition from "Waltz of the Flowers" (we've already started learning it for next year's Nutcracker, Goddess help us!) to hillclimbs and sprints, but at least I remembered to change shoes.

You can't imagine how funny pointe shoes look with bike shorts. I'll post a photo some time and you'll see what I mean.

Tomorrow I'll be doing Strength Workout A as per last Saturday. Then on Saturday I'm going to do a barbell complex:

Bent rows x8
Upright rows x8
Military press x8
Good morning x8
Lunges x8 (each leg)
Squat push press x8
Deadlift x8

This is a Randy Couture MMA conditioning workout. I think you're supposed to do it 6 times, resting 1 minute between rounds. I'm going to give it a shot with 40 or 45 lbs--we'll see. I haven't done upright rows in forever, so I can't really remember what weight I use for those. The upright rows/militaries definitely will be the sticking point for me. Hmm ... maybe 30 or 35 would be more appropriate :)

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

TRX Conditioning Circuit Workout A

This time I did 4 rounds. Other than that, everything was the same as last time:

30 sec. single leg squats each side
30 sec. atomic pushups
30 sec. rows
30 sec. balance lunges each side
30 sec. side plank each side.

Because I didn't have to adjust the length of the straps or go back and forth from double to single-handle mode, I was able to get through the circuits with minimal breaks between exercises--10 or 15 seconds at most. I did , however, allow myself a little more recovery time between circuits though not the full 3 minutes suggested in the program. 90 seconds was more than enough even toward the end when I was starting to get fatigued.

Interestingly, these circuits conform almost perfectly to Craig Ballantyne's "Big 5" circuit template for fat loss: squat, push, pull, lunge, total-body core. BJ Gaddour of Workout Muse follows a similar template: 2-leg, push, pull, 1-leg, core. Or, if you wanted to put it totally in terms of functional movement: hip flexion/extension, push, pull, lunge, rotation/anti-rotation.

It's funny: I'm so into the functional thing now that it almost shocks me when I get clients asking me about programs like Sculpting Her Body Perfect. I actually had a client ask me about this very book last week. I'd heard of it, of course, but never really looked through it until she mentioned it. It's ... well, I'm not going to say it's bad, because the fact is, this bodybuilding stuff works if your goals are strictly cosmetic. The recommended progression--from three total-body conditioning workouts per week to a split routine with multiple exercises per "body part"--is totally safe and sensible. The information on cardio--the author refers to it as "aerobics," which tells you something right there!--is completely dated and the cardio prescription of 5 sessions a week, maintaining the heart rate at 50-80% of max, is just about worthless for fat loss though again it's not unsafe so I suppose it could be worse.

I mean, I'd rather have a deconditioned person puffing away on the treadmill at 55% MHR than doing kettlebell "swings" a la Jillian Michaels.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Strength Workout B

I'm liking these workouts :)

Squats, 1x8x65, 1x8x95, 3x6x135

DB step-ups, 1x6x25's, 2x8x25's

superset: DB overhead press, 1x6x25's, 2x8x25's; chinups, 7, 6, 6

superset: SB jackknife, 3x10; rope cable pulldowns, 3x10x50

Then a little later I taught a fairly challenging cycling workout. I usually do one big endurance drill for the folks who are training for an event, plus some high intensity intervals for the people who are there for general fitness and fat loss. The intervals might be tabata-style, or there's another thing I like to do, where the length of the interval does not change but the rest period gets shorter. That was what we did today: 30 second work intervals, with rest periods dropping from 1 minute to 15 seconds, then going back up to 1 minute, then down to 15 seconds again. The other thing I do is vary the length of the work interval while keeping the rest period constant.

It's even more fun than it sounds, trust me :D

Monday, May 4, 2009

In honor of Cinco De Mayo ....

The infamous Skinny Girl Margarita:

2 oz of clear Tequila
A splash of fresh lime juice
A splash of Cointreau, Grand Marnier or Triple Sec

Mix and pour over ice, or blend with ice and serve frozen. If you like, you can add a splash of lemonade for a little more sweetness, or a bit of grated lime zest for more fresh citrus taste.

Other Skinny Girl cocktail recipes include the Pomegranatini (Lord help us!) and the Pina Colada. For the Pomegranatini, take 2 oz. vodka , 2 oz pomegranate juice, a splash of fresh squeezed orange juice, and 3-4 oz. club soda. Shake in a blender half filled with ice; strain into a glass. A slice of orange makes a nice garnish. For the Pina Colada, fill your blender with ice, then add 12 oz. white rum, about 1/4 can light coconut milk, and a splash of pineapple juice. Blend and serve. Makes 4 servings.

TRX Conditioning Circuit Workout B

Parameters are the same as for workout A: 30 seconds work, 40 seconds transition time between exercises, 3 rounds, 3 minutes rest between rounds.

The exercises were:

1. sprinter's start
2. deep chest press
3. 1-arm row
4. suspended lunge with touchdown
5. pendulum

Since 3 of the exercises are unilateral, you actually end up working 4 minutes per round. Again I found I didn't need a full 40 seconds to transition between exercises in most cases, so I only took the time I needed and managed to make it through the rounds in just under 6 minutes. I also felt the 3 minutes of rest between rounds was excessive so I only took what I needed before getting on with it.

(Workout Tip Of The Day: Don't be a slave to the program. If you can get 10 reps instead of the prescribed 8, go for it. If you're fully rested and ready to go after 60 seconds, get busy even if the program tells you to wait 90. Likewise, if you need to stop early or take more time between sets, it's far better to do that than risk an injury. Just make a note of what you did, and think about whether you need to adjust your weight selection next workout.)

Learning kettlebells from a DVD

Let me state from the outset that I really do not think this is a good idea. There are some extremely good DVDs out there for those who already know the basics, but I strongly believe that the first time you pick up a kettlebell it should be under the supervision of a certified kettlebell instructor who has taken you through a series of preparatory exercises and deemed you kettlebell-ready. There's just too much potential for injury otherwise.

But, suppose you're basically a healthy person with pain-free knees, a strong back, and stable shoulders, who's not an exercise novice and has maybe even done a little Olympic lifting. And suppose you live way the heck out in the middle of nowhere, a day's drive or more from the nearest kettlebell studio. Should you give up on the idea of kettlebells altogether, or should you order a DVD and give it a shot?

This is not a rhetorical question in any sense. Without in-person coaching from someone who knows what he or she is doing, you inevitably are going to miss subtle nuances of technique that can make all the difference. This is true of every body discipline, not just kettlebells. If you've ever had a private Pilates lesson you know just what I mean. There are loads of wonderful Pilates DVDs on the market, but Ana Caban talking at you on the TV is not the same as Ana Caban there in the room with you, watching you do the exercises and correcting your form as needed.

On the other hand, even if working along with a DVD isn't as good as an in-person lesson from a qualified instructor, it's still a good bit better than nothing. Maybe. If you don't hurt yourself.

As you can tell, I'm deeply ambivalent. In our sedentary society people need to move more, and if DVDs will help them accomplish that I feel I should be supportive. But not if it leads to injury. And there are certain kinds of exercise--including kettlebell training--where I feel that the potential for injury is great enough that you just shouldn't take the risk. Take a class or two, learn some technique, then practice along with a DVD at home if you like. But don't rely on DVDs alone.

Really, that's my best advice. But if after all that you still want to give kettlebells a shot and a DVD really is your only option, go to the Dragon Door website or the PerformBetter website and order one of their intro packages. I have the Art of Strength Kettlebell Clinic DVD and I think it's excellent, although in all honesty I can't tell whether it provides adequate instruction for someone who has never had any in-person coaching. It's definitely good for reinforcing your knowledge base, however, or at least it seems so to me.

I do not own any of the Dragon Door DVDs, but I have trouble believing that Pavel or the DuCanes would put out a bad product. I've also gotten good feedback from friends with no prior kettlebell experience who've used the Kettlebell Goddess DVD successfully ... and learned enough from it about proper technique to be horrified by Jillian Michaels' display of kettlebell ignorance on "The Biggest Loser."

Speaking of which ... whatever you do, do not assume that just because someone is a superb exercise instructor she knows what she's doing when it comes to kettlebells. I think Gin Miller is fantastic, but I REALLY wish she hadn't made a "kettlebell" workout. If you're an instructor and you want to jump on this particular bandwagon, please acquire the necessary expertise first!

Something to get off my chest

No, not a barbell or kettlebell or even a cat.

It's this:

Heavy weights do not bulk women up. Heavy weights plus high volume plus calories surplus to requirements bulk women up.

Thank you, and good night.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

But wait! There's more!

If you order within the next 30 minutes we'll throw in a bonus DVD, KettleBallet Abs, absolutely free, as our gift to you just for ordering. So don't delay! Order now!

Okay, no. But I did do a supplemental workout, and there was a kettlebell involved, and I suppose my abs got worked along with everything else. And in a way there was a ballet connection, because I was trying very hard to maintain the right balance of tension and relaxation during the swings and that's actually very much like what has to happen in ballet. That concept of the lock is integral to astanga yoga as well, and probably to lots of other body disciplines. But I still don't think a fusion workout combining kettlebells and ballet, yoga, or anything else is a very good idea. For one thing, in ballet and yoga the weight needs to be centered forward over the balls of the feet, whereas when you train with kettlebells it needs to be back in the heels. You can't do kettlebells en pointe or even on half-toe, not that it would occur to any normal person even to try.

Anyway, to get back to the workout, it was a simple little thing involving getups and swings. I'm really trying to get back to basics and work on technique instead of worrying about what weight I'm using. That's hard for me, because using "girl weights" makes me feel like a wuss. But I don't want to be stupid about my training. Actually, I do, but I'm not going to be.

So, 3 rounds of the following:

3 TGU right, left
30 swings
2 TGU right, left
20 swings
1 TGU right, left
10 swings

I did it all with my 8 kg kettlebell and really tried to concentrate on pushing down through the heels, locking out at the knees, maximally contracting the glutes and abs, and pulling the lats down hard during the swings. I think I've got it but won't really feel confident until I get a thumbs-up on my form from someone who actually knows something about kettlebells.

I do, however, know this: do not do anything kettlebell in your running shoes. Just don't. I mean there are more inappropriate things you could train in. Pointe shoes. Stilettos. Pink marabou mules. Lucite stripper heels. All would be even worse than running shoes because of the angle at which they put your foot, but the basic problem is the same: you can't push down through the heel, and therefore you can't maximally contract the glutes to generate power at the hips. If that happens, you're probably going to end up trying to muscle the weight up, which will result in a failed lift at best, an injury at worst, unless of course you're using a teeny tiny 5 or 10 lb kettlebell, in which case frankly you might as well be doing the workout in your Zsa Zsa shoes because at least then you'll be having fun.

An Alwyn workout

Pretty sure this was a Cosgrove creation, anyhoo. It's Strength Workout A from the Phase 1 of the "informal experiment" he did with John Berardi and Fraser Quelch to see which is more effective for fat loss: strength training and cardio, or strength training and TRX conditioning circuits. Since I did TRX Conditioning Workout A yesterday, Strength Workout A seemed like a sensible thing to do today.

After five minutes or so of various TRX exercises to warm up, I did straight sets of deadlifts:

8x65 warmup
8x105 warmup

Then I moved on to straight sets of barbell front lunges:


Then dumbbell incline presses (1x10x30's, 1x8x35's, 1x8x30's) supersetted with bent-over dumbbell rows (3x8x35's).

Then stability ball crunches (3x10 x yawn) supersetted with dumbbell incline curls (3x10x15's)

And that was that.

According to Berardi's seven rules I could go have some grain now if I wanted it. But I'm not in an oatmeal mood, and the only other grain I like is the highly refined sort that comes in Absolut bottles. So, forget that.

Berardi's Seven Rules Of Highly Effective Dieters

Since reading Skwigg's latest blog post on "Intuitive Eating 2.0" ( I've been obsessed with finding out as much as I can about John Berardi's approach to diet and healthy weight maintenance. As described by Skwigg, it almost sounds too good to be true: no weighing, no measuring, no obsessing over macronutrient ratios ... in fact, no obsessing. Period.

There are, however, some rules to be followed. Seven of them. (Of course, seven. Seven chakras. Seven archetypes. Seven brothers. Seven dwarves. It's always seven, except when it's three or ten. Why is that? If I ever come up with a program it will include Three Principles, Seven Rules, and Twelve Steps or possibly Stages. This stuff has resonance, plainly.)
They are as follows:

1. Eat every 2-3 hours, between 5-8 times per day.
2. Eat complete lean protein at each meal.
3. Eat fruits and/or vegetables at each food meal.
4. Except for your workout and post-workout drinks/meals, your carbs should come from fruits and vegetables.
5. 25-35% of your energy intake should come from fat, with your fat intake split equally between saturates (e.g. animal fat), monounsaturates (e.g., olive oil), and polyunsaturates (e.g. flax oil, salmon oil).
6. Don't drink your calories.
7. Eat mostly whole foods (except workout and post-workout drinks).

According to Berardi, if you're 90 percent compliant with these seven rules, you'll probably be able to achieve and maintain a healthy weight and body composition without having to count calories or mess around with macronutrient ratios. It's not that that stuff doesn't matter, but it only comes into play if you're already following the seven rules and you still don't have the body you want. In other words, master the fundamentals first, then refine as needed. If you're still at the stage of things where you're skipping breakfast, having a salad for lunch, and eating three bowls of ice cream after dinner, it certainly isn't going to hurt you to go on something like the Zone diet or the Body for Life diet, but why not make things simple for yourself?

Okay, I take that back. Some people need more structure than others. For those folks, a plan that prescribes a certain number of meals per day, and a certain number of calories at each meal, with a certain percentage of those calories coming from fat, protein and carbs, is going to be what works best. Too much freedom can be paralyzing, or rather, it can lead to its own form of obsession. Who wants to spend a lot of time agonizing over whether it's better to eat 5 moderate-sized meals or 8 tiny ones, or do all one's rule-breaking on a single day or spread it out over the course of the week? And with Memorial Day and the start of swimsuit season only a few weeks away, who wants to experiment with alternative approaches?

But even if you're a dieter who does better with a more structured approach Berardi's seven rules are useful if for no other reason than that they'll help you evaluate the gazillions of different programs that are out there, and tweak them to make them more nutritionally sound and effective. Weight Watchers, for instance, is a program that can easily be made Berardi-compliant, and so is the Atkins diet. The Slim-Fast diet ("a shake for breakfast, a shake for lunch, and a sensible dinner!"), not so much.

Really, though, the Berardi rules speak to those of us who are sick of structure in our diets. Call us post-structuralists. No, please don't :-D As diet veterans we understand that a complete laissez-faire approach won't work for us--if it did, we'd never have gone on a diet in the first place. We know we need some rules, but we're looking to keep it to a minimum. Seven is just about doable, especially if we only have to follow them 90 percent of the time.

Personally, I don't think there are necessarily even seven rules. I think liquid calories are fine, as long as you understand they are calories and treat them accordingly. If a smoothie is all you can handle first thing in the morning I don't see any problem with having that as your breakfast, assuming it's nutritionally balanced and satisfying. I also think it's possible to maintain a healthy body composition while (gasp!) having the occasional apple all by itself, without any lean protein.

Of course that's what the serpent told Eve, and look how that turned out. So maybe you should listen to Berardi and not me :)

Seven. It's the magic number.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

TRX Metabolic Circuit

Thanks, Sandi, for forwarding this little gem to me!

Circuit 3x:
TRX 1-leg squats, 30 sec. each leg
TRX atomic pushups (feet suspended in cradles, arms in pushup position, bring the knees into the chest, then do a pushup. Even more fun than it sounds. Whee. Not.), 30 sec.
TRX body rows, 30 sec.
TRX balance lunges, 30 sec. each leg
TRX side planks, 30 sec. each side

As written, the workout allows 40 seconds transition time between exercises and a full 3 minutes recovery between circuits, but I found I didn't need nearly that long.

If you're curious to see a demo of the exercises, check out John Berardi's blog on the Precision Nutrition website ( Berardi collaborated with Alwyn Cosgrove and Fraser Quelch of FitnessAnywhere to come up with an 8 week experiment measuring weight loss and performance in three different groups, one doing strength training and steady state cardio, one doing strength training and interval cardio, and one doing strength training and TRX conditioning circuits. The above workout is one of the conditioning circuits from Phase 1 of the program. The results of the experiment haven't been published yet, but I think we can guess how the steady-state cardio group will fare :)

Friday, May 1, 2009

Kettlebell bodyweight circuit

This is workout B from the Turbulence Training March Madness program:

Circuit 3x:

KB front squats, 20 x 30lbs
X-tended pushups, 20
KB swings, 20 x 30 lbs
walking lunges, 20 each side
KB snatches, 10 each side x 8 kg
mountain climbers, 20
KB 1-arm swings, 20 each side x 8 kg
close-grip pushups, 20
KB 1-arm rows, 10 each side x 30 lbs
SB leg curls, 20

The snatches felt really good on my right side. Grip's a little funky on the left, though. I think it's the grip that's the problem, anyway. I feel as though the bell isn't moving properly around my hand on that side, so my wrist is getting banged.

I also practiced cleans, trying to work backward from the rack position as per Enter the Kettlebell. I think the problem here is my rack position--can't quite find the sweet spot where my wrist is straight and the bell is resting comfortably. Oh, well. At least I know enough to know what I don't know. Some of it, anyway.