When Cardio Isn’t

There was a commercial for a piece of cardio equipment that ran a couple years ago (I forgot the name of the machine). The ad shows people engaging in a variety of outdoor activities and then suggests that instead of having to do all those things, you can just use this revolutionary piece of cardio equipment for the same workout. It is a sad indication of our sterilized, antiseptic society that doing anything for pure enjoyment is a waste of time. The worst part is that you can have fun while also getting the benefits of a dedicated cardio workout. All you have to do is you think for yourself and abolish any fears of enjoying yourself.

    To be perfectly clear, “cardio” does not entail using a two-toned grey machine to burn calories. Cardio n the broadest sense of the modern vernacular is any activity that elevates your heartrate and keeps it there for an extended period. This is apparently critically misunderstood information. It boggles my mind when I walk into the gym on a gorgeous Saturday morning and see every piece of cardio equipment occupied. I want to grab a megaphone and ask “Don’t you people have anything more enjoyable to do?”

    Yes, I do consider the reasons some people may prefer riding a machine for an hour. Some like to be told what to do, especially when it comes to working out because of fear of injury, not knowing what to do, or simply enjoying a preset program,. Others think they’re getting the fastest and bestest workout because the machine said they’re burning 900 calories per hour, which will negate any bad eating done over the rest of the weekend (cardio machines are not time machines and cannot burn future calories that have not been consumed yet). Others hate the idea of being remotely athletic abhor sweat and want to be done as quickly as possible.

    However, I can also guarantee that every single one of those people has at least one activity that they like which counts as cardio. And I can further guarantee that they would enjoy doing that activity more than sitting on a stationary bike or riding an elliptical. In fact, the simple joy of doing something unstructured and free is probably the best solution for those who detest the very idea of exercise.

    For example, take the mythical “Roy”. Roy is 6’1, 320lbs and 32% body fat. Roy hates dancing, those girlyman workout machines and anything that involves running. From these desires, its clear that suggesting that Roy take a cardio dance class or do a half marathon is going to be met with an icy stare and possibly an incapacitating right hook. So we ask Roy what he likes in order to see if that sheds any light on the situation. Lo and behold, Roy loves sports, particularly football and baseball. Roy also likes the outdoors, such as when he goes bass fishing. Now its easy to come up with things that Roy can do that count as cardio but don’t look or feel like cardio to him.

    Let’s tell Roy its okay to go outside and play football with his friends for 30 minutes. It doesn’t have to be intense, just constant movement. Rules can be modified to allow for shorter intervals between plays. Alternatively, Roy can go to a batting cage after work to get a few dozen swings in. And since he likes fishing, perhaps he can paddle a canoe out to his favorite fishing spot next time rather than relying on an Evinrude outboard motor. By the way, all of those listed activities burn at least 500 calories per hour for a person of Roy’s mass.

    Roy is obviously a painfully stereotypical male pulled from the annals of sitcom character development. But he does illustrate that there are options for people who do not fit into the pre-cut molds that the fitness industry has selected for us. There are women who don’t like to dance and men who do. There are guys who don’t like basketball and girls who do. The takeaway message is that if you think outside the cube and allow yourself to be happy, there are literally hundreds of things that you can do that count as cardio but are infinitely more fun than standing on a machine for an hour.

 
 
The link below is a list compiled by Harvard University denoting the number of calories burned after 30 minutes of a given activity. Notice that even everyday actions such as mowing the lawn, cleaning, pushing a shopping cart and playing with kids burns a significant number of calories. This lends credence to the idea that the more automated a society, the easier it becomes for them to become obese. In any case, peruse the list and take note of activities that you enjoy (or may enjoy…try something new) and incorporate them into your life. Notice I didn’t say workout routine. This should be fun, not something you feel forced to do. The end result is the same with the added benefit of not having to dread the experience.
 

Calories Burned In 30 Minutes of Leisure and Routine Activities: Harvard Health Publications

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Liftlazy Whenevercast: Fun

I know it’s been a while.

In this episode, I talk/rant about fun and how it relates to exercise. It is not written anywhere that all exercise has to be the physical equivalent of a trip to an amusement park. Expecting to have fun every single time you exercise sets up a dangerous precedent. In the event that you don’t have fun, you’re more likely to give up on an entire program.

Want to have guaranteed fun? Go do something you like to do. If you like working out, great, you’re ahead of the game. If you don’t like working out, include things that you like to do while remembering to do the things you need to do. If that doesn’t help, I don’t know what to tell you. Either quit whining for 15-30 minutes and get it done regardless, or quit whining and be satisfied with your current body shape/state of health.

I wish I could have been nicer about it but really, there’s no way to sugarcoat it. I still like you guys though! Send questions or comments to chris@liftlazy.com

Right click to download mp3 file

Liftlazy Whenevercast: Episode 1

The Whenevercast is my version of a podcast. A few things led to the selection of the name. For starters, I really wasn’t sure if anybody still used an iPod. There was also the need for a name that would stand out and wasn’t taken already. Thus, the idea of the audio show you can listen to whenever you want bequeathed Whenevercast.

Names aside, this ongoing audio series is geared towards the regular person. Not the pro athlete or bodybuilder or fitness model. I’ve noticed an acute lack of material on the internet for people of all ages who don’t have the time to spend doing two hour workouts, or may have an existing injury that prevents certain movements. You won’t hear a lot of fancy language, just a “Tell me what I need to know and shut up, Chris” tone to the Whenevercasts. It’s all by design to make it easier to understand the confusing parts of fitness. Currently scheduled for a bimonthly release, each episode will feature special guests of varying backgrounds to discuss fitness topics with me. And if listeners send in questions, we’ll answer some of those as well.

So here it is, episode 1 of the Liftlazy Whenevercast! The special guest this time is Mark Pryer, a strength and conditioning expert in the Dallas area. We discuss injury prevention, core conditioning, healthy eating during the holidays and how to ease into a workout regimen for the new year.

You can contact Mark via his Twitter #MarkPryer

Download mp3 here.

A Dream Come True

More often than not, when dreams come true, there is no huge fanfare. There is no parade, no party to commemorate the event. In some cases emotions range from indifferent to severely disappointed. If you think I’m a party pooper, I ask you to think about something you really wanted that wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. Maybe it was a vacation that you were really looking forward to. The brochure showed a tropical beach with clear blue skies and attractive, smiling couples happily galloping through the water’s edge. But when you got there, it didn’t look much like the brochure. There were clouds for most of the day, there was definite photoshopping of the ocean colors and the only people walking down the beach were creepy old men in Speedos.

This expectation versus reception issue (EvR) plagues even the best of us. It takes a trained mind to be able to honestly notice and be thankful for a realized dream. Fitness goals are usually so poorly defined that when you actually attain them, what you see is nothing like what you expected. For instance, a person says she wants to lose 10 lbs because apparently, magic will commence the second she hit the new weight. So she goes on the South Bronx Paradise Diet and loses a total of 12 lbs in less than 2 weeks. But when she looks in the mirror she doesn’t see the difference. Why? Because the person she was expecting to see was a much more specific goal. The person she became is 5’4, 117 lbs and 24% body fat. The person she wanted to be was 5’4, 117 lbs and 15% body fat. See what happened? If you don’t ask for what you want, you’ll be annoyed and confused when you don’t get what you want.

I often get people who tell me “I need to lose about 10 lbs.” or “I want to gain about 15lbs of muscle”. My immediate response is “How do you know?” It’s not that I’m trying to be adversarial, but it’s in everyone’s best interest if they understand from the get-go what they actually want instead of spitting out random numbers that sound good in their head. I once had a gentleman years and years ago say he wanted to add around 10 lbs of muscle in a ridiculously short time (approaching spring break does horrible things to people’s sense of temporal possibilities). I mistakenly tried to help him pack on the mass but needless to say he came nowhere close to his goal. I don’t think it mattered to him since he got plenty of drunken girls to comment on how big his biceps were (at least according to his embellished stories), but I learned that it is a disservice to the client and to the entire fitness industry to allow people to hold onto unrealistic expectations.

Here’s a few ways to deal with slow changes and how to recognize that your dream has come true:

  • Use a tape measure: Ignore, throw out or burn your scale. Use a tape measure and your clothes as a realistic gauge of your appearance. You may gain a couple pounds, yet lose body fat in the process. If your mind is fixated on total weight, you’ll miss the fact that you’re getting healthier and more defined.
  • Quit checking the mirror 37 times a day. That’s putting unnecessary pressure on yourself to shape-shift overnight. If a stubborn area of fat hasn’t vanished in the last 12 hours, quit looking at it. Keep exercising and eating properly and check it in about two weeks. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.
  • When you do look at yourself, pretend you don’t know who you are. Don’t see yourself as the high school football player version of you, or the post-childbirth version of you, or the “I used to be in such good shape” version of you. See yourself as a stranger and be honest in your appraisal of what “they” look like. No favorites, no enemies.
  • Punch your clock in the face (punintentional). You may have a cruise to go on or a wedding to attend in 4 weeks, but what about after that? Are you aiming for a short term fix or a lasting, lifelong relationship with healthy living? It’s very likely that the image you have in mind for an event 1 month away will actually take 3 to 12 months to achieve. Don’t get upset when the expected results do not occur according to your social calendar.
  • It may sound like fitness blasphemy, but understand that looking a certain way may not be worth the changes you have to make in your lifestyle. If you refuse to give up certain things, or start doing other things, then accept the way you look and feel as a consequence of those actions/inactions.

Results dealing with exercise occur slowly. Even when they happen relatively fast, they’re not instant. Be patient, know what you want and accept it when you get it.

Look for an an evolution, not a revolution.

Self Preservation and the Art Of Lifting

Your body has some wonderful defense mechanisms built into it. Among these is the instinct of self preservation. It’s the reaction you get when you suddenly slow up when approaching a steep cliff with no guardrail, or when you run at full speed when being chased by a giant boulder. This instinct has kept humans alive for a long time and continues to prevent our untimely extinction. This instinct is a very primal force and for that reason, it is nearly impossible to ignore.

Lifting weights can trigger the self preservation response in people very easily. I normally see it when clients are doing squats or overhead presses. You can tell just by looking at their face. The eyes will get either really big as if they saw a giant spider on their arm, or they’ll squint as if looking into the sun. You may also notice a sudden shift in facial tension as their instinct kicks in and the brain sends the signal “What are you doing!? We’re going to get killed!” Right up to the point that their instinct takes over, their body is usually in good form. After that, it’s anything goes to keep the weight from falling on them, pinning them, or whatever dark fantasy was created in their mind.

With the squat, the idea of being stuck under a heavy weight, or having it crush you into an accordion with a pulse is enough to make many people stop way above parallel. In the overhead lift, the thought of the arms suddenly evaporating and the bar crashing down upon one’s head is the reason why so many weird contortions are often used when first learning how to do military or jerk press. These gruesome fates are 100% possible, but only at far higher weights than they will be using. Lacking a reference for what a 5 or 10 lb increase will feel like, their brain simply files it under “too heavy to be safe” and shuts down any attempt to accomplish the lift. Most non-athletes fail at lifts mentally a long time before they would have physically, although the results may often look similar.

Confidence in one’s capabilities is the only way to get past this psychological block. The only way to get that confidence is to do the actual lift. You cannot get squat confidence from leg pressing and you cannot get overhead press confidence from doing lateral raises. Only by doing the lift that causes the reaction is your brain going to understand that the signal to be scared is not necessary.

Someone who is not mentally convinced they can perform a jerk press may rack the weight perfectly on their shoulders, dip with aggression, but fail to deliver any useful upward drive. The weight then falls back down to the safeties and they assume it was too heavy. In another case, they may provide enough upward drive, but fear being able to lock out. They then arch their back in order to keep the weight well forward of their head (usually injuring their shoulders or low back). Maintaining visual contact with the weight is a type of defense mechanism, as in if they can see the bar, it won’t fall on them. Locked out above and slightly behind the head is terrifying for any normal person who has no idea that their body is more than capable of supporting that weight.

While squatting, people usually shallow their depth severely, fearing that going parallel or below will trap them under the bar. With safety bars and a trained spotter, this is not likely, especially with clients who are doing fairly “light” weights. But “light” in an absolute sense may be heavy in a relative sense to them. Once this “imagined perceived threshold” (I made that phrase up)is crossed, the self preservation reaction will manifest itself through a very shallow or torso dominant squat (oddly enough, these variations actually carry more risk of injury since the knees are in an unstable position and the low back is exposed to tensional stress it shouldn’t be handling). Occasionally, instabilities or imbalances will rear their heads during this time. Knees may move in, heels may lift and backs may round. Take the time to find out if these are actual deficiencies in the stabilizers or if it is part of a larger “holy crap! Do what you have to do to get this up!” response.

To combat this, I use very small increases in weight to slowly acclimate the lifter. If a person is squatting 65 lbs while singing songs, I know I can use a relatively large increase before they’ll start to indicate that the load is moderate or even heavy. If they are having to work hard with 65 lbs on the other hand, I may increase it only 7% or less in order to get them mentally used to a higher weight without approaching their physical limits. Since none of my clients are involved in powerlifting competitions, taking a relaxed approach to adding weight is a much better alternative than just slapping on extra pounds and yelling “DOOOOO ITTTTTT!” Once their brain recognizes that is has accomplished a lift at a weight they formerly thought was impossible, the self preservation instinct resets itself to a higher value. So instead of freaking out at 70 lbs, it may be 105 lbs where they start going shallow and worrying. Then its time to start the process of small increments over again.

 

Tips to help avoid the self preservation response:

1. Try using smaller plates. One big wheel and a 5 per side is 145lbs. Two quarters per side is also 145lbs. Chances are you won’t feel as apprehensive with the smaller 25lb weights since the mental image of the large 45lb plates will not dominate your psyche.

2. Deload the bar when you start getting stuck/losing form. Do volume sets at a lower weight to get the form to be automatic. After a few sessions of that practice (do not think of it as a workout), begin to add weight in small increments while only performing 1-2 reps each time you increase the load.

3. Have someone you trust add weight to the bar for you. This way you lose track of what exact weight you’re doing and rely on perceived exertion rather than deduced exertion.

4. Never sacrifice form. If you need to wiggle and bounce to finish every rep of a set of 5, it’s too heavy. After all, the most dangerous weight to be cavalier with is the weight you use for your working set. Again, it comes down to practicing the lift until it is automatic regardless of the weight.

 

Note: These techniques are geared to the general population, not athletes, although they may find them useful as well.

 

 

 

 

Mirror Mirror On The Wall

I have nothing against people who look in the mirror while lifting. Alright, I do have a problem with people who stand way too close to me and decide to flex while making Buffalo Bill kissy-faces in the mirror. But other than that, I don’t hold it against anyone who wants to look at themselves. However, to achieve maximum performance in compound movements, my personal opinion is that mirrors are detrimental.

I have my clients turn away from the mirror when lifting to keep them focused on the exercise. Invariably, anytime they do face a mirror, their form and execution suffers. It makes sense, when one considers that sight and interpretation of what is seen takes a very large amount of brain processing power. This reduces the efficiency with which a lift can be performed by siphoning off precious mental resources. Their faces quickly show expressions of frustration as they notice tiny errors and try to correct them while trying to accomplish the lift.

These visual corrections are ineffective for the most part since the lifter is in a “tape delay” situation where first they make an error, then see the reflection of the error, then consider how to correct the error, then command the neurons to fire in a way that corrects the error and then visually verify that the error has been corrected. While it is not a very long delay, it is enough to put a person just enough out of sync to be a problem. Being out of sync on compound lifts is a recipe for an injury that is completely avoidable.

There is also the issue of not being able to quickly interpret fore-aft deviations in the mirror. You may want to look in the mirror in order  to “watch your form”. Unfortunately, you are seeing a 2D reflection of your 3D body, forcing your mind to interpret that 3rd dimension. Errors that involve moving towards or away from the mirror often are not noticed. You may actually move into the wrong position in order to see yourself better (lifting your head on deadifts, or turning sideways to see your profile during upright rows…yes, I’ve seen that happen).

For simple lifts like bicep curls, using mirrors for form won’t affect your performance. For complex or dynamic movements (cleans, barbell rows, and especially any plyometrics), it’s best to not look at yourself to correct form. Have someone experienced in the lift observe your motion. If you can’t find anyone who knows what to look for, tell them what to look for. With time and practice, you will know from feel if you are in the right position prior to and during every rep.

So there you go. See if you can break the spell of self-staring when doing the complex and heavy stuff. I promise you’ll have much better focus when you aren’t torn between being Tom Platz and Buffalo Bill.

 

 

I Know Why You Go To Extremes

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Why did I post this awesome song that formed a musical bridge between the decades of the 80s and the 90s? Easy, because the tagline is exactly what many people who workout do without even knowing it. Like an internet message board, life is all about moderation (remind me to quote myself later, I like that one).

With exercise it is very easy to get caught up in THE BEST EVAAARRRRR syndrome that permeates out marketing driven society. Whatever we use has to be the best in our eyes. We also like knowing what the purpose of something is if it requires effort. Otherwise, we’d rather do something with no purpose that requires no effort (Research what myosin is? Why do I have to know that? I could be playing Angry Birds).

Most purchases and commitments we make result in us getting what we wanted fairly quickly. Fast food that takes more than 2 minutes to throw out the drive-thru window is an abomination. We verify instantly that the book we ordered is being shipped and when it will be delivered down to the second (I’ve never seen such neurotic monitoring of packages as I have in the past 5 years. When I was a kid the UPS man would leave a box at the door and that was it). Even buying a car rarely takes more than a day if the consumer did research ahead of time. Significant material changes can take place in one’s life literally in less time than it takes to write about it.

Fitness on the other hand is a long term commitment. It is a slowly changing relationship you have to be patient with and nurture for optimal results. Like relationships between people, there is often an illogical attraction to that which is new, intense and exciting. Boring and repetitive is the relationship that will support your goals, but it’s soooooo boring! Thus, you dump boring for extreme because it is the aforementioned new, intense and exciting. It is only after a month or two of dating a base-jumping-race-car-driving-shark-wrestler that you realize that the very thing that drew you to them is the very thing that is going to make you leave them. Here are two fictional but otherwise realistic examples:

 

There is no science, physics, quantum mechanics, alchemy or sorcery that will make you shed 12% bodyfat and gain 30lbs of muscle in just one week of going to a gym. Your logic tells you every single time you see one of those Ultimate Mass Gain ads in the muscle mags that there is no way that you can end up looking like Johnny Giantarms in 3 weeks. But your imagination, the resident troublemaker in your life, chimes in and says “Dude that is totally doable! The program seems easy enough, you just drink shakes and do a 6 day bodypart split. Nothing but volume sets of forced reps”. So what do you do? You start the program and swear by it. You give sermons at the gym about how well its working for you, how everyone should be doing it and that its the only thing that works, blah, blah, blah. Then week number 3 rolls around…

You’ve lost 2% bodyfat and gained a pound of muscle. Looking in the mirror, you feel that you look pretty similar to who you were 3 weeks ago. You look nothing even remotely like Johnny Giantarms! However your friends all notice a difference. Maybe your shoulders have more definition, or your lats flare out a touch more. You also bench, press and squat more weight than before. Nope, doesn’t count. You wanted to gain 30 lbs and even though you made good progress for someone without any “help”, you’re peeved. Livid, you fire off angry emails to the company complaining that even though the fine print said that the advertised results were not typical, you’ve always been an overachiever and therefore should have had even better results. They politely ignore your rant while you now tell everyone at the gym that the program sucks. Your new muscle messiah is a program that has you eating 7 vegetables a day while doing nothing but 50 rep bodyweight squats and pushups.

 

Maybe your goal wasn’t bulking but “toning up” your butt and thighs. Fearing “fempertrophy” (the immediate and explosive growth of muscle that occurs whenever a female touches a dumbell over 5lbs), you decide to buy $150 worth of “Hollywood Body Double Celebrity Workout” DVDs. And since the DVDs are worthless without the $300 juicer, $25 meal plan notebook, and $49 monthly online subscription to a 24hour virtual trainer, you end up shelling out quite a bit of money before doing your first jumping jack.

Speaking of jumping, boy do you jump in! For the first few weeks, you do the workouts everyday. Then its every other day. Then there’s late work meetings, having friends over or just being tired. By now you’ve done the workouts so many times, you know what the instructor is going to say by heart. At first what was cute and endearing is now enough to send you into a raw juice fueled murderous rage. The peppy, upbeat dance music now grates on your very last nerves and at this very instant, you realize the thrill is gone.

Sure, you lost 4 pounds in a month guzzling juice and staying active. But your body doesn’t look like that model who did the infomercial. What a ripoff! Discouraged, you sell the DVDs on eBay, the juicer sits unused in a hallway closet and the meal plan notebook becomes the most expensive loose leaf binder in your house. And that 24hr virtual trainer got more than a few profanity laden instant messages before you cancelled the service. You cease all physical activities until the next craze hits the market. THAT one will work. It WON’T be like the others.

 

What do all these examples have in common? Extremes of course. Extremes of diving into something that was too much to do. Extremes of thinking that slick advertising was a shortcut for consistent hard work. Extremes of not giving the body a chance to change by believing ridiculous transformation time estimates. And the extreme of changing your entire life to fit around a workout in one fell swoop.

Going to extremes leaves no room for balance in your life. Enthusiasm and energy are not endless resources. Run out of either one and you will become depressed, tired or sick. For the record, there is nothing wrong with workout videos or celebrity endorsed workouts. However you should understand something about the human body: it is not a damned Transformer. If you expect to go from Dwight Schrute to Dwyane Johnson in 2 weeks, you have bigger issues than what any trainer can or should help you with.

So how do you avoid going to extremes? Recognize exercise programs for what they are: a blueprint for a new you. They are not the 15th Commandment and they are not federal law. They are not magic and they are not revolutionary. At best, they are simply new presentations of the same basic functions that our bodies have been doing for eons. Never let the “fun” aspect mask the motions. In both cases, there were verifiable changes but the magnitude was lower than expected, therefore the false assumption was that the programs didn’t work. The mechanics worked even when the novelty wore off.

Find a program that is SUSTAINABLE (that’s the new buzzword that people throw around to make other believe they love the spotted owl and rain forests). In the two examples, the programs were not sustainable for the users. This lead to disillusionment and abandoning of the activity. If a program is designed for last for 3 months, make sure you can handle 6 days a week if that’s what it calls for. Make sure you know how to do an RDL if its in the exercise list. If not, pick a different program that you will stick with. Your goals should drive what program you select for yourself, not how ripped/hot/skinny/popular the trainer/model/child-actor-making-acomeback selling the program is.

 

Next time you see something on tv or in a magazine, I hope you’ll think twice before spontaneously reacting just because it’s the new craze or it’s been proven to cause some elite athlete to do some elite athletic thing even more elitely. All you need to know is if it will work with your goals and personality. Why? Because you know why you went to extremes.

And you aren’t doing that anymore.