Sunday, January 15, 2012

Pump up the Volume!

Have you reached a plateau in your strength gains?  Pumping up the volume may be the answer!  A study recently published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research showed that participants who regularly performed a routine including 8 sets of barbell back squat increased their 1 RM by approximately 19.5% in only 6 weeks.  Their 1-set and 4-set counterparts only experienced strength increases of 10.8% and 14.4%, respectively, in the same amount of time.

The details of the study are shown below:
  1. 1 RM was tested prior to beginning the program.
  2. Strength routine included a 2 day split (upper body/lower body), where each muscle group was trained twice a week.  The barbell back squat was the only lower back or leg exercise allowed during the 6 week program.
  3. Participants warmed up with 10 body weight squats, 10 repetitions performed at 50% of 1RM, 1 repetition at 60% of 1RM, and a final repetition at 70% of 1RM. 
  4. Participants in the 8-set group performed 8 sets of barbell back squat with 3 minute rests in between sets.  Each set was performed to failure.
  5. At the mid-point of the program (3 weeks), the 1 RM was tested again and working load recalculated.
Although symptoms of over-training were not observed in this study, the authors do note that the length of the study was only 6 weeks and care should be taken if applied to several muscle groups at the same time and/or for longer periods of time.

Until next time!  Train hard and train smart!  Dan  

Source:  Daniel W. Robbins, Paul W.M. Marshall, and Megan McEwen, T. Effect of Training Volume on Lower-Body Strength. J Strength Cond Res 26: 34-38, 2012. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Food Pyramid Replaced by a Colorful MyPlate

Dear Readers,

In the event that you missed out on this news, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has replaced the formerly well-know food pyramid with a new icon called MyPlate. It’s about time! After 19 years of the cramped pyramid, finally something more streamlined.

So what’s so different about this new icon? Well for starters, we can all relate to a plate. This plate is divided into 4 color-coded sections – orange for grains, red for fruits, green for vegetables, and purple for protein with a separate blue side-plate for dairy.*

I personally never liked the former food pyramid, but I do like this new, easy to follow, colorful circle and I think you will too! I am sure many of us know what foods we should stay away from, but wouldn’t it be nice to know the multitudes of foods we can, and should have on a daily basis, along with the right quantities? No more guessing and no more excuses. Once you take a close look at this new layout, you will quickly realize that most of your nutrition should come from fresh veggies and fruits. Yes, most of us are guilty of stacking up on our carbs through processed goods, but knowledge is power.

MyPlate makes it simple to figure out our daily caloric needs. It breaks it down to the exact ounces of each “oh-so-important” category, including the category that comprises a very minimal percentage of the overall consumption per day. Yes, I am referring to the “cheat category”. In the end, everyone needs a chocolate chip cookie every once in a while. On their site, go to the link “Get a Personalized Plan” and enter your age, sex, weight, height and your daily physical activity in order to start your health journey. If you are unfamiliar with certain foods, I suggest you familiarize yourself with the nutritional data of each particular food. You can even compare foods, which is a great tool. I have yet to see that on any other website. I know it’s a bit of a process initially, but believe me, it’s well worth your time.

I think that this awareness is great. You will soon notice how much “we” over-eat and/or how much of the good stuff we leave out. It is time to make a change in our thinking, and develop a healthy eating pattern, one that can carry us through life with the most vigilance and energy possible. A pattern based on healthy goals.

Talking about goals, I noticed that more and more folks are really taking physical activity more seriously. I remember last year after New Year’s, the gym I frequent was extremely crowded, but after a month, no one stuck to their apparent New Year’s resolution. I sense a different spirit this year. We are in the month of August and the gym continues to be crowded with folks that made a permanent choice to change their life. Their new thinking pattern aligned with new choices. They are such an inspiration to me!

I draw my energy from everyone out there and thrive upon commitment and dedication to a common goal. When we are at the gym, we are all on the same track – the health track. J

All in all I believe the USDA really tried to make a change with their new approach here. Their interactive online tools make for a hands-on personalized experience. With a few clicks, individuals can plan daily personalized food strategies, track their food intake – all with the intention of helping people reach their personal goals – and I am all about goals.

Check out MyPlate at This might just be an additive to the awesome things you are already doing. Keep it up!

* Unfortunately, their recommendations do not take into consideration the specific populations that have diet restrictions.



Thursday, August 4, 2011

Have you pushed yourself today?

Have you ever pushed yourself? I mean really pushed yourself? Have you ever found that quiet space in your mind where silence drowns out the strained screams of encouragement from your peers; where thoughts of pain and agony receive no quarter; where every muscle, tendon, and neuron are singularly driven towards the completion of one agonizing task?

How would I answer? Let’s not get ahead of ourselves…

Up until three weeks ago, my understanding of exercise and fitness were that they were lonely endeavors to be pursued in large, impersonal, corporate gyms with headphones on aloof to the world around me. Over the years I’ve been a member of many gyms and in that time, I can probably count the number of people I’ve talked to on one hand (maybe both hands if you count, “hey, you done with that?”).

Then I came to know Crossfit; the fitness movement that strives to, “increase work capacity across broad time and modal domains” through functional training. English translation? To put it simply – to perform any task well in any circumstance under any time constraints. And the functional training part? Yeah, that means it has to be useful in real life. You won’t find bicep curls or calf raises on the agenda. What you will find is plenty of full-body movements; everything from power cleans and snatches to rope climbs, sled pulls, hand-stand push-ups and burpees.

Yet there’s another component to Crossfit – the camaraderie. It’s the type of camaraderie that can only come from healthy competition and mutual suffering. From the first day I arrived, I understood that this was going to be something very different. I was used to pushing myself (or so I thought!), but competition was never something I enjoyed. Growing up, I wasn’t the kid that was picked last for kickball… I was the kid watching from the stands. To say I wasn’t competitive would be an understatement. As a result, I grew up with the mantra, “I’ll just try to beat my best score!” A mentality that is perfectly reasonable in a game of pinball, Tetris or (for those of you not born pre-80’s) Angry Birds. In real life, however, that reasoning just isn’t very… what’s the word... ah yes… functional.

Something changed in me after that first class. Maybe it was the fact that I thought I was fit or perhaps it was the thought that my first class might not be a challenge. Maybe it was when my time went on the chalkboard and I had to stare at it in plain black and white… dead last. Time to re-evaluate my game plan. I would not be last again. Later that night, it occurred to me that my non-competitive nature had led me to complacency and led my growth to stagnate. It allowed me to fool myself in to thinking I’d given 100% when I hadn’t.

So have I ever pushed myself? Have I ever really pushed myself? Not until three weeks ago when I walked in to a Crossfit box. The bottom line is this: if there’s somewhere in your life where you’re stagnating, where your complacent… try a little healthy competition. You just might find that you were capable of more than you thought.


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Fitness Abroad: The China Adventures! (Part 3)

CC-TV Building - Beijing
Ni Hao!  Welcome to the third and final installment of Fitness Abroad: The China Adventures!  If you missed the first two parts of the series, check them out here and here!  Today's workout turned out to be my favorite for the week.  Although there's not an ab exercise in sight, this minimalist workout demands stabilization through the entire core in every move.  You won't miss your crunches at all :)  Let's take a look at the original workout cooked up by the boys & girls at CrossFit Miami Beach.  We'll also look at how I modified it to work with the limited gym equipment available at the hotel.

Original workout:

5 Round for time
~ 20 Kettle Bell Swings
~ 18 Push-up Releases
~ 16 DB Floor to Overhead
From (Thursday 6/16/11 WOD)

How I made it work for me:

20 Minute AMRAP (As Many Rounds As Possible)
~ 20 Single-arm Dumbbell Swings (10 left/10 right): Kettle Bell swings are an incredible full-body exercise that requires  strength, coordination, and endurance.  Unfortunately, even some large commercial gyms don't have Kettle Bells (and my hotel gym certainly doesn't) so we're gonna have to make some substitutions.  I like to perform this exercise one hand at a time with a dumbbell.  Since the deltoids shouldn't be activated during the swinging motion, I like to switch arms in the middle of the set.  It shouldn't reduce the intensity of the move.  I've also seen gym-goers grasp the dumbbell with both hands (as you would grip a baseball bat), but this position doesn't feel natural to me so I stick with a pronated grip and use one hand at a time.  
~ 18 Push-ups (Tapered intensity): I simply start out with the hardest push-up version I know and proceed to easier versions as I tire out.  An example of the sequence I might follow: Plyo Push-ups (both hands and feet leave the ground), Clap Push-ups, Fly Push-ups, Standard Push-ups, Knee Push-ups.  Those are just some of my favorites.  It's a great way to keep things interesting and acivate the entire chest.  There's a mountain of push-up versions to choose from so be creative and find the ones that really burn.  Here are some other versions to consider: Military, Diamond, One-Handed, and Spider Push-ups.  You can also try them with bands or stands.  
~ 16 Alternating Dumbbell Snatches:  I modified this exercise for one simple reason... I don't really know what "DB Floor to Overhead" exercise is :/  From the title I can infer that it's similar to Alternating Dumbbell Snatches, one of my favorite exercises.  This high intensity exercise is borrowed from the Power Lifting arena where explosive power is key.  Not comfortable with powerlift exercises?  Try substituting for another full-body exercise like Burpees.  By no means is it a direct substitute, but it's an explosive move that activates muscles through the entire body and requires stabilization through the core.  

Mascot of Yonho Eatery - Cute little bugger ain't he?

So there you go!  A great total body body workout and all you need is 20 minutes and some dumbbells.  Perfect for days when the gym is packed, you're low on time, or there's limited equipment.  I hope you've enjoyed reading this three-part segment as much as I've enjoyed writing it!  To me, this trip has served as a reminder that workouts don't have to be complicated by a pile of gizmos and equipment or tediously constructed through a series of drafts and revisions.  Sometimes the simplest workouts are the most effective.  Using the proper precautions, a little bit of know-how, and a lot of creativity, you'll find that a great workout is within your grasp no matter what the circumstances.  Thanks again and have a great workout today!

Xie Xie Ni!  (Thank you!)

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Fitness Abroad: The China Adventures! (Part 2)

The Parrot - Best Steak & Ale Pot Pie this side of Tianjin
Ni Nao!  If you're just tuning in, welcome to the second part of a segment I like to call Fitness Abroad: The China Adventures!  The focus of this series is staying fit while on the road in less than ideal conditions.  Fitness enthusiasts are notorious creatures of habit.  They've record their goals, dialed in their workout schedules, and perfected their eating habits.  So what happens when you're on the road and have access to a limited amount of equipment or no equipment at all!?  Remember that although plans or perfect, life is not and it's your reaction in these moments that defines you. Today we'll take a look at a workout from and how I modified it for my needs on the road:

Original workout:

20 Minute AMRAP (As Many Rounds As Possible)
~ 5 Push Press
~ 10 Chin Ups
~ 20 Pistols (10 each leg)
Men: 115lbs; Women: 75lbs
*From (Tuesday 6/13/11 WOD)

How I made it work for me:
China streets - where lanes are merely suggestions

20 Minute AMRAP
~ 5 Push Press: No complaints here!  Push presses are great for building explosive power and putting mass on your delts.  The hotel gym happens to have a barbell so I was able to accomodate this exercise (you could also use dumbbells if necessary).  No weights? No Problem!  Try Inverted Push-ups or Handstand Push-ups.
~ 10 Bent-Over Row with Supine Grip: I'm a huge fan of chin-ups, but the hotel gym doesn't have a pull-up bar so we'll have to make a modification.  I chose bent-over rows since I already had the barbell set up from the first exercise and the supine grip will activate the biceps in a similar fashion as the chin-up. 
~ 40 Squat Jumps:  This exercise is very effective for the hams and quads and doesn't require any weights.  I chose to do this exercise because my knees don't like me when I do Pistols. It's also a great alternative for people with balance issues.  To tone down the difficulty, remove the plyometric portion and just do body-weight squats.  Want to add a little fun?  Throw in 90 degree turns or side hops with every jump. 

Well I hope that gave you a little insight on how you can modify a workout for any circumstance.  Just be creative and listen to your body.  I'll be taking a rest day tomorrow, but stay tuned for Part 3 of this segment when I return to the gym on Thursday!

Xie Xie Ni! (Thank you!)


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