Friday, January 28, 2011

Diversifying the Push-Up

True more or less.

One of the first exercises we tend to learn is the push-up and with good reason. When it's performed correctly, it's a great movement that engages almost the entire body. But, as we get proficient at the exercise the difficulty diminishes. It then becomes important to progressively increase the challenge and continue to get stronger.

The dilemma is going beyond the standard version. Luckily, the push-up is one of the most varied exercises and can easily become the spice of life in your routine. While the derivatives of the push-up are plenty, a few modifications can be applied to most, if not all, of the variations of it.
  • Either raise the hands or feet. The latter makes push-ups easier while elevating your feet makes it harder.
  • Example: Push-ups against a wall is less challenging than the standard version, but your feet on a chair is more difficult than against the floor.
  • Lift one leg, one arm, or both (opposite sides, i.e., left arm & right leg). One-arm push-ups are very advanced, but lifting one leg isn't nearly as hard. If you're really strong, you can lift one arm and one leg.
Hands Position
  • Easily the most overlooked point.
  • Similar to a supinated [underhand], pronated [overhand], or neutral grip, the same can be applied here. The supinated version puts a significant amount of stress on the wrists but performing them using hex dumbbell against the floor eliminates that issue.
  • Can be done on knuckles or fingertips. Fingertip push-ups are no joke and require a decent amount of grip and finger strength.
  • Diamond push-ups are quite misinterpreted. Instead, you're suppose to bring your hands closer together towards your midline/body's center. Like the bench press, elbows should be brought into the torso - not flared out - but that's not achievable the way the hands are place in diamond push-ups.
  • Your legs can also be brought close together [harder] or spread wide apart [easier].
  • Any external resistance: Weight vest, chains, or bands.
  • If you have a friend with you, you can have them place a plate on your back to load the exercise.
  • Putting your hands on any unstable surface requires more tension and places a greater demand on your upper-body.
  • Furniture sliders, medicine balls [1 or 2], a BOSU ball, a Swiss ball, suspension system/blast straps, or a surface of sand all fit this purpose.
There you have it. Many of these suggestions are also applicable to the plank. Additionally, you can combine one or more modifications together. For example, doing neutral grip push-ups on a medicine ball with your feet elevated. While it doesn't have to be that extravagant, you can change the exercise drastically without having to do much.

Lastly, the push-up doesn't always have to be used as a strength exercise. I personally use it as a movement in my dynamic warm-up - a few of each hand position and explosive push-ups. (Or something like this.)

Regardless of how you decide to use it, it's one hell of an exercise.

Have a good weekend everyone.

No relevance but when you search
"push-up" online, you see mad boobs.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Iron Resiliency, Session 3: Being Realistic

Calm down and relax.

So far, we've taken a look at the cause of negative thoughts and how to confront these inaccuracies. Today, we'll go a step further and reduce the anxiety they bring us.

Most often, when we stray away from perfection and our plan - whether it be in missing a training session or leniency in diet - we tend to be exceptionally hard on ourselves and unfortunately not forgiving enough. Feeling guilt is acceptable, but the after effect is trying to compensate by tightening up the diet even more than before or training continuously with inadequate periods for rest and recovery.

Reductio ad absurdum (Latin for "to reduce to the absurd") is the method of a pushing an argument to its very end until its illogical and becomes invalid - almost akin to disproving itself. Being realistic will serve the same purpose for our own choices.

In order to truly be realistic, there are two other things to do first, which are:
1) Imagine the worst possible outcome.

2) Imagine the best possible outcome.
For instance, take a person training for fat loss to slim down. Hypothetically, what if this person indulges one evening and has a few foods not on their diet menu? While they may feel shameful about their actions, it isn't all gloom and doom.

Doom says,
"You dare eat cake?!"

Let's run through the worst possible outcome.
  • You ate a meal with too many calories.
  • Because you overate, your weight went up.
  • Feeling dejected, you decide to binge.
  • Binging has made you balloon up and your weight to skyrocket.
  • You've gained so much weight you are no longer able to do many of your previous activities.
  • Since your appearance has changed significantly, you're left single with less hopes of finding someone than before.
  • The severe weight gain has caused a host of other problems, such as increased blood pressure & cholesterol and put you at a higher risk for heart disease and diabetes.
  • Overweight and depressed, you spend the rest of your days alone unhappy until your premature death.
It sounds bad, but I did say the worst possible outcome. It's time to lighten the mood and see the best possible outcome.
  • You ate a meal with too many calories.
  • Surprisingly, you've dropped a pound. The cheat meal served as a small break from your disciplined eating.
  • Invigorated by your hard work, you attack your final phase of fat loss with enthusiasm.
  • Shedding those final pounds of fat, you've sculpted your dream body.
  • You've done such a great job an agent is impressed by your figure and offers you a modeling job.
  • As a model, you meet an equally sexified model and get married.
  • Together you both make millions of dollars and become the most famous models internationally living happily ever after.
But realistically? You'll overeat and your weight may fluctuate slightly if at all. A single meal won't significantly impact your body composition.

The goal of these explanations was to illustrate how absurd our imaginations can run wild when we overreact to minor situations. In reality, the most likely items to occur are the second or third bullet points. The later possibilities are very unlikely to come true.

It is also important to note that problems tend to have more than a single contributing factor, but we narrowly focus on one. Likewise, we may worry excessively on variables not within our control and ignore things we can change. Attention should be addressed to the things we can change!

Consistent behaviors will determine how successful you will be in achieving your goals. Some questions to ask yourself are:
- Are you making adjustments to your diet or behaviors to allow maximal recovery, muscle growth, and/or fat loss?
- Has your training become progressively difficult for adaptation to take place?
- Outside of your training, have you been sitting on your butt all day or being active?
Remember, the whole picture is important. One moment is not equivalent to an entire experience.

Take it easy. More in session 4 next week.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

A New Age

Last week, my mother described the old days to me when she arrived with my dad to America and their life of raising three kids. When they decided to move, my mom was 21 and my dad 26.

My dad took night classes and held a job to support the family. Later at one point, he had two jobs. My mom raised my sister and then when my other sister and I were born, she was working the evenings while taking care of us in the day. My dad would be gone from morning until the evening - which is when my mom left for work. With mom gone, he took over from evening until bedtime.

From the time they came to the US, they didn't have a manual about being parents. Instead, it was whatever they could do to the best of their abilities. There wasn't time to get drinks, go to the movies, surf the web, play games, or hit the gym.

In contemporary society, it appears we take such luxuries and conveniences for granted. Parent or not, we appear to have the time and choice to partake in activities. However, we don't take advantage of this. Instead at most times, we choose activities detrimental to our well-being (mind and body).

Imagine you had commitments so important that it was out of the question to do other things.

My parents had three kids to love and care for each day.

We live in an age where we are given the world with wondrous resources at hand but do not fully utilize them. Because of my parents' hard work, I'm able to pen a blog in my free time, exercise, attend a university, and express my ideas among other things.

And for that, I am grateful.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Iron Resiliency, Session 2: Challenging the Misconceived

Pause and think for a moment.

Last week I discussed certain thoughts we have about ourselves exist because of our own behaviors or because of externally situated factors that are part of the surrounding environment. As a result, these views determine our mood. Today we'll shatter those faulty notions.

The best strategy to employ is to attack the root of the problem: thoughts. Changing our thoughts alters the process and creates a different frame of mind for how we feel. While feeling bad once in a while may occur, it's crucial to realize the problem affecting us.

To do so, recognizing our thoughts will play a large role. One underlying aspect of our thoughts is how we identify with them. They can be classified as always/always me and not always me thoughts.
- The former category makes us assume that constant flaws are inherent to our character and cannot be changed. Consequently, we may give up prematurely instead of being proactive to better the situation.

- The latter group is about our behavior or feelings which can be changed. We look at the context of the scenario that contributed to the current event.

Consider the following example to better understand the differences between the two. Say one day you had a bad squat workout.

The always me thought might be, "I suck at squats" whereas the not always me thought could be "My squats weren't good today because my knees were caving in."
  • The always me thought doesn't provide any reasoning within the general statement itself.
  • The not always me thought allows understanding for what went wrong and gives you the chance to improve in the future (by pushing knees your outwards).
If you constantly find yourself being bombarded by always me thoughts, there is a way to tackle them. Because always me thoughts do not specify any point in time, we can use that to our advantage.

Simply gauge past performance and behavior to tear down the misconception. The one thought shouldn't be allowed to blanket an entire experience and dictate it nor should it predict future abilities.

If you've squatted well in the past, then you really don't suck at squats. Having one cheat meal doesn't diminish your entire diet. On the contrary, you've demonstrated your own discipline and willpower to maintain a nourishing lifestyle.

Thoughts happen in an instant, but they can be wrong. In the heat of the moment, a general statement can be an inaccurate observation of the entire self. Instead, it should be reevaluated and if it makes sense when compared to prior accomplishments.

Not every workout will be good and every meal won't be perfect. You won't be at peak levels all the time. However, it's important to understand one bad moment doesn't represent all moments.

It would be more conducive to your training and pursuing your goals if you don't let the small things bother you. As Lance Armstrong says,

"I take nothing for granted. I now have only good days or great days."

Make an effort to have only good or great days in your training.

And that concludes today's session. With that strategy in the bag, we'll keep it rolling next week with session 3. Stick around folks!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Iron Resiliency, Session 1: Perceptions

Is the left or right
the Photoshopped girl?

In previous posts, I've mentioned mentality is half the battle when it comes to exercise. Thoughts can influence actions to a great degree, but thoughts are internally situated [the self] and there is always more at work - namely the countering external variable [the environment]. Both factors give rise to the perceptions in our mind, but what causes them in the first place?
Self-Caused Perceptions
  • Indirectly caused by your own actions.
  • A bad session in the gym can inadvertently bring your own mood down because you didn't perform as well as you expected OR if you decided to skip working out altogether, you may come to regret it later (perhaps even to an excessive degree).
  • With respect to diet, poor food choices or restraint in your eating can also cause guilt. The question is, "is it appropriate?" There's a difference between one slice of cake once a month versus an entire box of Twinkies once a week.
Environment-Caused Perceptions
  • Typically outside of your own control.
  • Comparing yourself to someone else either based on body image, performance, or ideas/beliefs.
  • Does seeing someone with the figure you want make you feel inferior? Is there a justifiable reason to compare yourself to someone else? Should a reason even be warranted to compare yourself to another person?
  • An example in the second category [performance], you see a person - of similar build to your own - squat your working weight for their warm-up. To see another person toss around what you worked hard with isn't exactly reassuring to your own efforts.
  • Do media sources affect you? Such as celebrities or models on magazine covers. The popularized bodies of Brad Pitt in Fight Club or Spartans in 300 are part of a job. They had to become qualified, by improving their physique, in order to earn their income. Most people's incomes aren't dependent on their physical appearance.
  • How your social circle interacts with the approach you take toward your goals [more on that in session 5] OR others' beliefs imposed on your own. If a girl starts weight training only to be told by her gal pals (who of course aren't in shape themselves) she'll bulk up. She should instead run multiple times a week despite hearing otherwise. Does that mean she's wrong?
It's important to note these behaviors, dependent or independent of yourself, plant certain thoughts in your head which in turn affect how you feel about yourself. They tend to revolve around on your own actions and from our environment by comparison to others in various aspects (image, performance, and beliefs).

You have to be able to detect your self getting caught in these "mind traps" and recognize it before it gets the best of you. Can you remember a time you were hard on yourself for one of the above reasons? Can you explain why it bothered you?

Even if there was a moment you felt guilty, one moment doesn't speak for all your past experiences. One slice of cake isn't a big deal if you've been keeping yourself in check the last few weeks. Someone squatting more than you doesn't undo all your hard work. Progress isn't overnight and look back at how far you've come along.

Much like the rest of life, you should expect a few bumps along the road as travel to your destination [the goal]. The important thing to do is continue forward unabated.

And that folks concludes the first session. Next week in session 2, we'll go a bit more in-depth to challenge negative thoughts. Also I've decided to write up a month long program for the series' conclusion.

But I'll explain more on that when we get there. Until next time!

A bump for Zach Krych

Sunday, January 9, 2011

An Introduction to Life Skills

At first I was going to title this post, "An Introduction to Growing Cohones."

Part of the work I do for my psych lab entails running a Life-Skills Program [based off the Penn Resiliency Program]. Specifically, I partner up with another research assistant to visit a middle school and teach two small groups of 7th graders life skills, allowing the children to - as it says on my résumé - better regulate and understand their attitudes, behaviors, and emotions.

According to the World Health Organization life skills are defined as,
"Abilities for adaptive and positive behavior that enable individuals to deal effectively with the demands and challenges of everyday life."1
Since this series is titled Iron Resiliency, we can't proceed further if we're not familiar with resiliency. In my own words, I would succinctly define it as the ability to handle challenges and being strong-minded. I'll be adapting my lab's program to the weight trainee's experience, which includes behaviors, thoughts, their social network, and prioritization to name a few points of the upcoming discussion.

The program is composed of eight sessions, but I'll be writing six sessions and a conclusion. I've decided to cut out a small portion of the material because it's not completely necessary to include in the series.

Like last time, I'll do one post every Tuesday with it following this schedule:
Session 1 - 1/11/11
Session 2 - 1/18/11
Session 3 - 1/25/11
Session 4 - 2/1/11
Session 5 - 2/9/11
Session 6 - 2/16/11
The session titles will be revealed when the posts themselves are published each Tuesday. Additionally I'll still do one post towards the end of each week, albeit shorter and less intensive.

With that being said, drop by Tuesday to see session 1 for yourself.

Source: Wikipedia

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Winter Warm-up

Not a dynamic warm-up itself. Sorry for the misleading title, but I'm a nerd for alliteration.

Rather, we'll literally look at "warming" up. Winter weather can be a huge hindrance for some people. I personally can't stand doing anything when I'm cold, especially exercising. Therefore we can choose two options. The first entails becoming a fat ass like this fella:

Sucks for this guy if he was somewhere in Florida.
Then he must have been sweating up a storm.

The other option is to employ a few strategies to work in our favor and raise our body temperature.
1) Get Ya Drank On
  • Any warm beverage works. Tea or a bit of black coffee helps due to the caffeine. If you're lifting in the night, I'd advise against anything caffeinated because it may affect your sleep.
  • Likewise, you're not chugging a pitcher. A small cup's worth just to get warm and some caffeine, not a boat load. Drink too much and your stomach will be sloshing around while you exercise.
2) Everything In Your Closet
  • I lift in shorts and a t-shirt. If I'm home, even less (seriously). The point is we prefer to be comfortable when doing strenuous activity. However, the light attire can leave us shivering for our grandmas. Since it's either a walk or drive to the gym, it's not great to jump gung ho into your workout if you're cold before you even start.
  • Before I begin to lift, I prefer to build up a slight sweat. I go through my dynamic warm-up with a hoodie and sweatpants (shorts underneath) and even a few warm-up sets for my first lift. When it's time to get down to business, I strip them off. The change in feeling is significant enough for me to feel much more comfortable and ready to lift.
3) Make It Challenging
  • Your warm-up will get your body going, but if you're accustomed to your routine it won't be as nearly as challenging to complete. It doesn't hurt to add a little extra effort. You won't end up "over prepared." If anything, you'll feel even more ready than usual.
  • It's relatively easy to make your warm-up harder. Add a few bodyweight movements in with little rest. Jump squats, push-ups, planks, various lunges, single-leg Romanian deadlifts, hip thrusts, handstands, lateral shuffling, jump rope, so on and so forth. The possibilities are endless.
  • If your session is upper-body based for the day, add in upper-body exercises and likewise for lower-body. If you're cycling, focus a bit more on ankle mobility. Benching? T-spine mobility drills. Target areas of your body that will be taking the brunt of the training session.
Through a few quick and easy strategies, we're able to continue through the blistering cold. The extra 5 minutes you utilize will go a long way. But, I can't promise anything like this.....

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Creating Productive Training Sessions

Lu Yong probably knows a thing
or two about being productive.

A somewhat similar post to this previous one, but last time there was an emphasis on "preparedness." The difference now is we'll be examining more direct factors in training. Specifically, understanding advantages already present. Like I've mentioned before, this is aside from other factors that contribute to a truly productive training cycle.
1) Set-up

I learned this a while back from Eric here and then again I read a post of Jamie's discussing - or ripping on guys - taking too long to start a set.
  • The goal each session should be improvement. This comes in the form of moving more weight, focusing on quality movement, executing better reps (more on that below), and being able to approach the exercise with a solid set-up quickly.
  • Getting into position to start a lift should be a) comfortable, and b) relatively quick. With new exercises, this may take practice. However in subsequent sessions, you should focus on becoming proficient AND efficient at getting yourself ready. Personally I think if you can start within 5 seconds of the lift, that's pretty good.
  • Warm-up sets before work sets help as well as regularly using heavy weights. If you can handle heavier weights, than more volume-based work shouldn't present itself as a challenge.
  • Additionally, identify major areas of concern in the lift. Deadlift: How are your hips positioned? Bench: Are your scaps pulled together and feet driven into the ground? Understand what you need to do prior to starting the set.

2) Reps

All reps are not created equal.
  • The disparity between a good rep and bad rep is obvious. Whether the weight is heavy or light, a good rep feels easy without excessive strain on the body. On the other hand, a bad rep feels ugly and is a struggle despite the load being light. After the set is over, you're left either satisfied or dissatisfied with your performance.
  • Again, a good set-up and warm-up sets are key. A thorough dynamic warm-up is essential as well. I'm not squatting well if I haven't stretched my hip flexors, done any glute activation, or ankle mobilization drills.
  • Awareness is equally crucial. Know what the good reps are if you do them. Was there something you noticed that made you feel particularly strong about the set? In snatches, one important detail for me is my wrists. If they're in slight extension, the bar tends to deviate further away from my torso leading to a poor catch.

3) Exercise Choices

Just like reps, all people are not equal - that is, anatomically.
  • There's variance among length of limb structures, such as the arms, legs, and torso. As a result, your body's structure will give you the advantage in some lifts, but put you at a disadvantage in others. Long arms lead to better pulling in the deadlift, but causes the bar to travel further in the bench press. If you're familiar with physics, it's called leverage.
  • By experimenting, you can identify what works and what doesn't for yourself. This doesn't mean you eliminate an exercise altogether, but instead use it less frequently or work with variations.
  • Frankly, Boris puts it much more nicely here. Suck at squatting? Try box squats, Bulgarian split squats, or another variation. You can find more tips in this article.
As you can see, quality - by being cognizant of yourself - plays a big role. Instead of zoning out during a set, listen to your body.

Next time: Winter Warm-ups!
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