Strength Basics

Getting stronger, fitter, and healthier by sticking to the basics. It's not rocket science, it's doing the simple stuff the right way. Strength-Basics updates every Monday, plus extra posts during the week.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Exercises & Eating Right Inexpensively (article review)

Over on Lifehacker, there is a helpful article about exercises and eating right inexpensively:

Fitness Isn't Just for the Wealthy: How to Stay Healthy on a Budget

While I'm not generally into the "life hacking" approach, I do like the thoroughness with which they tackle the topic.

It has some good ideas on:

- exercising inexpensively (and yes, bodyweight routines make the list)

- saving money on better quality food (plus ones you don't hear often, like joining a CSA as a net savings overall)

- the importance of making a small investment now to avoid long-term health costs

- overall approaches to living more healthy while spending less than you might think you'd need to.

The article is very good. It's got links to other articles on the specific sub-topics, but even leaving them aside there is a lot of good information here.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

What is your Thanksgiving Day workout?

I'm a big fan of holiday workouts.

Get in a good, hard workout in the morning, then go enjoy a food-filled day with the family.

Here is a variation of one I've used in the past.

1) Trap Bar Deadlift - work up to a heavy set of 5 or finish a 5/3/1 cycle.
2) Trap Bar Deadlift - 5 sets of 10 @ 50%, 1 minute rest (rigidly timed)
3) Swiss Ball Leg Curls - 5 sets of 15
4) Pushups - 1 set max reps
5) Chinups - 1 set max reps

If I'm somewhere without equipment, I favor something more like this:

5 rounds of:

50 Squats
20 Pushups
20 Situps

Or 10 rounds of:

10 burpees into 10 pushups (burpee with pushup)

These days I'm working through a rehab issue, and I need to workout at home while cooking a turkey, so my workout plan for tomorrow is this:

1) Warmup (a lot of mobility movements)
2) Step Downs - 6 sets of 20, working up in depth
3) Balance Drills - 3 sets of 30-60 seconds per side

4) Single-Leg Box Squats - 5 sets of 10 each side, down only


4) Bulgarian Split Squats - 5 sets of 5 each side, 3 seconds down/3 seconds up

5a) Single-Leg Glute Bridges - 3 sets of 15 each leg with ball squeezed between the knees
5b) Glute Bridge - 3 sets of 15 reps with ball squeezed between the knees
6a) Band Rows - 3 sets of 10 with light band, 3 sets of 10 with medium band
6b) Pushups - 3 sets of 10, 3 seconds down/3 seconds up
7) Ws - 1 set of 100 band Ws
8) Band Pull Aparts - 1 set of 100 with mini band
9) Stretches

I'll feel good about getting after some turkey after I get after that. I'd love to be doing the trap bar workout, but that's not on the table this year . . . but I will still work hard before I eat well.

How about you?

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Go Outside and Train

Ross Enamait has a really nice article up on his site about training in a new environment:

Improve Productivity By Changing Scenery

It's a good article. It brings me back to two of my "early days" training experiences.

First one - I used to lift in a friend's weight room in his yard. He'd converted a patio and shed into an enclosed dojo/garage gym. I used to train there in the winter, and I didn't bother to put on the heat. Partly this was not wanting to deal with lighting and running a kerosene heater. But also because it drove me to work hard and work fast. I'd go in, lift cold barbells and freezing dumbbells while sitting on or laying down on cold benches. I'd get my work done, then walk home or bike home in the cold.

Second one - I lived in Japan for a few years. I did a lot of outdoor training. I biked to parks and did pullups and muscle-ups on playground bars. I did pushups in the dirt outside. I dragged a home-made sled loaded with random heavy things (and neighborhood kids who wanted a ride) while I ran with the sled behind me. I train in and out of bad weather, bike in the snow, and otherwise go new places and train in new ways. It was limited by what I could access in the way of gear, but it didn't matter. It was all good, positive, effective training.

So read Ross's article, and go try training in a totally new place. Ignore any discomfort and make some training happen. It can make you better.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Quick Tip: Squeeze the bar, grab the ground

One quick way to get stronger is to activate more muscle. An easy way to do that is to grip hard.

Squeeze the bar, grab the ground. For any exercise with a bar or handle, squeeze it as if you want to leave finger-sized dents in the bar. On the ground, grab the floor, turf, dirt, or pavement.

When you squeeze a bar, or when you grab the ground like you were going to tear up chunks of turf, you activate your hand muscle. And your forearms. And your upper arms. And your shoulders.

Try it. Make a fist and put your other hand on your forearm. Squeeze the fist hard - feel the muscle in the forearm contract?

This has two basic effects: you recruit more muscle (making the movement stronger) and you make yourself more stable and stiff (making the movement easier.) The first puts more muscle into the move, the second makes it more like pushing on a broomstick instead of pushing on a rope.

You can do this with your feet, too - grab the floor or the inside of your shoes with your toes. Then, without letting your feet actually rotate, attempt to turn your right foot clockwise and your left counterclockwise. Twist them into the ground as if you were screwing them in. You'll generate more torque and more tension.

Don't open your hands. No matter what you are doing for a lift, don't relax your grip at the top or bottom. Don't open you hands at the top of your biceps curls - you're relaxing your biceps, too, and missing out on some time under tension. Don't open your hands with a press overhead - you are losing some stability. Open your hands when the exercise is over, not during it!

This will make you instantly stronger in a movement. It also has the nice effect of making you better at the movement. And if you are stronger and better in a movement, you can load it more, or do more reps, or otherwise progress with it. That leads to more strength, more muscle, and more effective movement.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

When counting calories is useful

I posted about my dislike of calorie counting as a approach to diet.

But it's not all bad for a diet.

By the way, I say "diet" for a reason. "Dieting" is restricting yourself to lose weight. A "diet" is a collection of foods that sustains your life over the long term. I dislike using the term "dieting" - in fact, even when I would cut weight I just told people "I've adjusted my eating plan." With a goal to being 179.9 on a given Friday weigh-in for grappling or 83 kg on a given Sunday for MMA, but still - a change to my eating plan.

Anyway, back to calorie counting.

When do I find it useful?

Spot Checking - Writing down all of your food, logging it, and totaling your calories over a few days is a great way of finding out what you're averaging. If you need to add about 500 calories to gain weight, know what that is.

You can use spot checking every few weeks or perhaps 3 days in a row once a month or two just to ensure you're still getting the food in that you want.

Although people trying to lose fat hate to hear this, I mainly used calorie counting the other way. I logged my food for a few weeks as I added more and more when I wanted to come up a weight class. I eventually found I needed close to 5000 calories a day to put weight on and keep it on. 5000 day in, day out. It was work because it's hard to get that much food in without excess fat, without junk, and without liquid calories (I can't tolerate milk, and most of the others are junk.) Without spot checking, I wouldn't know if I'd made my numbers or where about my numbers needed to be.

Establishing a relationship to food amounts. Write it all down, check the totals, and know that what you ate. So if yesterday was 3000 calories and what you ate that other day was only 1800 even though it felt like more, you know that.

It lets you eye food and have an idea what it will mean over the long term in your diet. You know what 1000 calories of chicken and pasta and carrots looks like, and what 500 of it looks like. Even with errors creeping in, you're in the right ballpark.

What I think that's superior to the daily count: you don't get caught up in "50 calories under today!" or "I better eat 100 more calories!" or "I'll swap 300 calories of chicken for 300 calories of beer and I'm okay!" nonsense. You get an idea of what you need to eat, and then move on and get on with eating that.

To check your macros and micros. A good food logging app or website will tell you what percentage of your calories come from protein, fat (and what kinds), and carbohydrates (and what kinds.) You'll also get a total of your micronutrients, or at least the major ones. This can help you identify deficiencies and over-abundances. Still taking that C supplement but you get in 750% of the RDA? Not eating calcium-rich veggies but you're getting about 80% of your goal for the day? Good to know, and logging in an app is a great way to find out.

Setting a basis. I do this with my clients when they ask, and I've had it done with me. You use a calculator to establish some basic caloric needs. You set some ratios for macros. And then log for a few days to ensure you get close to that number.

That way, you can see what 2750 calories or 1800 calories or whatever looks like, and check to make sure your chosen foods dial in the macros you want.

In those cases, I find calorie counting pretty useful. As a diet strategy, I find it weak. As a tool in an overall diet strategy, to build and reinforce that plan, it can be a good tool.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Review: WOD Nation Muscle Floss Band

WOD Nation Gear
$25.00 MSRP for pack of 2 bands

Muscle floss bands (aka voodoo bands, or voodoo floss bands) are a recovery/rehabilitation tool meant for muscle recovery and dealing with joint mobility issues. You wrap them around an injured limb or extremity or joint capsule (such as the shoulder or hip) with varying degrees of compression. You then move, using compression, restricted bloodflow, and mobility to get the injured area moving properly. Then the bands come off, blood flows back into the area, and the theory goes that your restriction or difficulty should be eased.

The bands are about 7' long unrolled, and 2" wide, and only a few mm thick.

They're very easy to put on your own legs, and a little more difficult on arms and shoulders (although you can always roll it around a barbell, and then wind your arm around the band.) They give sufficient tension without being too tight or stiff. They are also easy to clean, roll up, and store.

Personal Experience: I first saw this style of bands in use in a pair of books by Kelly Starrett - Ready to Run and then in the 2nd edition of Becoming A Supple Leopard. A cut bike inner tube was offered as a DIY solution, but it was much less complicated (and not really more expensive) for specifically-designed bands. Since I suffered from some of the same issues the bands were being used to clear up, I decided to try them.

For me, these were a game-changer. When rehabilitating a long gummed-up knee, I often found it would be tight and achy post workout. It would take one or two days of foam rolling, stick rolling, self-massage with my hands, and topical rubs to get it to relax and return to normal. When I tried wrapping it with these bands and moving the knee around its normal range of motion, it returned to normal almost immediately. Why it was so effective isn't 100% clear - was it the compression? Was it pinning down the surface tissue and allowing the joint to move freely underneath? Was it just getting me to move it while distracted from the aches by the pressure of the bands? It's not clear - but it worked. They haven't been curative, but they have allowed me to bounce back from my strengthening and mobility exercises more quickly. It is my go-to solution for tightness and aches in my joints. I don't use "game-changer" lightly - I don't deal with my knee aches and inflexibility the same as I did pre-floss band.

Overall: If you have a muscle or joint injury which seems to respond well to compression coupled with movement, consider giving floss bands a try. Check with your medical professional first! The WOD Nation bands are sturdy, easy to use, easy to care for, and easy to roll back up. They are high quality and useful. If you're getting muscle floss bands, this is an excellent product.

Friday, November 13, 2015

100-rep Notes & Variations

I brought up 100 rep sets yesterday, and linked back to a previous post discussing them (which in turn links to a Jim Wendler article about them as well.)

But I've got a few more tidbits to share.

What exercises? - I tend to choose technically simple exercises with a low risk from tired technique. So curls, yes. Overhead barbell press - probably not. Bodyweight Bulgarian Split Squats, yes. Box jumps - probably not. Chest supported rows? Yes. Bent-over barbell rows? Maybe not. You will get tired, and I'd rather not have people rounding their back on deadlifts #80 - 100 or smashing into the box from a too-low jump. I also prefer people get tired, but not systemically tired, so smaller exercises (isolation, low-weight compound exercises) are favored over big, complex, and mentally taxing lifts.

In all cases, though, I prefer exercises (and weights!) that don't beat up your joints. You should finish these tired, but not clutching your elbow or rubbing your aching shoulder capsule. It should challenge your muscles, not beat up your connective tissue.

Expect soreness, even if you're done moderate to higher rep exercises before!

Variations - Here are some variations I use for 100-rep sets.

Straight Through - That is, 100 reps, no rest, no stopping. If you can't get 100 in one set, you stay at the chosen weight until you do. If you can, up the weight by the smallest possible amount and try for 100 the next time the same workout comes up.

Week 1: 100 x cable rows at 5 plates on the machine. Next week, go for 6 plates.
Week 2: Got 60, 30, 10. Next week, stay at 6.
Week 3: Got 90, 10. Next week, stay at 6.
Week 4: Got 100 in a row. Next week, 7.

I use these when I want strength-endurance first and foremost. Rehab exercises take this approach - I don't want failure, and I don't want to challenge you on mobility drills. Get everything you can out of that weight before you move up. Pick a lighter weight than you think you can do for 100, especially the first time. It will add up quickly.

Total Reps for Time - Get 100 reps in the minimum possible time. Over the course of a cycle, aim for shorter and shorter times.

This is ideal when you can non-variable resistance (a fixed weight barbell or dumbbell, only a specific set of bands, etc.). You make it harder without making it heavier. Also good for your mental game - you will push harder, knowing you have a time to beat. Be careful of sloppy partial reps just to beat time. You still want quality repetitions.

Total Reps in Minimal Sets - Get 100 reps, total. Pick a weight, lift it 100 times total. Your goal is to do the reps on less and less sets, no matter how much rest it takes. Once you get 100 in a row, move up more move on.

These are a little different than "straight through" in that you don't start with a very low weight. It's fine to start with a weight that you can't possibly get 100 times in a row.

You can either do these without putting weights down, or allow it - choose one. The first is harder.

I use these want I want a combination of strength-endurance, volume (generally for hypertrophy, aka muscle gain), and just the mental ability to push through hard work. 100 reps sounds intimidating - but doing them makes them no so.

Should I throw these in?

That depends - are you actually stuck at an exercise and need a change? Do you need strength endurance because your strength gains are started to dry up? Is one of your weak points contracting muscles strongly while fatigued? Do you need a challenge that you can swap in for one of your mirror muscle lifts?

Then maybe.

Are we talking rehab exercises?

Then yes, go for it. Keep it light, get in high-quality reps.

If not, then I'd say no. Exhaust what's working, and then move these in.

If you have to try them anyway, try a technically simple exercise like band pull-aparts, curls, or triceps pushdowns. Or a simple bodyweight exercise that you perform well - air squats are a good choice.

Isn't this too light to get strong?

It won't increase your maximal, one-rep strength, but it will mean you are stronger at the other end of the curve than people who don't do these. You will get more strength-endurance, and this will help you eke out a few more reps with weights when you do 8 rep sets, or 10s, or 15s. That will add more volume (sets x reps x weight) and will ultimately help you get stronger.

People do say 100 rep sets are too light to be useful, but rarely say they're nothing special after trying them. At least consider giving them an honest try.

Isn't the muscle gain just "water weight">

I don't think there is any useless hypertrophy. Getting your muscles more endurance and size that's centered around endurance isn't a bad thing, at all.

Do One Easy Thing Today

Pick one easy thing you can do for your fitness and health.

Don't pick something hard you can't be sure to sustain. So no "stop drinking beer forever" or "no more snacks" or "I'll do 10 minutes of interval cardio."

Pick something easy, like, "No soda at lunch today" or "Go for a walk" or "Sit and work on breathing from my diaphragm for 5 minutes" or "Couch Stretch for 1 minute each side." Something you can and will be able to do today.

Do that thing today.

Not tomorrow, not from Monday, not after the holidays.

There is no tomorrow, there is only today.

Pick that thing, do it today, and just get it done. It's not a complete day until you finish it.

There is no tomorrow, there is only today. Do it today.

So go for a walk. Do 20 air squats before lunch. Get in that stretch for your bad hip. Easy and doable.

Tomorrow? Tomorrow get up and try that again. The same thing, if possible. Make a habit of it. Don't add anything else until you've got this one under control. Get an easy positive step today and get going.

Don't pick something hard because it's the "best" thing you can do. You don't want to let the enemy be the perfect of the good. Don't overanalyze. Just simple and easy. A walk. A few veggies with lunch. Some water instead of juice. Easy.

Already in shape, hitting the weights, diet is on point? Good, keep it up. And find something easy that you're letting slide (that stretch you hate, that warmup you said you'd do every day, that tendency to stick a candy bar into your lunch bag on Fridays) - and do that.

Just get it done.

One easy thing.

And do it TODAY.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

100 Rep Curl Karma

Sometimes Karma works on a very short cycle.

Some backstory: One of the trainers I know asked me to train him once a week, and write a workout for the rest of the week. I took him up on the request - even (or perhaps especially) as a trainer, offloading your workouts to an outside expert can help.

So I wrote his workout within the parameters of his goals and times, and set him going. Day one was an upper body workout . . . and when we reached the last exercise he glanced at the sheet and say, "Oh (expletive deleted)!"

It was one set of 100 curls, for time.

Get 100 total reps at a given (fairly light) weight, in minimum time. Next two weeks, try to beat that time each week. It's a variation of the 100-rep sets I've used successfully in the past. He'd seen me doing them but never did them himself, so I knew this was going to be a novel challenge for his body.

He was game, though, and did them.

Two days later I went to my own trainer, Mike, for my own training. I'd just finished all the usual stuff, plus a few extras we've finally worked up to. It was close to the end of my training window, and I was pretty sure I was done.

I went to Mike and said, "What's next?"

"Stretch! No, wait, first grab the green band and get 100 band curls and 100 band pushdowns."


That's a fairly short cycle. Evil returns twofold, doesn't it?

I did the curls - and having made someone else do them two days before I enjoyed them more than I might have otherwise and I cranked through the reps.

I'm just glad I didn't give him 200 curls . . .

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Does boredom matter in workouts?

Change it up. Keep it interesting. Confuse the muscles. Keep from adapting.

Generally when these lines come out, they are signalling one thing:

We don't want to face boredom.

Not that the workout needs to change. Not that we aren't getting results. But that the short-term pleasure of trying something novel has outweighed our willingness to put in consistent work to a goal.

Your brain may get bored. Your enthusiasm to do an exercise or a program may wane. But your body - the physical you - keeps on adapting as long as there is more stimulus and more room for adaptation to that stimulus.

What if you couldn't change exercises? You had to do a squat-centered workout on Monday, pressing on Wednesday, and pulling on Friday, and that's that. Always the same exercises - squat, bench press, dumbbell row. No changes for six months.

Could you tough it out, up the weights, and get strong? Up the reps and get more endurance? Put the time and effort in and lean out as you clean up your diet?


Does it matter if you get bored?


As long as you can tolerate the boredom and focus on the work you put in, you can get results.

No changes necessary.

Runners know this - they put in miles, more miles, and more miles again. They may vary the speed, the incline, the course - but it's still running. The scenery changes but the workout stimulus is coming from the same source.

The truth is that we don't need to change as often as we do. We just need to learn to accept that the novelty wears off but the results from our work needn't.

Learning to tolerate boredom and focusing on the task at hand is a useful skill. It will let you get progress when others are swapping things up just to swap them up. It will let you grind down a large task into a small task over time, and pile small results in a large overall change. Recognize that when the results are still coming you should keep going. Don't veer off a path to success because of boredom.

Does this mean you never change?

Not at all.

Throwing challenges in, put in some competition, changing elements of your program (or switching to a new one when gains taper off) - these are all useful tools. What do they have in common? They are results-driven. They're all about pushing you to work more. They may stave off boredom they make the minimum change necessary to do so.

It's easier to get excited and enthusiastic when there are constant changes - it's one of the appeals of deliberately varied workout approaches. But they aren't necessary to succeed. Find ways to make what is working now seem more interesting and keep at it.

Tell yourself, I am not a person who gets bored with something that works. I am a person who gets bored with failure.

It's the fighter who never tires of working on his or her jab that will have the best jab. Not the one who changes stimuli whenever it gets boring to throw jabs.

“I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who had practiced one kick 10,000 times.” - Bruce Lee

Monday, November 9, 2015

Movement evangelism

I realize I've slowly, over the years, become a movement evangelist.

In the past three days, I've introduced three people totally unrelated to my training career to Kelly Starrett's MWOD, to mobility work, to the dreaded Couch Stretch, or all three.

It just seems to come naturally - we talk about what I do for a living. Then I explain how the best part of my job is getting people moving right.

Then we talk about their aches and pains that restrict what they do.

"I used to run, but my foot . . . "

"I used to do yoga, but then my hip . . . "

"I used to lift heavier, but then my shoulder . . . "

It's a short route from there to, "Here are some things you should Google and then watch and read."

Being able to move correctly and pain-free doesn't line up with "you should be able to change the oil on your car." It's more like "you should be able to signal your turns and steer." It's that basic. It's that important. It was important back when Eric Cressey and Mike Robertson put out Magnificent Mobility (still one of my favorites) and Robertson and Bill Hartmann put out Inside/Out. It was important when Core Performance came out. It was important when I started showing people the DeFranco Agile 8 and Limber 11. Books like Becoming a Supple Leopard and the MWOD just expand it further. You must be able to move well before anything else. This has become something I espouse and try to teach to everyone.

If the one thing I teach someone is how to expect pain-free movement and to squat, lunge, pushup, pull, and lift off the floor without pain and in proper form, I've done my job. And in a few moments of talking, if all I can do is tell you some names to search for and terms to look up to get you started, I'll do that. It's the start of the path to doing those five basic movements without pain.

And I'm always keen to share this with anyone I meet, with great enthusiasm. It's something we all benefit from . . . and I feel like I've failed if I can't get people to at least look into this kind of thing.

So yes, I think I've become a movement evangelist.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Simple Food Tracking Plan

So I don't like calorie counting.

But not everyone likes portion control systems by palms/cupped hands/etc.

Portion control can be tricky in the edge cases - How many eggs is a palm? What about stews? Is a squash a veggie or a starch? Tomatoes are fruit, do they count as fruit or veggies?

So here is another option.

Write, Measure, Adjust

This option dispenses with either calorie counting or portion control.

Step 1: Write down everything you eat.

That's it. Eat it, write it down.

Write down how much, and when. Do your best to estimate the size (measure precisely when you can, if you like - it'll help.)

For extra credit, write down how you felt for the next few hours after eating the food. Good? Bloated? Gassy? Light? Energetic? Sluggish?

For even more extra credit, write down how you feel logging it. Just Good, Neutral, Bad.

Step 2: Measure.

Check your weight, body measurements (I like using waist - at the belly button - and hips - around the thickest part of the glutes), and body fat (an impedance scale is fine here.)

Check the same time and situation each time. I like to do mine right after waking, after a trip to the bathroom.

Step 3: Adjust.

If the measurements are moving in the direction you like, great.

If they measurements are moving in the other direction, adjust. Cut the junk if you aren't leaning out, and either replace it with a little less but better food. Add more healthy food if you need to add to your frame and what you're doing isn't doing so. Of if the wrong measurements are going up (waist is expanding, but only the waist, say.)


This isn't a plan that's going to get you to a sub-5% body fat and up on a stage as a physique athlete. But it'll get you started and keep you on track without anything besides a note app or an actual physical journal.

I won't lie - this is simple but not easy. Just the sheer act of tracking everything isn't trivial. But it will work. You'll be more likely to eat food you know is good for you. You'll eat less junk. You'll be mindful about everything you consume.

It also starts answering a critical question - what am I doing now? Many people want to change how they eat but don't know where they are starting from. And swapping in any kind of ordered eating plan (even a fad diet) usually beats out an unorganized eating plan. This organizes what you are doing. It makes it plain to see what's going on now, giving you the information about what to change.

And ultimately, it will give you a wealth of information. What did I eat? How did that affect me? How did I feel? Did I feel better or worse without that food?

It's not as precise as calorie control can be. It's not as tracking-free as portion control. But it's simple. And it's what you really want to know. How does eating this food affect the sample size of one that is me?

What about exercise? You should already be writing down your workouts, and if possible, how you feel as a result. Tracking your food in a similar fashion can work, if you're just as consistent about it.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

5 Reasons I Hate Calorie Counting

I hate calorie counting.

Don't get me wrong - I think calories count. The total amount of food you eat matters.

But counting calories to manage your food and exercise?

I hate it.

Here are five reasons why.

#1: It creates a false equivalency.

Counting calories lets you pretend that a calorie is just a calorie. It tells you all calories are equal. 300 calories of pizza, 300 calories of chicken, 300 calories of beans, 300 calories of soda - it's all 300 calories, right?


But they have completely different effects on your body. 300 calories of nutrient-dense, protein-filled food beats 300 calories of soda with a stick.

They aren't the same.

We know this.

Yet the calorie count tells us common sense is wrong, it's all the same.

We don't do this with exercise - we don't swap out 30 reps of pushups with 30 reps of biceps curls and say it's the same. We don't equate 10 sets of 10 with 100 pounds (10,000 pounds) with 5 sets of 5 with 400 (also 10,000 pounds.)

(Okay, people do tell me that they skipped squats but it's okay because they did the treadmill for 20 minutes.)

Calorie counting does that.

It even does it in reverse - 300 calories worth of biking negates 300 calories of beer, right? That hurts just to read, doesn't it? Your body isn't running a daily account total and deals with the net/net at the end of the day. It takes each stimulus (300 calories of energy burning doing bike sprints, 300 calories of beer) and applies both to you.

Even if you stay aware of this, it's hard not to fall into the "300 of X is equal to 300 of Y" trap.

#2: Calorie counts don't measure food value.

A calorie is a measurement of heat. They're calculated for food by incinerating it in what's called a bomb calorimeter to see how much heat the food gives off.

So right there, we have an issue - your body isn't a bomb calorimeter. It doesn't incinerate your food and reduce it all to its component energy. It doesn't always digest everything you eat. You might eat 300 calories of food and digest most of it, some of it, or almost none of it. Probably most, but you can't be sure.

Even so, how useful that food is to your body isn't measured. Your body uses macronutrients (which have calories, and provide fuel) and micronutrients (which don't, and provided needed chemicals.)

Your body seeks macronutrients and micronutrients, not just a sum total of calories.

You can get thinner just eating twinkies, and improve your blood work by dropping excess pounds. But that's not a sustainable model for health. Any diet with insufficient food will get you thinner - they don't get you healthy.

#3: Calorie counts and needs aren't accurate.

You know those calculators that estimate your calorie needs? They're based on formula put together based on studies. Different formulas will give you different calorie counts.

All of them are estimates. They're expanded from the original sample groups. Even there, if they come within 10% or so of your actual needs, they're doing really well. Twice that is more common. After all, it's an estimate based on an average.

That's even assuming you correctly estimated your activity, measured your weight, and so on.

So are the calorie listings on food labels.

They're based on a small sample of those foods. The those results are rounded off to whole numbers (not a lot of food with 173 calories, but 170 and 175, sure.) They can vary widely each way - plus or minus 25% according to some estimates.

And that's assuming you measure the foods right when you count. If not, you are:

- estimating your needs.

- estimating the caloric value of food.

- and estimating the amount you ate.

Those estimates aren't negating each other, they're compounding each other.

#4: It's easier with processed foods.

Ever track your calories with an app or a website?

It's vastly easier to find the calories for processed junk than for complex but healthy dishes.

Had a piece of name-brand frozen pizza? No problem, calories are on the box.

Made a salad with three kinds of lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, celery, cucumber, olives, and topped it with spices and extra virgin olive oil? That's at least seven ingredients to measure, weigh, look up, and add in. If you estimate and eyeball it, you're adding your own inaccuracy on top of the estimates. That's even assuming you find the right calorie count for the food you chose.

#5: It's difficult.

Finally, it's just hard.

You have to know exactly how much of what you ate, just to cut down from three points of estimation to two. You have weight foods. You have to mind the calories from everything, healthy or not.

It's all the hard work of tracking your food and planning your meals, plus math based on inaccurate numbers.

And that's if you plan.

If you don't plan your meals, you end up with those late-night "got to get in 500 more calories!" moments. Or "I'm starving and I only have 100 calories left for today!" Neither is conducive to a stress-free eating experience.

For those five reasons, I hate calorie counting.

So, calorie counting doesn't work?

It can work, but I find it usually doesn't, based on the five reasons above.

If you can manage it, and find the downsides are outweighed by the upsides - by all means, count away!

What's the alternative?

I prefer people to just go for portion control. I point people to Precision Nutrition's hand/fist/thumb approach, because the approach is easy enough. It's a good starting point. Where we go from there - and foods, and meal count, and so on - is more individualized. But we don't go with calories . . . and now you know why.

Agree? Disagree? Have a different spin on this post? Feel free to comment below!

Monday, November 2, 2015

Upper Back Add-On Routine

Just the other day I pointed out the problem I see with trying two programs at once.

This program, however, is pretty unusual - it's deliberately designed as an add-on for other programs.

What you need:

- one or two exercise bands (mini bands - generally 1/2" wide 41" long)
- your bodyweight
- a willingness to add one or two exercises a day for three weeks.

3 Weeks to a JACKED Upper Back
by Joe DeFranco

What I like about this program is:

- it's very focused.
- it's meant as an add-on.
- it's realistic - it is low intensity exercise, with a low overall volume (that is, sets x reps x weight)
- it's from a coach with a proven track record (this is how Joe D has people build up their upper back)
- most people need more upper back exercises, done for higher reps and done correctly.

This is very similar to how I trained upper back during the roughly 3 years I spent training a DeFranco's gym in Wyckoff, NJ. Lots of reps, lots of light stuff, lots of time under tension. I'd come in from a "low reps, heavy" approach to my back, and I responded extremely well to the bodyweight, light weight, and band exercises.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Free shipping at CFF on CFF gear

Just a quick FYI:

Christian's Fitness Factory has free shipping on all of their CFF-brand training gear.

This really means "shipping costs are folded into the item's cost." So a first blush some of their gear - bars, kettlebells, etc. might seem expensive. But there is no shipping cost to discover during the checkout process.

That's often derailed purchases for me - add a kettlebell, add a band, add a vest, etc. to my cart, apply a discount, and then- BAM! - shipping overwhelms the savings I expected from the sale. Or prices the gear well out of what I have budgeted for that piece of equipment.

In the past I've bought a dragging sled, a kettlebell, and a few small pieces of gear from CFF. They're a quality outfit - good gear, good prices, great customer service.

I recently picked up a single micro-mini band for scapula/rotator cuff exercises to replace my old EliteFTS one (wearing out after over 5 years of hard use.) It wasn't as cheap as other places on the surface, but it was cheaper overall when you factor in shipping.

This "free shipping" thing snuck up on me, so I wanted to pass it on to my readers who might want to take advantage.
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