What to Do If You’re a Little Dinged Up?

The most important thing I can tell you is: if an exercise hurts you, stop.

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If you train with weights long enough, at some point you will experience an injury. Hopefully it’s not a bad one that keeps you away from the gym for a prolonged time. If that’s you right now, please heed your doctor’s advice and get all the way healed before you come back. The gym’s not going anywhere and it doesn’t make sense to risk injuring yourself further.

You may never suffer an injury like that though. More than likely you’ll have something that nags at you or maybe sidelines you for a week or two.

The most important thing I can tell you is: if an exercise hurts you, stop.

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I don’t mean it’s difficult or you’re feeling soreness. If you feel pain, then stop. Training shouldn’t hurt. The saying “no pain no gain” is (for lack of a better term) dumb.

I used to believe it years ago. As a result, now I have to basically avoid some lifts. The good news is there is no single exercise that is absolutely necessary for you to do. “Nuh uh,” you say. “What about squats?” Or deadlifts? Or bench press?

There are workarounds. The truth is, not every exercise will suit you. Some of them you’ll like. Others you’ll love. There will be those you don’t really love but like what they do for you. You’ll probably hate one or two. And then there are going to be some that just don’t feel right.

For me, that was barbell rows. I’d read they were necessary for a strong back. I tried them for a few months and I did get stronger. I also messed up my left biceps/elbow. Not to the point where I needed a medical intervention. But definitely enough that I stopped doing them.

In a few weeks I felt better. Back to 100%. And you know what I did? Yup, I went back to doing the rows. Guess what happened? My arm started hurting again. This time it was worse. Still not badly enough for me to need a doctor. But now it affected me when I did pull-ups.

To paraphrase a famous quote mangler: fool me twice… we won’t get fooled again.

I don’t do rows any more. It’s been a couple years now. [Stares wistfully into the distance]

I learned a few things. Don’t be so hard-headed. Not every exercise is for everyone. If something doesn’t work for you, find another way.

To be clear, I’m not saying you shouldn’t do barbell rows. Not by any stretch. This is just an example from my experience. It’s common for some people to have shoulder discomfort doing dips. Does this mean no one should do dips? Of course not. But if you’re one of the people whose shoulders get ticked off by them, find another exercise to work your triceps. Make sense?

Instead of doing barbell rows, I do dumbbell rows. It turns out I really like them and they don’t bother my elbows at all. Pull-ups still don’t feel great, so I don’t do those either. That kind of sucks because I did enjoy them. I replace them with weighted chin-ups and I’m still making progress without pain.

If you’re feeling acute pain when you’re doing a particular exercise, my advice is simple. Stop doing it. Likely reasons are you may have an undiagnosed injury already, your technique is slightly off. It’s not a terrible idea to go get yourself checked out by a medical professional. It also may make sense to have a good trainer look at your form. Or maybe that particular lift isn’t a good fit for you.

No big deal. Just find a different way to target that muscle group.

Hope this helps! Thanks for reading.

4th Quarter

It’s the beginning of October. That means it’s the start of the 4th quarter of 2017. Are you still on track for the goals you set for yourself this year?

If you are, you’re awesome. If you’ve already achieved what you set out to for the year… it’s time to pick bigger goals.

If you’ve fallen off, it’s easy to start thinking about ‘18. I mean, there are only a few weeks until the holidays and you may as well just slack off and enjoy, right?

Nope.

First, there’s still plenty of time left to put in lots of solid work towards your goals. For the sports fans, is there any greater thrill than a late-game comeback win? Who doesn’t love a movie where the hero overcomes the biggest challenge at the end? You are the hero of your story. If you truly want something, go after it. Take actions every day (every day) that put you closer to it. You won’t make giant strides daily. Small steps are still progress.

Second, you know “I’ll wait ‘til next year and then I’ll start” is bs. It’s just procrastination with no benefit. Why would you wait to improve your life? If it’s a good idea to start in January, it’s a good idea to start in October. As in now. Today.

Are you going to look back a year from now and say, I’m so glad I waited until January to get started? Or are you more likely to think you should’ve started earlier?

It doesn’t matter if your goal is to be more fit, drop that fat, build muscle, make a million dollars, write that novel, etc. Waiting is wasting. Go. Do.

You got this! Hope this helps. Thanks for reading. Leave a comment or question below.

So You’re Having a $#!tty Workout

You’re feeling great… until the barbell’s in your hands…

You’re in the gym. Your mind’s right. Your warm-up was good. You’re feeling great. It’s bench day and you’re ready to set some PRs. You sail through your acclimation sets and then… (sad game show sound effect) nothing.

The barbell feels way heavier than expected. You try to push through but it’s just not happening today.

You rack the weight, then rack your brain trying to figure out what happened and why.

Maybe the answer is simple. You didn’t get enough sleep or you’ve got a little cold.

But sometimes, it’s just one of those days. You got no juice. It happens. Most workouts are just pretty good, in the same way that most days at work are just okay. Some training sessions are awesome. And others are just a slog.

What should you do?

Be honest with yourself: maybe you’re just feeling lazy. If you are, c’mon, just fight through that.

When it’s not that, you should do what you can. Accept that you’re not going to set any records today. And that’s okay. Just make up your mind to get through the session. Once it’s over, don’t dwell on it. I know it’s frustrating. One bad workout isn’t going to derail your gains.

Perhaps there are other factors at play. It’s important to have the self-awareness to know they can impact your workout. While the gym can sometimes be a sanctuary from the every day life stress, it’s not an impermeable bubble. We all go through times of intense stress and it’s reasonable to expect it may seep into your time at the gym.

The most important thing is to do the best you can each workout. Sometimes that means hitting PRs. On other occasions it may just mean showing up just to stretch and break a little sweat. It doesn’t mean you messed up or failed. It means there isn’t always an immediate payoff for your efforts. Just keep trying and you’ll reap the benefits.

Thanks for reading. Any questions or comments, leave ’em below.

Build Bigger Stronger Arms

The end of summer may mean it’s time to cover up the “guns” in your sleeves but it also means it’s about time to start building them back up.

Do you want bigger, stronger, more defined arms? Here’s how.

When you think of big arms, you probably think of biceps. As you can see in the illustration below, the triceps are also going to make a good part of the the arm mass. In fact, you want to train them in about the same volume.

Simply put, your biceps’ job is to contract to bend your elbow to move your forearm towards the upper arm. Your triceps flex to extend the elbow to move your forearm away from the upper arm.

Anatomy

The bi- prefix indicates there are two heads to the muscle: a long head and a short head. Picture your arm hanging straight down at your side. Your biceps will be facing forward. The short head of your biceps will be closer to your torso. The long head will be farther from your torso.

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You can probably guess what the tri- prefix means for the back of your arm. That’s it, there are three heads: the lateral, long, and medial. It’s easier to see in an image. [photo] Together they form a shape resembling a horseshoe. Look at the body from the back with the arms hanging straight down. The long head starts around the back of the shoulder/armpit area. The lateral head (sometimes called the short head) is on the outside, farther from the torso. The medial head is on the inside, but closer to the elbow than the others.

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Biceps Training

The most common way you’ll see people training biceps is through curls. Does it work? Yes. But the best way to get your muscles to grow is to get stronger by lifting more weight over time. Biceps curls are an isolation exercise, which means they focus solely on one muscle group. That’s the good part. You’ll see people doing all kinds of variations of curls: standing, sitting, concentration, alternating, hammer, spider, incline, decline, reverse-grip. Of course there are all kinds of weight machines as well. All that’s cool.

However, the downside of isolation exercises is that you really can’t use that much weight when compared to compound exercise. Pull-ups and chin-ups are compound movements that train the back and biceps. Rows are great also. You could build an impressive set of biceps just by focusing on these alone. This is because you’ll be lifting your body, which obviously is a lot heavier than the dumbbells you’d use for curls. Once you get to the point where you can tack on extra iron for your chin-ups, you’ll be moving some impressive weights. And that is the key to getting strong and building muscle.

The main emphasis should be on getting stronger at the compound movements. Try doing 3-5 sets of 5-10 repetitions, with 1-3 minutes of rest once or twice a week. I know that’s a big range of reps. You’ll find some people will respond better to sets with closer to 5 reps while others will need closer to 10. The main key will be focusing on getting stronger.

A great way to make this happen is to gradually increase the number of reps or sets. If you build your way from 3 sets of 5 reps to 3 sets of 7 reps, you’ve gotten stronger. Add on 5-10 lbs. and go back to 3 sets of 5 reps. Build your way up and repeat the process.

(It’s a given that you’re using good form, right?  Right? )

This is going to improve your gains far more efficiently than doing 8 different versions of curls. I’m not against curls, or isolation movements in general. You get the most efficient gains from compound movements. Compounds are like your main dishes. Isolations are the side orders. When you do your isolation lifts, you want to ensure you’re using the muscles and not momentum to move the weight. I recommend 2-3 sets of 5-12 repetitions.

If you want to deep dive into your isolation lifts, the short head of the biceps is emphasized when the arm is in front of the body in exercises like preacher curls and concentration curls. To focus more on the long head, have your upper arm slightly behind your body and try incline dumbbell curls and hammer curls.

Triceps Training

When working on arms, we tend to overemphasize training the biceps, often to the neglect of the triceps. The truth is the triceps are just as important, if not more, when it comes to growing impressive guns.

Similar to the biceps, you’ll often see people in the gym doing a bunch of isolation movements. There are extensions, cable extensions, overhead extensions, (the ominous-sounding) skull crushers, weight machines and on and on. Again, they do work but they’re not going to be the most efficient method for you.

Compound lifts are your friends! Pressing exercises like bench press (particularly close-grip bench), overhead press, dips, even pushups are great ways to develop your triceps. You don’t have to do every exercise in order to make gains. Pick a couple compound exercises and work on building your strength at those. Use a similar sets and reps scheme as for the upper body pulls.

Toss in some isolation work as a complement afterwards. Again, 2-3 sets of 5-12 once or twice is plenty. You can put emphasis on the lateral head with triceps exercises where your arms are by your sides and you’re using an overhand (palms down) grip (e.g. dips). To focus on growing the medial head, your arms will be at your sides but you’ll use an underhand grip (e.g. reverse-grip press downs). Build the lateral head by choosing exercises where your arms are overhead (e.g. skull crushers or overhead extensions).

Rest and Recovery

In order to get the most out of your time in the gym, you want to do the right things outside of the gym. That means getting plenty of rest. You work the muscles in the gym but they recover and grow only if you allow sufficient time between workouts. Eat enough food, particularly protein, to support your gains, but not so much that you get fluffy.

Now you’re all set to make some great arm gains! The only thing left to do is put in the work.

Hope this helps. Any questions or comments, let me know.

10 Ways to Get Everyone at the Gym to Love You

Become your gym’s favorite person!

Here’s a quick list of things you can do to make sure you’re the real MVP of your gym:

  1. Never wash your gym clothes. If you’re worried they might not smell great, take a cologne shower before you hit the gym.
  2. When you’re done using the equipment, don’t wipe it off. Leave a little sweat for the next person.
  3. As soon as you finish an exercise, leave the weights right there. Don’t strip the plates of the bar. Never, ever, ever put the dumbbells back in the rack.
  4. Everyone should know how hard your workout is. Let them know through a series of grunts, hisses, and loud swearing. Your effort is contagious. They’ll see it and up their training to match yours.
  5. Give each person a helpful tip about the exercise they’re doing. They’re probably not totally wrong, but you can definitely provide 5 or 10 pointers. Share your expertise with them. Sure, they might be wearing earbuds pretending to concentrate on their own workout, but trust me, they’ll be grateful for your knowledge.
  6. Train efficiently by using supersets on at least 3-4 pieces of equipment at a time. You must remain fiercely vigilant about guarding them all. Never let anyone work in with you, that shows weakness. You don’t go to the gym to be weak, do you?
  7. Ogle. Ogle. Ogle. No one comes to the gym to not be seen. By ogling, you give them the gratification that they’re obviously after.
  8. Along similar lines, make sure you dress appropriately to be seen. Stringer tops and nut-hugger shorts give everyone an opportunity to admire your entire physique.
  9. In the locker room, take your sweet time getting dressed. It’s a social place. Strike up a conversation with a stranger as you use the blow dryer on your nether regions.
  10. Remember, all the mirrors in the building are there for you to show off your front double biceps pose.

Thanks for reading! If you’ve got a tip to add to the list, leave it in the comments below!

Why Problems Are Good

We never really get rid of problems. We just exchange them for (hopefully) better ones. When you were going to school as a child, each grade was more difficult than the one before. Perhaps you thought, “when I’m an adult things will be better.” Are they?

Yes and no, is the answer, don’t you think? You are wiser, stronger and more experienced. And I’m guessing you have bigger and better problems. We’ve traded in the term papers and exams for bills and all kinds of other responsibilities. Hopefully you’re still exchanging them upward. But hoping that once you achieve this next goal, all will be gold and rainbows is a mistake.

When we hit the target, it feels great for a little while, but obviously there’s no such thing as a panacea. It doesn’t take long to figure out it didn’t fix all the problems in life. The disappointment that follows is often profound.

We don’t want a problem-free life. This is true even though problems can be frustrating. Solving problems is fulfilling. It feels awesome whenever you make a breakthrough, doesn’t it? The process of identifying and fixing problems is the process that gives us meaning.

For example in a fitness context, maybe you were overweight. Now to get in better shape, you wake up earlier and get all sweaty at the gym. That’s a better problem to have. Yet it’s still a mountain to climb. A more succinct word to describe having a better problem is growth.

Think of the hero’s journey in just about any book, tv show, movie, or story. The protagonist has to overcome significant obstacles in order to accomplish his/her goal. If it was easy it wouldn’t be compelling. Or think of sports. What’s better than when your favorite team is the underdog coming from behind to win?

Getting back to how this applies to fitness…

Don’t lie to yourself, there will always be struggle. The funny thing is, whether your one rep max is 50 lbs. or 500 lbs. It still feels the same: heavy. I say this because there’s such a strong tendency to believe, once I do X everything will be awesome. X could be getting a six pack, or dropping 100 lbs. or that last, tough 10 lbs. or benching 315. The truth is, it’s not going to fix your life.

Don’t get me wrong, those are worthy goals. Setting fitness goals is a good thing. Striving to accomplish them is even better. And when you do claim your goal, don’t expect all your problems to go away. Your life won’t suddenly become perfect. That’s okay. Identifying problems, figuring out a solution, being frustrated, persevering… all that makes us better.

Aim. Achieve. Aim higher. Keep chasing improvement. I feel so strongly about this that’s why I named this The Chase.

Thanks for reading.

Fitness Apps

Recently a good friend asked me about fitness apps and I think this is a good opportunity to talk about what to look for. The first thing to consider is what do you want from an app, what do you need from it? They can do a number of things. At a basic level, a good one will allow you to enter data so you can keep track of your workouts. Keeping track is essential to your continued progress. If you don’t progress, you don’t change. If you’re not changing, it won’t be long before you’re frustrated.

A useful app will have a good library of exercises. It’s even better if there are demonstration videos. It will allow you to enter data for your training, specifically the exercises, weights used, sets and repetitions. Some will have pre-designed training routines which you may find valuable if you prefer that to creating your own. This can be especially helpful if you’re just starting out. It should also allow you the flexibility to create and edit your routine if that suits you better. The variation in the ways each app is laid out will largely determine its appeal to you.

Another useful feature is a timer/clock. Your smartphone probably already has this, it’s nice if you don’t have to use separate apps. I’m a big believer in keeping your workouts to an hour or less. An app that keeps track of rest periods for you will ensure you stay on point. The length of your rest times will depend on your fitness goals and schedule but it’s important to stay consistent. A workout with rest periods of 30 seconds is going to feel very different than one with 2 minutes between sets.

A good app will be able to show you the trends of your workouts so you can easily view your progression over time. This is another instance where your preference comes into play. You may like a numerical listing of your personal bests (a.k.a. personal records, a.k.a. PR’s) or a line graph, or a bar graph. It’s up to you. Who doesn’t enjoy taking a second to reflect on your accomplishments?

I use this one but obviously there are many to choose from*. I just like the layout and the ease of use. Maybe you’ll like it too, or perhaps you prefer another one. (Help out other readers by leaving your favorite in the comments section)

Apps where you can track your calories and macros can be instrumental whether your goal is losing fat or building muscle. It’s convenient if it has the ability to enter foods by name or scan barcodes. It should also allow you to create and store some favorite foods or meals, which is a great shortcut. There are a few things to be aware of with just calorie apps. First, their databases may be slightly off with the calories, which is frustrating because it defeats the purpose of having it. Next, understand that no matter how you’re tracking calories, it’s an estimate. So don’t get too hung up on whether it’s 43 calories or 48 calories, okay? Third, make sure when you enter meat in the the app that you specify whether it’s raw or cooked. A raw 4 oz. chicken breast is about 117 calories. A cooked 4 oz. chicken breast is about 184 calories.

I like this and this for tracking calories*. (Let other readers know which ones you find most helpful in the comments)

I want to say is that it’s absolutely not necessary to use an app to track your workouts or you food, but they’re both certainly really helpful.

Thanks for reading!

*I’m not sponsored or endorsed by any app or company. These are just my personal opinions.