We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
Our Recent Essays Behind the Front Page
Friday, July 3. 2020
Wednesday, June 10. 2020
We've written about this topic in the past, but it's worth reviewing the misconceptions about cardio fitness and cardio exercise. (Remember, in our view, "cardio" should be only 1/3 of your exercise program beacuse it does little for muscle and bone strength, and little for athleticism.)
Any exercise, from walking to weight-lifting, makes more demand on heart function than sitting or lying down. So cardio exercise has a spectrum from very light to maximum intensity. Simply put, the core purpose of "cardio" exercise is to maintain or upgrade heart function (cardiac condition is measured by things like a Cardiac Stress Test with Echo, Stroke Volume, Cardiac Output, cardiac vasculature, and left ventricle size to some extent). Like weight-lifting for skeletal muscle, it requires stress, relative to your conditioning and medical condition.
With lighter stresses (eg non-sprint, endurance-oriented swimming laps, jogging, rowing, stair machine, elliptical, etc) we are putting our hearts to some use, but we are working more on general time endurance than cardio. (Lots of people do those things thinking that they involve fat-burning, but don't count on that to work if you do 1 hour/day.) For people who are not training for specific goals, building endurance is great for life. Nobody wants to slow down or feel tired during ordinary recreational activities like sports or hiking. These non-sprint exercises aim for around 70% of one's max heart rate to make it worth your precious time.
The higher the physical demand - the intensity of an exertion for your level of fitness - the more you are training your heart rather than just using it. The highest levels of exertion (say, with sets of deadlifts near 80% of your max, or with 30-second sprints) are anaerobic and can push your heart rate to 90% of your max. That heart-pounding rest time or slow time is to catch up on oxygen.
For endurance, an hour of lap swimming, cycling, jogging, elliptical, stair machine, ski machine, rower, etc at around 70% of your max heart rate is where you ought to be, if in decent health. Over time, you will need to raise the speed to get to those heart rates. These exercises do nothing much to build muscle or bone strength.
For maximum cardiac fitness (with bonus endurance benefits as well), mixing in sprints which get your HR to 80-90% of your max should be included. Bursts of intensity. In the Maggie's Fitness for Life program, the other good sources of intense cardiac stress are the powerlifts and calisthenics. Ideally, some of all of those because there is more to fitness than cardiac fitness. Fitness is a package deal.
An interesting detail is that to up your game in any area of exertion, it's always a good idea to do what you do not usually do. Explosive linebackers get better with distance running, distance runners get better with weights and sprints, heavy lifters get better with calisthenics. Balance.
Wednesday, June 3. 2020
Wednesday, May 20. 2020
For a gym workout, the only discipline involved is to get there. Then you get in the groove whether it's a calis class or a yoga class or just doing your own thing.
Luckily for me, I am still working with my trainer 3 days/week. We figured out a way to do it and it is so cut-rate now that I can't afford not to do it. Plus I enjoy the guy's company a lot so we have a good time listening to podcasts. Scott Adams, Mike Rowe, Rogan. Of course, with heavies, you do not hear anything but you do during the rests.
I am getting myself out early for a run twice a week (sprint/walk intervals). The month of May is perfect outdoor running, but I miss the killer stair machine.
What are y'all doing now? Things are looking up around here, headed in the right direction but I don't know whether I want to pay my excessive gym fees in the future.
Tuesday, April 28. 2020
New to Exercise? Here’s Why It’s Never Too Late to Add Strength Training
Wednesday, April 22. 2020
We generally recommend resistance (weights) for strength-building, but some people are just afraid of weights or associate them with body-builders. Wrong, but whatever.
However, there are some exertions which can be useful upper body fitness-builders without weights. Four calisthenics in particular: Pushups, pullups, planks, and Burpees.
These are far from comprehensive, but they cover lots of the basic muscle groups, and proper pushups stress core too. There is a reason these are basics of military basic training.
Another good thing about them is that they can be modified until you can do the real thing. For examples, you can do "girl" pushups (on knees) until you can do real ones. You can do assisted pullups (with bands) until you can do real ones. Everybody can do straight-arm or elbow planks, but duration is the challenge. Aim for several minutes. Shoulder-touch planks are a cool variation. Burpees (with the pushups and jumps) are a great upper-body and whole body calisthenic.
How many? That depends on you. Generally speaking, for a middle-aged (45-75) guy or gal who avoids weights, I'd aim for 25-50 pullups assisted or not, 100 pushups (modified or unmodified), 3 or 4 30-45-second planks, and 50 Burpees. Not all in a row, but on the same day.
(For general fitness without weights, this can (should) be coupled with a day of lower-body body-weight workout (eg lunges, squats, step-ups, box jumps, etc) plus a couple of days of cardio. That all is good enough for casual or club tennis fitness, or for a long day hill hike.)
When life gets back to normal, then we can return to our usual routines. Or maybe just stick with these sorts of things.
Thursday, April 9. 2020
Like everything in the cardio/calisthenic area, these are not strength-builders. Done right, they have close to zero joint impact. They are endurance exercises, and endurance exercises belong in everybody's routine if they want a vigorous life. I see women and men jump-roping for 15 minutes. I cannot do that. After three minutes of either of those exercises, my form falls apart and I become short of breath, probably from not getting good breathing rhythms.
I'm interested in reader opinions on these things.
Sunday, April 5. 2020
Most fitness buffs do not have barbells and racks in their garage or barn, much less a fancy home gym. Still, most have bands, hand weights, some dumbells, maybe a kettlebell or two. TRX straps are versatile and take up no space.
Without barbells, it will be difficult to build strength while away from your gym with their heavy weights, so many of us are stuck doing our weights routines in suboptimal fashion. For example, doing floor bench presses with 10 or 15 lb. hand weights cannot compare with barbell bench presses.
The same applies to dumbell deadlifts.
(Generally-speaking, low reps refers to exertions you can only manage to repeat around 6 times, medium reps refers to exertions you can only manage to repeat 6-15 times, and high reps are over 15 times. High-rep exertions, even to failure, do not build strength but build muscle endurance. Low rep exertions build strength but not endurance.)
It's all explained clearly in this post.
The point I want to make is that, without access to a good supply of varied serious weights, April might have to be a month of endurance weight training instead of strength-building. Why not? It is better than nothing.
That would entail, for example with lower body, squats with dumbells/hand weights X 20 per set, or dumbell deadlifts X 20, or 20 floor bench presses per set instead of 5-10. These sorts of things will slow the strength loss that occurs after 10 days without heavy weight stress.
Your calisthenics days and cardio days are easy at home or outdoors, so no need to discuss that.
Thursday, April 2. 2020
I remember doing 1-mile sprints for training. Long ago. Also remember my 20-mile morning runs. Lucky me - no joint problems. I quit it in time.
Readers know we oppose road running for the toll it takes on joints, but a month, twice a week, is fine with me although I'd like to get back to the treadmill and stair machine for my HIIT.
What did I learn from it? The pounding surprised me, even though I was a road-runner and racer in my youth. I also learned that a hat and gloves might be nice when it's chilly, despite the sweat from the sprints. Finally, it is so much more interesting than watching CNN in the gym.
Maybe I should try biking, but our bikes were all stolen and I will not wear that biking gear.
Wednesday, April 1. 2020
We like to introduce people to various beginner's routines. This one is simple and pretty good. Done daily for 2 or 3 weeks (it should be easy by then), a person can move on to more challenging fitness programs.
20 body weight squats.
Repeat for 3 rounds.
Friday, March 20. 2020
This program is designed to minmize loss of fitness while your usual routine is not available. Daily or every other day - but if every other day, walk or jog 3+ miles on the off days
Warm-up: 1 min jumping jacks + 1 min jogging in place
120-sec rest after completing each full 3X circuit -
Circuit #1 (3 times through):
90 Mountain Climbers
Circuit #2 (3X):
Jumping squats, 1 min.
Circuit #3 (3X):
1 min. lunges (body weight or dumbells in hands)
Circuit #4 (3X):
Floor chest presses to failure (dumbells)
Circuit #5 (3X):
Dumbell (or kettlebell) swings, 1 min
If this routine is too easy, let me know in comments.
Thursday, March 19. 2020
Many of the toughest calisthenics need no equipment. Why Mountain Climbers? It is a total-body exertion.
They recommend 5 sets of 90 for beginners. (I assume that is counting 1,1, 2,2,...) Never underestimate challenging calisthenics. The US Army transforms bodies with daily calisthenics.
Monday, March 16. 2020
Some large gyms and yoga studios are closing for the duration, but that's no excuse not to continue a daily workout program. There are tons of yoga workouts online too. Home workouts won't be as good, probably, but at best it might help to minimize backsliding.
Most people do not have home gyms full of barbells, dumbells, kettlebells, treadmills and stair machines. I feel home gyms are silly anyway because they lack the spirit that comes from being surrounded by hard-working people who are often in much better shape than onself.
Remember, 5-7 days without your exercise routine can set you back quite a bit. Sad, isn't it?
Some simple ideas for home fitness maintenance, just an hour/day, plus small meals for your immunity (heavy eating is a health stressor):
- Do your cardio outdoors on a track (not a road, please). 30-60-second sprints, and jog recoveries.
- Sets of pushups and pullups
- Jumping jacks
Here's a good beginner calisthenic routine:
Wednesday, March 11. 2020
For example, people who do strength training daily commonly eat everything in sight whether they want it or not, and try to gain weight, both fat and muscle. For those interested in general fitness, though, not so much.
NYT (sorry): How exercise can affect our food choices and our weight.
Wednesday, March 4. 2020
Barbell squats and Deads are the ultimate full- body strength builders and strength-maintainers. Middle-aged+ people, male or female, ought to do some of each weekly for bone and muscle health.
You can do deads with kettlelbells or trap bars, but there's nothing like the barbell. (There are lots of other good and useful lower body exercises, calisthenics etc., but just talking about sturdiness today.)
My view is that it's not a good idea to do more than 25-30 total working reps of deadlifts in a day's routine. That would be maybe 5-6 working sets of 3-8 reps (not counting a warm-up set). I only do deads once weekly (and barbell squats once weekly).
If you do not use a trainer, here are some thoughts about how to organize your deadlift routine: How Many Reps of Deadlifts Should I Do When I Workout
And, just for fun because it's not about general fitness, you can check out where your one-rep max falls - enter male or female, age, and weight. I try one-rep maxes around 4X/year, for fun. Taking age into account, I am between intermediate and advanced, which seems good for me. I can not dead 300 lbs. I blame Isaac Newton for that because he is the guy who glued the weights to the floor.
Tuesday, March 3. 2020
Doctors like to put numbers on things, including things like your body composition. Your body composition matters for dozens of things, from diabetes and heart disease to arthritis, to general fitness of course.
Calculated BMI is a poor measure for many reasons. As mentioned yesterday, caliper measures are quite accurate. It only takes a minute, and is often done by the nurse with general physical exams. Here's how to measure your body fat correctly.
You might be pleased or you might be appalled.
Saturday, February 29. 2020
(We've discussed high-rep vs low-rep weight exercises in the past here, but the bottom line seems to be high-rep (10-20), lower weight for small muscle groups (eg calves, arms, etc) and high weight, lower reps (less than 10) for powerlifts.) That might be an overgeneralization, but no high reps with powerlifts, please.
For strength, it's good to stick with the burn until the muscles involved can no longer do the work regardless of the pain. All the burn means is that a muscle or group of muscles are forced to function in anaerobic phase, with a buildup of lactic acid. It's harmless.
Our readers know that the goal in strength training is to achieve a level of controlled muscle damage - microtears in the the involved muscles. The repair and recovery from those microtears is what builds muscle function. The burn doesn't mean that you are doing that. DOMS (explained in the link) means that you might have. Longer-lasting pain means you are probably doing something wrong.
Building fitness is not for sissies.
Thursday, February 27. 2020
A cup of coffee with some sugar for instant energy is all that is needed for weights and calisthenics assuming your daily nutrition is correct for your weight and fitness goals.
Whether that's good advice for a session of HIIT is debatable: Should You Be Working Out on an Empty Stomach? What you need to know about cardio in the age of intermittent fasting.
For morning exercisers, a banana before HIIT will not be much help because it takes a while for fruit sugars and carbs to be digested and available. Hours. The banana will just sit in your stomach. Sugar, on the other hand, is quickly available.
Wednesday, February 26. 2020
I was asked for a list of some good HIIT cardiac stressors. The theory, likely correct, is that these anaerobic or borderline-anaerobic stressors build heart muscle and heart vasculature such that physical endurance and energy are improved, along with the chance of surviving one's first or second heart attack.
Here's a partial list of good ones for interval exertions (30-60 seconds, 60-120 seconds slow between):
- Speed jump rope
I think it's best to do a mix of these to prevent adaptation and efficiency.
Powerlifts also are good heart stressors as we all can tell from the dizziness after a few reps of heavy, but I am not convinced that it's enough to do the job. A reminder to women that, after menopause, heart disease quickly catches up to that of men.
Thursday, February 20. 2020
That might not apply to 8 hours on the Appalachian Trail or a day job as a lumberjack, but it is certainly true for me with my 1-hr daily exercises. The more consistently I exercise, the less interest I have in food and the smaller the portions I can handle. This effect is most pronounced with demanding cardio and calisthenic exercise, not much with strength exercise or with sports. There is a theory that the effect has something to do with Peptide YY.
Nobody wants to eat anything after a hour of tough cardio exercise and that suppressive effect tends to last 24 hrs.
Maybe it makes some genetic sense. If you need to move yourself vigorously and frequently, the less fat you have on you the better you can avoid becoming part of a Tiger Dinner Party. Hunger is an interesting instinct and only recently has it been studied biochemically. One thing we know for certain is that subjective hunger or attraction to food is not a signal for a need for nourishment for most adults in a food-rich environment.
Overweight people seem to have the strongest subjective hunger, and sedentary people tend to have stronger appetites. Cause or effect? Chicken or egg?
Monday, February 17. 2020
My point though, which I repeat to the point of annoying readers, is that you cannot lose weight that way.
Body fat can only be gained, or lost, through nutrition. Exercise is minimal for fat loss. I'd make an exception for those hiking 20 miles/day on the Appalachian Trail while carrying 40-60 lbs of their gear, food, and water. Or their kid.
Friday, February 14. 2020
For St. Valentine's Day, consider how your lover (or lovers) feel, regardless of age. It's good to be appealing to a lover unless you are a billionaire.
A great exercise to add to your conditioning routines (any sled is fine). It's a total body exercise:
Wednesday, February 12. 2020
We posted about conditioning and related topics last week. We talked about measuring progress. I'd say that if you can get through my Friday morning fitness class, and if your body weight is right for you, you are in decent condition. But when you begin, you plain suck and hate yourself because you are not in good condition.
Newbies have trouble at first, but the ones who stick with it religiously make good progress.
That class is cardio and endurance, but those things are important. A 4-minute rower sprint is a bitch. I can not sprint for 4 minutes, have to pace myself.
So although it's difficult to put a number on fitness class performance, you can get a sense over time about how you are doing/surviving a class. Or you can compare yourself with others, which is a bad idea but difficult not to.
At my gym, the classes are free. Usually it's 50/50 guys and gals in early morning. They kick your ass, start the day right. Give it a try for a few months, and see what happens. I do one or two weekly, and count it as my calisthenics. Difficult to call it "fun," but there is some comaraderie.
An hour after finishing, you feel great.
Thursday, February 6. 2020
We discussed "training" vs "exercise" a week or so ago.
But what do people mean by "physical conditioning"? After all, it's a something that most people exercise to maintain or achieve. When people commit to a daily or near-daily exercise program, conditioning is what most people are after. They are in crappy physical condition (sedentary, overweight or underweight, flabby muscles, poor cardio and muscular endurance, low energy, agility, posture, or power, etc).
They are not after mighty muscles, winning marathons, or entering the Crossfit Games. Most people just want to move from a poor or mediocre physical condition to the best condition they can reach given their age, sex, and physical architecture. And, really, people want to look in good condition too instead of looking like they are going to seed, over the hill. That's not a good look to present to the world.
When you see trainers working with clients in the gym, they are usually working towards general conditioning. That's why they do so many varied things in an hour: ball throws, some weights but not too heavy, combat bike sprints, lunges, kettlebell stuff, body weight squats, box jumps, band walks, machine rows, sled pushes and pulls, etc etc. A full mix of good conditioning exercises. Trainers in most gyms rarely have the opportunity do do real training.
The Maggie's Fitness for Life program is basically a general conditioning program - but it can be a general fitness training program if you keep records and graph performance. What can we easily graph? The weights we move, speed and endurance with "cardio", our own weight, and similar. It is difficult to graph out our performance with calisthenics and calisthenics classes, but it's easy to know how many pushups or pullups we can do, or how many kettlebell swings with a given weight.
So I guess my point today is that the Maggie's Fitness for Life Program can easily be turned into a training program by keeping records of most of the components (especially the weights and cardio speed/endurance parts). Oh, also, body weight - some need more weight and muscle, some need less body fat.
What is the Maggie's program? Readers know what it is: 2 days of weight training (powerlifts and accessory weights), 2 days of cardio with HIIT, 2 days of calisthenics/fitness class, and one recovery day of some sort of enjoyable recreational activity after church. This doesn't include most recreational sports, because they do not really count. Recreation is the reward.
Tuesday, February 4. 2020
In other words, a long walk, a jog, a mile swim, and banging manageable weights around for a while do not require a dose of 20-30 gms of protein afterwards (whether in ordinary food or as a supplement).
People in serious training programs probably do need 20 or so gms of protein within an hour or two after, and the easist way to get that is in some sort of protein shake. Very few people want solid food after a tough workout.
This makes sense to me: ARE PROTEIN SUPPLEMENTS GOOD FOR HEALTH? HERE'S WHAT EXPERTS SAY
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