Thursday, August 20, 2015

Why America is getting weaker ...

A recent television commercial advertised the wonders of a new type of cat litter. The scenes transition from a woman in a parking lot loading her car after shopping, who throws the cat litter to a man on a bicycle, who then throws it to the person in the next scene and so on. How is this possible? Because the cat litter is a new kind of ultra-lightweight cat litter.

Everything is getting lighter, easier and less difficult. At the same time, humanity is getting heavier, everyday life feels harder and more difficult, with many people feeling exhausted despite having done very little taxing physical work on any given day. We keep lowering the physical bar for ourselves and our physiology is adapting by reducing our capacity as well.

Yet we want to live in capable bodies and feel good while going about our day. In our workouts, we want to see results for our efforts. A prominent "celebrity trainer" insists that women should never lift more than 3 pounds, which is like telling every mother and grandmother to never pick up or hold her children or grandchildren—ever again. How does such unequivocally terrible advice not get you stripped of celebrity-trainer status? Because many people—especially women—are often more terrified of looking manly than they are of living in an unfit, incapable body.

In general, females naturally have less testosterone than men and as a result, their bodies are less responsive to the muscle-building effects of properly executed strength training. It is very difficult for men to build large muscles, and it takes significantly more effort for women to do so.  More on this …

One universal truth of the human body that helps explain many physical phenomena is that our biology is adaptive. Muscle makes your body more capable, and feeling more capable allows you to do more things in everyday life and in your workouts. Bringing a challenge to your physical self makes your body build itself stronger to meet the demand of whatever the next challenge might be. This adaption eventually delivers a feeling of confident movement that is like no other.

But we have to ask for it. And heavier weights are the question.

We have to ask our bodies to build some muscle. With the physical demands of life getting too easy (riding mowers, ultralight cat litter, my Kroger now shops for me and delivers my groceries to my truck, even the TV remote is too much effort, according to Jim Gaffigan etc.), we have two options:

  • Do everyday things the hard way, or
  • Do heavier strength training.

How do you know if it's a "heavy" weight level?  Choose a pair of dumbbells that forces you to do nine reps or less. 

The last point is the critical factor. Lifting a pencil for seven reps isn't going to do any good. When I've had a particularly stubborn client resist increasing resistance, we do the following: I have her perform a set with whatever weight she wants, but the rule is that she cannot stop until she feels like she has to. With most typical weights people choose, they will be in the high teens or even close to 30 reps before this feeling occurs.  I've done this in camp as well – we'll keep doing a dumbbell curl, for example, until EVERYONE gets to muscle failure.  People sometimes think the goal is to be the last one still doing curls … we've gone for over two minutes doing curls, which does no one any good.  Pick a weight where you can't do 10 reps, and now you're lifting heavy. 

The experience of lifting for so many reps drives home the point that the weight can be safely increased without my having to explain away fears of lifting too much. Experiencing how capable you are makes you want to lift more. Sometimes to drive this point home with a client, I will talk to her about something distracting while she is performing an exercise so she loses count and I have her keep going until she feels fatigue. I'm keeping track of the reps and when she is done I tell her how many she did.  "Well done, you just performed 37 reps, which means we're ready to go up in weight!"

Keep in mind that "heavy" is relative to each person's ability, so it doesn't mean that some day we'll all be dragging a jet down the runway with our teeth (sorry hard-core Crossfitters, just not gonna happen!).  Rather, we simply need get comfortable using a little more weight than what we're using now, until we get to the point of failure at nine reps or less (with GOOD form). 

If you're not a believer in heavy lifting yet, here's my deal with you: Try it for the next 4 weeks, and if at the end of the month you don't feel stronger, more capable, and leaner, you can go back to the lighter dumbbells ... Deal?

Your friend in fitness,

HealthStyle Fitness, Inc. | 4700 Smith Road Suite C, Cincinnati, OH 45212 | 513-407-4665, x-105 |

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Play versus Exercise ...

For a moment, think about the effort and intensity you put into yesterday's workout.   We started with the shoulder series – three rounds of very intense effort.  Then we had the lower body series – 10 minutes working your legs.  Next, four triceps exercises in a row!  And then we finished with the partner squats/jump squats + pushups/chest press/6" killers. 

Imagine attempting to duplicate today's workout on your own, at home or in a gym.  It can be done, no question.  But would you have sprinted as fast, and worked as hard to get in your squats and jump squats?  With the same level of focus and determination, without having a concern for your partner back at the mat doing pushups, chest presses and six inch killers?  Probably not.  You had that sense of "my partner is counting on me getting back to give her some relief from those pushups!"

I often say, "tomorrow's going to be fun!"  Sure, three versions of triceps kickbacks + up/down planks without rest is hard, and I'm sure you think that I'm not quite right by calling that "fun!"  But it sure beats trying to duplicate today's effort working out by yourself.  At home with that same old playlist, or in the gym next to 1987 Spandex Man grunting and growling with each Barbell Press he musters. 

You work MUCH harder with a partner, as part of a team, or in a group, than going it alone.  And when the workout is over, you know there are several other women that went through it all with you. 

Think about you little ones kids if you have them, or think about when you were a kid ... you didn't have a gym memberships.  They/you play(ed).  All sorts of ways - in sports, in the backyard, the cul-de-sac, all kinds of made up fun games.  Kids don't "exercise" yet they get more exercise than we could ever dream about getting. 

Two weeks ago on vacation I was having dinner at a beachside restaurant, under a canopy, overlooking the ocean.

There were other tables all around me with several families. Kids who had grown bored of grownup talk had abandoned their seats and were playing on the beach.

My daughter followed suit and quickly kicked off her flip flops and darted into the sand to build structures, jump from sand dune to dune, and play some made up game to protect the universe from alien invasion. 

The kids were wielding imaginary swords, fighting off a horde of imaginary ninjas or perhaps pirates and—thanks to their lightning-fast reflexes and karate chops—seemed to be winning.

After a series of kicks, rolls, jumps and sound effects, my daughter popped triumphantly to her feet, hurtled down another sand dune, and sprinted back to our table for a quick update on her victory over the evil aliens.

For most kids, physical movement is a joy. It's an inherent part of play, and it's just how they get around. It's what they do for fun, to get home from school, or to escape a band of pretend pirates.

They don't move around begrudgingly, because they feel like they have to. They move around because it's fun.

We may not have the luxury of saving the world as ninjas on a beach as the sun sets … but we CAN find ways to make exercise fun and interesting.

And tomorrow we'll talk about why finding the fun in our workouts is so important.

Your friend in fitness,

Brian Calkins

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HealthStyle Fitness, Inc. | 4700 Smith Road Suite C, Cincinnati, OH 45212 | 513-407-4665, x-105 |


Monday, August 17, 2015

Why doesn't this just GO AWAY?!?

The number one, all-time worse, ridiculous fitness myth ever …  


Defined, toned arms and legs?  Sure.    

But manly?  It's not gonna happen.

To develop big muscles we need a mega boost of testosterone, levels not available in the female body, possibly some anabolic supplements only available on the black market, and an excessive strength training program that involves several hours per day, no cardio … clearly an approach we don't follow in boot camp.

So here's why we think you should lift heavy: 

1.  First of all, heavy weights aren't great for every exercise.  When we isolate different aspects of the shoulder, for example a front raise and side raise, you definitely won't be able to go heavy... at least not while maintaining good form... and without injuring yourself.  So we aren't saying pick up a set of 15 or 20 lbs and start using them for every exercise.

But think of squats and dead-lifts, chest presses and rows.  Your legs are strong - they carry you around every single day - and they can handle heavier resistance than 5, 8 and even 10 pounds.

2.  If you want to change your body - you have to change what you're currently used to doing.  Think about what you carry around each day and what you do.  A good friend carried her daughter around, even when she weighed 25 – 30 pounds.  If she wants to challenge her body, she's got to lift heavier weight than that.  So when she works out, she's squatting or deadlifting with 25 lbs (sometimes more) in each hand.  And besides helping to increase her leg strength - using heavier dumbbells makes carrying her daughter around MUCH easier.  And, up until 6 months ago, her workout consisted of ONLY the elliptical machine!  

3.  You can SIGNIFICANTLY reshape your body.  In talking with women over the years, that's one of the most important things I hear that you want.  Working with heavy weights changes your shape, proper nutrition changes your size. 

4. You'll build muscle making you a lean, mean fighting machine!  And since building muscle does lots of wonderful things for your body, like burning calories, building bone density, correcting muscle imbalances and helping you fit in smaller clothes and feel FIT, it's the thing to strive for.

But it only happens when you push your body to do more than it's currently used to doing, and lifting a weight that your body finds challenging.

So game on -- if you're not reaching muscle failure on round 3 of our strength training series, let's make a commitment to start lifting heavier weight levels.  Here's a short video demonstration:
Your friend in fitness, 
Brian Calkins