Tag Archive - exercise

Back to basics: Fasting and Fasted workouts

Having returned from India and a month-long hiatus from eating healthy and working out, I started brewing on a strategy to “get back at it” and continue working to my ultimate goal, which is achieving never-before-seen (on me) lean-ness and vasculature.

My approach for most of the summer had been working out about five days a week (doing CrossFit) with daily fasting (i.e. 16 hour fasts daily). I tracked a lot of my daily workouts via my workout blog.

Unfortunately, I ran into any number setbacks as I had a couple long periods where I couldn’t manage to eat right or workout (A two week stint out west and a three week stint in India).

That brings me back to today. I’m going “back to basics,” which for me, was eating breakfast/lunch and the fasting until dinner the following day, with a weight-lifting oriented workout an hour or two before breaking my fast. This method worked for me the first time, stripping away a great deal of fat and focusing my diet/weight-training efforts. This time around, the only tweak I’m implementing is that I will do two fasts per week, lifting on days I break the fast, working out on days I eat, and resting on any day I begin a fast. Per usual, my diet will be carb-light, which means no breads, rices, cereals or starchy vegetables while still allowing for most fruits (apples and berries being preferred), some cheats (ice cream), and alcohol.

Goal is to try this for three weeks, track my progress daily and see how I come out on the other end. Stay tuned.

On Cortisol

Cortisol has been a bit of a mystery to me. Things I’ve gathered about cortisol include:

  • Cortisol is a hormone
  • Cortisol is elevated by exercising
  • Cortisol is elevated by drinking alcohol
  • The presence of cortisol spurs weight gain, and specifically, fat accumulation in the gut for men
  • Cortisol can impair the immune system
  • Vitamin C before bed (And getting plenty of sleep) can reduce cortisol (See Robb Wolf’s comments on this post)

Some reading on cortisol from the usual suspects:

There’s a lot of information out there on the subject of cortisol. As someone who is exercising and periodically imbibing alcohol, how should I deal with cortisol to mitigate its detrimental effects on my goals?

And what is overexercising anyway? What is over-training? If you tack on some low to medium intensity cardiovascular exercise to weight lifting / high-intensity exercise, do you cross the line between “just right” and “too much”? I have no doubt that the answers to these questions are case-specific.

What is a good mix of exercise for a relatively sedentary web entrepreneur?

Weight Lifting: Slow or Fast?

Rusty, founder of Fitness Black Book, tells us that when it comes to lifting weights and building strength, the key is “slow and steady” (See his most recent post, Strength Training Rep). In short, rather than lifting heavy weights in a jerky fashion, which is best exemplified by the near chest bounce on the bench press, you’re better off going through the weight lifting motions in a slow, controlled fashion.

The benefits of slowness in weight lifting include reducing the chance of injury and, according to Rusty, more lasting strength creation. Actually, in reading through the aforelinked post, I’m reminded of Rusty’s post on “Mastering the Weight“, which I particularly found interesting.

Both are good reads with some solid food for thought. For me, the jury is out on this subject and there are all sorts of conflicting opinions. Arthur De Vany seems to be an advocate of more explosive lifting. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to track down the posts where Art advocates as much as it seems Google’s indexing of his site is broken (arthurdevany.com recently underwent a sitewide “upgrade”, and it seems that some posts were lost in the change). Art’s argument, if I recall correctly, is that explosive movements are more in keeping with function — i.e. we don’t sprint in slow motion. On the flipside, dead lifting in real life is hardly explosive.

Isn’t there room for both? Methinks yes.

Back to Rusty’s Strength Training Rep post — he had a great explanation on using irradiation to boost muscular definition and strength. Check it out:

The Skill of Generating Tension in the Muscle

Strength is largely determined by your ability to generate tension in a muscle. The harder you can contract a muscle the better strength you can demonstrate in that muscle. Did you know that you can contract a muscle much harder if you also contract the muscles surrounding it? I learned about this principle called “Irradiation” from Soviet Special Forces Trainer, Pavel Tsatsouline. Here is how he explains it.

  1. Try flexing your bicep as hard as possible without making a fist.
  2. Now try and flex your bicep as hard as possible while making as tight as fist as possible and squeezing.
  3. You should be able to contract your bicep much harder when making a tight fist.
  4. This is called “irradiation”?what is happening is that the nerve impulses of surrounding muscles can amplify the effect of that muscle.

How to Become a Master at Generating Tension

Here is the craziest thing about the principle of Irradiation. You can actually create stronger contractions in a muscle by flexing a bigger chain of surrounding muscles. Take that bicep example above. Try contracting you bicep as hard as possible but this time don’t only squeeze your fist, but contract your pecs and abs as hard as possible as well. Did you notice a difference? After a while you will become a master at irradiation to reach high levels of strength.

Anyway, some food for thought on this fine Friday. I like Rusty’s site and you should check it out. I’ve been particularly interested in his (and Lyle McDonald’s) approach to stubborn fat loss. You can check Rusty’s mini-book on it here (it is free!).

Searching for the right mix of cardio and high-intensity exercise

I stumbled across a blog post titled Conflicting Cardio that pondered aloud the following:

As I read Mark’s essay, I distinctly remembered hearing advice somewhere that completely contradicted what he was saying. I remembered reading that we were actually genetically designed to run long, slow distances, and that the way our ancestors hunted was not in short sprints (antelope would outrun us no problem), but rather in long, slow jogs, waiting for the animal’s body temperature to overheat. At that point, the animal simply passed out from heat exhaustion, and we moved in for the kill. This is based on the premise that human beings evolved an evaporative cooling system, whereas animals didn’t; they don’t sweat, and thus, they’re terribly inefficient at cooling their bodies during exercise.

Fortunately for you, I have a spectacular memory. The article I’m referencing was from an issue of Men’s Health that ran about a year ago, titled Yes, You Were Born to Run. The author, Richard Conniff, based the article on research conducted by Daniel Lieberman PhD, a University of Utah biologist.

I find this situation particularly hilarious because it illustrates perfectly the dilemma that the typical North American finds itself in when attempting to establish what, exactly, is good for us in terms of our health. Is it low-fat or low-carb? Steady-state cardio exercise, or HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training)? 12-15 reps or 6-8? The amount of conflicting information published is astounding.

What is the right combination of cardiovascular exercise and strength-training? Is one better than the other? Is endurance exercise healthy? These are important questions to ask.

Here is my brief take, which is cross-posted as a comment on Becoming Adonis:

Thought-provoking post.

Seems to me that any “cardio” should be conducted at low-intensity. “Intensity” is incredibly vague, so for my purposes, I am defining it as whatever rate at which my body burns mostly fat for energy. For most of us, I imagine fairly low levels of exercise — probably less than jogging but greater than walking (Though walking with weight could serve in a pinch). For individuals who train for endurance, the level will be higher as their bodies are more efficient at burning fat for energy — I’m thinking specifically of Ironman athletes or other high endurance individuals who necessarily blow through all of the glycogen stores in their bodies and simply must burn fat for fuel. For a discussion on this, see Mark Twight’s write-up on endurance and fat (here).

Based on a number of articles about endurance exercise (See More Reading below), I don’t see a lot of benefits in endurance training. I’ll save further discussion on that topic for another time.

Meanwhile, HIIT and/or weight lifting is right up the alley of most all of us mere mortals for the very reasons Mark Sisson and you describe (Sprints being a great example).

How do we put all of this together? Do we just ditch cardio/endurance exercise altogether?

Modern man is scarcely active relative to our ancient ancestors. Hunting/gathering at the grocery store is hardly going to require a lot of energy nor is typing 90wpm or clicking a mouse. The big incongruity is simply a lack of basic, low-intensity activity that would have been a matter of course to paleo man but is a foreign concept to us bloggers.

So what is the solution? We should simply seek to be more active at low-levels of intensity. This means more walking (perhaps weighted) or perhaps low-intensity biking or mountain biking. I imagine there are a number of competitive sports that could also fit the bill here. Mix these activities with HIIT and weight-lifting and you’ve got an optimal combination.

More reading:

  • Did you happen to see this post by De Vany on sweating? Totally jives with the evaporative cooling mechanism discussion in your post.
  • The Men’s Health article referenced can be found here

And a bevvy of articles on endurance exercise, most which question its health benefits:

My Bare Feet. Vibram Five Fingers Review

 

“What are you wearing? Some kind of aqua shoes?”

That’s a common reaction I get to my Vibram Five Fingers. Others include, “Hey can you run in those?” (Yes). Or, “Do they feel weird? Is it hard to adjust to them?” (Not really and No — its like being barefoot!). And of course, “What are those? And where can I get them?”

Five Fingers are shoes. Or slippers. Or socks with flexible Vibram rubber soles on the bottom. Or go simpler: they’re “Toe Shoes.” They have five toe cutouts (or pockets) and absolutely no arch support or traditional foam padding in the soles. They come in a few varieties (some providing more foot coverage, one intended for aquatic uses, a couple with straps, or the simplest, the “classic”, which has a bungie type operation that keeps them from falling off when used in more engaging activities (Update: Now there are 8 Five Fingers models available with a ninth VFF Trek variety on the way any day now).

I’ve been using my Five Fingers for about three months now. So far, I’ve used them for:

Five Fingers have helped me be a kid again: as a kid, I never wore shoes, preferring always to be barefoot everywhere. Even today, I rarely wear shoes, preferring Birkenstock sandals in the summer or clogs in the winter (or just wearing flip-flops). Five Fingers are great in that they allow me to do all sorts of active things outside, no matter what the surface while still protecting my feet against wayward sharp objects on the ground.

Five Fingers take my feet back to basics. I wasn’t born with shoes on my feet. From an evolutionary perspective, human beings existed for countless millenia hunting and gathering, running from prey, lifting and carrying loads — all without the latest brand of Nike’s. It stands to reason that our feet evolved over time to withstand the freedoms (both good and bad) that result from going barefoot everywhere.

Our ancient ancestors likely had tough, calloused feet, ready to withstand sprints (or walking) across all sorts of terrain. Furthermore, they likely ran lightly on their feet (and almost certainly had little reason to ever “go for a jog”). Shoeless running would necessarily minimize contact between the foot and the ground. Just imagine a cat or dog sprinting and you get the idea. Contrast running on the balls of your feet with the pervasive long-stride, heel-striking (inherently inefficient), sneaker-clad foot-roll. This style is clumsy, and the by-product of the thick-soles of modern sneakers, which mute important feedback between foot and ground (See You Walk Wrong, referenced below).

Kicking back in a pair of Classic Vibram FiveFingers.

Vibram Five Fingers minimize feedback-interference by having an almost insignifnicant rubber sole. When I wear my Five Fingers outside, I feel the curvature of the grass-covered ground. I feel rocks under my heels and get a real sense of the varying textures beneath me.

When I do olympic-lifts, I feel all the stabilizers in my feet activate (Like you might encounter in CrossFit). I feel reconnected to the ground, an empowering feeling when you’re trying to squat 275 pounds or stabilize whilst doing 1.5 pood kettlebell swings. For more on weight lifting, read this fans account of powerlifting in Vibram FiveFingers.

When I do hill sprints in my Five Fingers, I am considerably less likely to roll my ankle upon hitting a dip in the ground — meanwhile, it feels fantastic to be so light on your feet as you fly (sprint) up a hill or across a field!

Going about “virtually barefoot” may seem odd to our sneaker-crazed modern world, but why not take a break from restrictive, clunky shoes and sneakers and traverse the earth as evolution intended (Well, as close as you can get while still maintaining some protection!)? Plus, being active and “barefoot” will build stronger ankles and leg muscles and improve your agility.

Mind, the day after running “barefoot” for the first time (virtually so with Five Fingers), you’re bound to be sore in all sorts of previously forgotten ankle, foot and calve muscles. So be prepared. However, this general foot/ankle weakness should tell you something about how much your regular footwear has been subsidizing your strength.

The bottom line: if you like being active and barefoot, you’re almost certainly going to like Five Fingers.

Finally, there are a few other benefits of Five Fingers I thought I’d share:

  • Five Fingers are incredibly light and compact. This makes them supremely packable for traveling (Often you can even get through airport security without taking them off though its a bit of a gamble!).
  • They are machine washable! Yeah, you can just throw them in the washing machine, then hang them out to dry (I have freakishly non-stinky feet, but they can get stinky, so you might check out these Vibram Five Fingers cleaning tips.
  • Wet sports. This goes hand in hand with their machine wash-ability. Doing something in wet grass? Regular sneakers will get soaking wet and could end up smelling of mold. With my Five Fingers, if they get wet, its okay! They’ll dry fast. If they get muddy? Just wash them off and throw them in the washing machine. Easy.

Okay, you’ve sold me. So what now?

If you’re interested in picking up a pair, I’ve got some good news and some bad news and they’re both the same: there are a ton of models to choose from — 20+! That makes for a lot of options, which is great, but also means you could get a little overwhelmed trying to pick a style. Go with your instinct and just have fun (don’t get overwhelmed).

Otherwise, you could end up like me: in the 3+ years since I first wrote this review, I’ve dived feet-first into the whole barefoot-style footwear thing by founding a blog dedicated to this emerging way to reconnect with our humanity — it’s called BirthdayShoes.com and has received over 2 million unique visitors. I’ve now tried and reviewed virtually every Vibram model out there as well as all the other new minimalist/barefoot shoes. That’s over 50 other shoe models (I’ve lost count, honestly). Go check out just how many options in the world of barefoot/birthday shoes there really are!

If you’re planning on buying online, you need to read this. I’m afraid to say that a rash of fake Five Fingers have shown up on the internet (and in Google search results). By “rash,” I mean there are over 600 fake fivefingers online retailers masquerading as the real deal. You can learn more about this unfortunate phenomenon here. The gist is that if you’re on a site with “vibram” or “fivefingers” or some variant thereof that claims crazy discounts (60% off!) and isn’t vibramfivefingers.com — or if you’re looking on ebay (not a good sign) — you very well could be looking at a fakes retailer.

I’ve done my best to take some of the pain out of finding legit online retailers by creating listing many (but not all) of the fake sites (here) as well as creating a “store” that has authentic online retailers. The store also has info regarding free shipping policies, customer reviews, etc., and one store offers 7% off via a BirthdayShoes-exclusive discount code (it’s listed at http://birthdayshoes.com/store/).

On style and sizing — Back in 2008 when I got my first pair of Vibrams, I figured I’d start simply so I just got the simplest model available, the Classic; I bought two sizes that were the closest to my measurements and just returned the wrong size. Simple enough. The thing is that sizing Vibrams is confusing because the FiveFingers sizing doesn’t (necessarily) correlate to any standard sizes (American or European). By pure chance, my FiveFingers size happens to be the same as my Birkenstocks size (European 43 — I’m a 10.5 US size). To really get a handle on sizing, you should see this wiki on Vibram Five Fingers sizing.

Update February 2012: One last note on the above-mentioned likelihood of getting Overwhelmed by just how many options there are. These days, I now have probably 40 or more pairs of FiveFingers including all the newest/hottest models with the fancier soles and uppers; however, I still go back to my Classic FiveFingers as a “go to” pair assuming the weather permits. That’s because they’re just that comfortable. However, if you’re just going to get one pair for all occasions, I might recommend the KSO if you want to kick it “old school” in one of the original, most popular Vibrams; or if you want something more recent, go with the KomodoSport LS or Bikila LS as both are exceptionally comfort and fit the widest range of feet due to the laced uppers. Ahh there are pros and cons to all of them and it’s not easy to decide on “just one pair!” I don’t envy your position. Truth be told, you should know that there’s a high likelihood your first pair of toe shoes won’t be your last; I can’t tell you how many folks I know who now have multiple pairs (like 5+) of FiveFingers. Seriously.

Buyer beware: friends and family might chide your weird-looking footwear, but don’t be surprised when they order their own pair shortly thereafter (To date: I know two CrossFitters who are looking to buy them after seeing me use them, and one CrossFitter who has already taken the plunge).

If you have any questions about anything I didn’t cover, let me know!

Further reading:

Workout Blog

Check out my new “Workout Blog” here. This is mostly just to track progress with individual workouts as well as CrossFit. We’ll see how long I can keep it up. I’ve got a sidebar widget dedicated to listing the last ten posts. Might be good for any of you who are looking for workout ideas. Otherwise, you just ignore it! :p

Being healthy on the road

Traveling has an uncanny tendency to thwart healthy routines. It is difficult both to make time for exercise and to eat healthy amidst the bevy of fast food restaurants, hotels, free food, abundant spirits and people who eat differently than me. How do you navigate these health obstructions while on the road?

I’m hardly an expert, but here is how I’m managing to maintain a low-carb diet replete with activity while being away from home:

  • Be active. Some Hollywood star has the following motto: “I try to break a sweat everyday.” (H/T IF Life) This just seems like a robust life-motto that reverberates in my head — a life where you exert enough effort to break a sweat every day just seems right to me.

    On the road, it can be difficult to do this with limited equipment. I like having a kettlebell around, but if you’re flying, you can forget about taking a 35 lb. or 53 lb. kettlebell along for the ride.

    This means you have to improvise. Good ways I’ve found to improvise include running sprints, doing push-ups, and air squats. I’m still trying to find a good pull-up substitute that can be performed with everyday furniture (Any ideas?).

  • Skip a meal or two. Fasting is such a powerful tool to recenter/refocus after finding yourself lost in the bad habits that result from traveling. I’ve found the easiest way to fast is to skip breakfast. Depending on how you’re feeling around lunchtime, feel free to skip lunch, too. I did this yesterday, not eating anything until dinner and I felt great all day and even managed a nice workout compliments of a treadmill and one of those all-in-one weightlifting machines (Improvise!).
  • Go for level-two fast food. I just made up that Level II distinction. What I mean by it is that you should take the extra ten minutes to seek out local restaurants that can serve up some healthier takeout dishes. For me, I’ve eaten a few greek salads with gyro meat or chicken. It’s not ideal but its better than getting a number five combo from McDonald’s.
  • Don’t strive for perfection. When you inevitably cave to cravings and eat that fresh-baked cinnamon bun that was calling your name at the hotel breakfast bar, let it go. Striving to acheive a perfect maintenance of your healthy habits while on the road is a recipe for failure. It’s okay to deviate — just take steps to get back on track (i.e. trying a mini-fast or having an intense workout in the hotel gym).

So that is what I’ve come up with so far. I’m interested to hear any ideas from any readers regarding other ways to be healthy “on the road”. Please comment if you think of something you’d like to share!

Finally, one of the hardest parts about breaking routines is getting back on track after the traveling is over. That topic remains a discussion for another day: though I will say that I’ve found fasting to be an excellent way to “re-rail” post-vacation.

On the road: Michigan

Last week was my pseudo-vacation with my family at Lake Oconee (so-blogged: 1 2). Good times were had by all though my vacation was accompanied by a normal workweek thanks to the lakehouse’s wifi (Thus, the “psuedo-vacation”).

I returned to Augusta this past Saturday, and on Monday I joined my adopted family for a road trip to Michigan — we have a wedding to attend this Saturday.

Unlike the last, I don’t consider this week vacation and am having a fairly reasonable time staying connected and on top of work. I also don’t feel the stress of making an attempt at vacation and work (Balancing the two is an exercise in futility — I suppose that should have been obvious!).

Working from the road can be frustrating due to the unavoidable connectivity hindrances, but even with these speedbumps, that I am able to have a normal workweek while being completely away from the home office is a testament to the mobility afforded by abundant technology.

And thanks to the packability (driving anyway) of kettlebells and Vibram five fingers, I’ve got my exercise covered, too. Speaking of exercise … off to check out the gym here at the Holiday Inn Express!

Synchronized Burpees

Here was our lake front CrossFit-worthy workout today:

2 minute plank
50 53 lb. kettlebell swings
2 minute plank
50 lunges
2 minute plank
50 burpees
2 minute plank
Time: 21 minutes

My sister managed to capture the photo below where my wife and I were momentarily synchronized in our burpees (the jump part). And even more, the picture documents that I was at least a few inches off the ground on my jump!

Note the Five Fingers! I’ve learned this week that they make great lake footwear (Deck, boat, etc.).

The workout was tough and I immediately jumped in the lake upon completion.

One month CrossFit update with photos

Quick update on CrossFit progress before I sack out for the night.

Been about a month since switching from my homemade workouts to CrossFit. Since starting, I’ve completed four to five workouts a week. For the past two weeks (approx.), I have been practicing daily eating-window-style fasts1. Over that same two-week time period, I’ve also cut back on alcohol consumption on days I worked out. Even still, there was a glutinous July 4th last weekend, where I managed to scarf down three DQ blizzards over four nights with a monster bowl of ice cream the night in the middle. I slipped up. It happens. It’s okay!

The alcohol-fasting is just an experiment to ensure that I don’t down-regulate testosterone, or increase cortisol, thereby maximizing post-workout gene expression.

If you’re wondering, I consider four to five highly-intense workouts a week to be too much to maintain indefinitely2; however, I’ve been driving myself harder in anticipation of achieving the desired results faster.

Some five months since embarking on this lifestyle-shift, I’m happy to say that the combo has been a resounding success so far and I believe will prove out to be a success indefinitely. My goal is to publish my before shot from February and an after shot in August (Just a guesstimate. The goal is satisfaction with with my leaning out, which is equivalent to achieving some optimal vasculature and probably means reaching around 7% body fat).

Until then, I’ve decided to publish some interim before and after voyeurism. I submit the following self-taken camera phone pictures, taken four weeks apart on June 12 and July 9, 2008, from left to right.

Believe it or not, I’m flexing my midsection in both photos. What’s making up the change? A bit more muscle combined with a bit less adiposity. I’m 27, 5’10.5″ and around 168 in both photos. I’m happy to say that I’m currently more lean and defined than I’ve been since I was less than ten years old. Prior to a few months ago, I had given up on leaning out. Just didn’t think it was in my genes.

I was most happily wrong.

Regarding CrossFit, I did the “Nasty Girls” workout today, subbing out pull-ups and dips at a ratio of 3:1 for the normally prescribed seven muscle ups. This made for three rounds of:

  • 50 air squats
  • 21 pull-ups
  • 21 dips, and
  • 10 hanging powercleans @ 95 lbs

I managed to complete it in 19:56, which is incredibly slow relative to CrossFit vets; however, I was happy with my time — likely because I thought I was about to die at the end, and I managed to rock out all 63 pull-ups and dips.

I could not have accomplished this without practicing insulin control. That is, without a doubt, the secret ingredient to maximizing my health.

Footnotes

1 Whereby I compress my eating window to about eight hours — usually noon or 1 pm to 9 pm though its just a target. My workouts tend to fall in the middle. This is (intended to be) similar to the Lean Gains Intermittent Fasting approach (Martin Berkhan).

2 No reason to put your body through that much chronic stress.

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