Compound Exercises vs Isolation: How to Make the Right Choice

Compound exercises vs isolation

Here is one of the biggest questions around physical activity that pops up every now and then: should you stick to compound exercises or isolation exercises as a part of your training schedule?  Is one better than the other?  If compound lifts are so good  – how come there are so many gyms that offer a huge variety of expensive machines targeting specific muscles?

The truth is – both methods can be used to improve strength.  Both methods can be used to build a better body.  But there are scenarios where one would work better than the other.

Instead of taking sides, in this article we will explore advantages and disadvantages of both compound and isolation exercise and then try to boil everything down to a simple routine that utilizes the best elements from both camps.

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Sauna benefits: get stronger and live longer

sauna

Sometimes, there is only a very slight difference between high performers and those who just spin their wheels.  The latter often do most of the things high performers do, but still fail to achieve the same results.  This is because high performers know about and implement little tricks that may seem unimportant at first but which, in combination, make a significant difference.  Each incremental effort, each little detail can provide that slight edge and lead to greater results.

One of such tricks that can make you stronger, healthier, leaner and more resilient is quite simple, but yet –little known to most people.  We are, of course, talking about hyperthermic conditioning, more commonly referred to as “sauna”.

When it comes to the goals listed above, sauna is typically not on most people’s list.  Some enjoy the process – especially when it involves some social element, as well (in many cultures sauna is a place to spend time with friends and socialize), some use it for all the wrong reasons (yes, there are still many misconceptions and myths surrounding sauna use), yet some others (especially those who don’t do it right) don’t really care about it – but few people really think of sauna as some superhero-lab-level procedure and performance enhancer.

Which is unfortunate, because – with healthy individuals who have no pre-existing medical conditions that would restrict sauna use – it is a wonderful and grossly underutilized tool that can help on many different fronts.

Let’s look at what intense heat can actually do for you – and how to use it properly (heads up: sauna benefits have very little to do directly with sweating and flushing out the mythical “toxins” as a result, as many gurus would have you believe – the mechanisms involved are actually much more interesting).

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Heart health: Part I – Heart Disease and Cardiovascular Health

heart disease prevention

What you need to know about heart disease, rate variability, effect of exercise, nutrition and more

What is the most dreaded disease of the modern world?  Most people would probably say: cancer.  Yet, cancer is by far not the most prevalent cause of death.  That place is actually firmly occupied by ischemic heart disease, according to statistics published by World Health Organization (WHO).

So it makes sense to try to do what you can to prevent being a part of this statistic.  The article below explores a few potential causes of heart disease, discusses risk factors (including some of those that are not well known) and preventive measures (including some unconventional but very effective ones).

What makes your heart beat

On average, your heart pumps about 7,200 liters of blood per day.  In an average lifetime, that equals about 2,628,000 liters (700,000 gallons) or about 2.5 billion contractions.  That’s a massive amount of work!

As with any muscle, to maintain the strength and pace of these contractions, two variables must be present – the constant availability of fuel and proper functioning metabolism that utilizes this fuel to produce electric energy required to contract the muscle.

The heart is generally considered as a substrate omnivore with the capacity to oxidize fatty acids, carbohydrates, ketone bodies, lactate and even amino acids, the preferred substrate being fatty acids.

That said – energy deficit is a key contributor to heart failure.  During high intensity exercise, for instance, the heart uses up to 90% of its oxidative capacity – so it has no excess capacity of energy generation over energy utilization.

Under these circumstances, it is very important that whatever oxidative capacity your heart does have for supplying energy to cover the immediate needs is utilized to the maximum – and that such capacity is increased to provide some buffer for more strenuous activities, should those take place.  Ninety percent of the heart’s energy requirement is met by mitochondrial oxidative phosphorylation, which is finely tuned to energy need on a “pay as you go” basis.  In fact, mitochondria (power plants of the cell) occupy more than 30% of the cardiac muscle cells’ volume.

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Working out but not losing weight? Here is how to avoid the biggest 10 gym training mistakes

Working out but not losing weight

If you are working out but not losing weight – it’s likely not because your genetics are, somehow, unique.  It’s more likely that you are making one or several of the biggest 10 gym training mistakes.

It’s true that you can lose weight without exercise – but, just as well, you can exercise and not lose weight.  So your training needs to be approached and planned the right way to properly complement your diet.  And it really isn’t rocket science or anything that requires some enormous willpower or anything else out of the ordinary.  The rules of the game are simple – and avoiding the 10 gym training mistakes below is even simpler if you take some time to identify them.

This is a complete waste of time – exercise should be structured and help you reach a specific goal.  Depending on that goal, the specifics may vary, but there at least should be a training protocol.  Of course, you can (and should) still engage in unstructured physical activity for fun (outdoor team games, hiking, climbing, swimming, etc.), but if you are going to the gym to meet a specific goal, make sure you do everything right to reach it.

Properly structured exercise has several benefits:

  1. You eliminate unnecessary time-wasters and reduce your gym time to the minimum, while getting more results;
  2. You actually reach your goals (and faster, too!) – whether those are to lose weight, gain strength or get ripped;
  3. And, as an added benefit, you do both while ensuring maximum safety – which, in turn, ensures consistent progress with no sudden throw backs and loss of traction due to unexpected injury.

So let’s discuss how to exercise properly by looking at the following 10 gym training mistakes people make in the gym that you can easily avoid.

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No exercise time? No problem! (Or how often should you really work out)

No exercise time

Recently, due to the change in circumstances surrounding my work, I’m left with virtually no exercise time.

Yet, being in my 40s, my goals to remain strong, mobile and well-built are as ambitious as ever.  So, instead of using this as an excuse not to do anything, I had to find a way to make it work – and yes, there is always a way you can make it work.

For people who bet everything on spending countless hours in the gym, having their gym time cut almost in half is a disaster.  But you probably know by now that the effectiveness of an exercise session is only loosely correlated with its length.  As with many things in life – you have to find the “minimum effective dose” to get the most results with minimum effort.

So, is it possible to reduce exercise time and get better results?  It all depends on your starting point.  Perhaps your exercise routine is so perfectly optimized that there really isn’t room for further optimization.  If that’s the case – you probably aren’t spending too much time on it anyway, so fitting it into your busy schedule shouldn’t be an issue.

Most people, however, have the opposite problem.  They spend too much time exercising and then have trouble finding an appropriate time window during the day to slot their session in.  As a result – training sessions frequently get missed altogether.  For those of you who have this problem – there is a solution. Listed below is my personal approach to a shorter exercise time challenge.

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Why you cannot lose weight

cannot lose weight

Let me start with some bad news – you cannot lose weight by following most of today’s conventional advice around what makes the best exercise to lose weight.

Most exercise tips to lose weight these days focus on aerobics (often referred to as “cardio”) as the best way to tackle the problem.  They suggest that you should try walking to lose weight, endless running or any combination of demanding fitness activities that will have you sweating buckets and panting like a dog on a hot day.

The reality, however, is that – despite following that advice and engaging into endless jogging, elliptical machine training, Zumba and other “fun” activities – the majority of people cannot lose weight and keep it off.  You too might have tried some semi-esoteric “fat burning exercises” found in many glossy magazines or sweating buckets trying various DVD aerobic workouts – all to no avail.  But that’s not your fault – what you have been told so far might have all been very wrong – the reason why you cannot lose weight is because the best exercise to lose weight is not aerobic training.  This article will explain why – and will also teach you how to spend significantly LESS time exercising and get MORE results.

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5/3/1 strength program: how to get consistent results

5/3/1 strength training

In this article, we will explore the 5/3/1 training program.

Strength training is almost an art.  Sure, you can pick up heavy weight in any shape or form and move it around – and (because moving any weight requires muscle power and repetitive heavy weight training leads to adaptation that makes any muscle stronger) you will, no doubt, get some results.  Those results may be especially impressive if you are just starting out – at that point you may not even care much about how structured your exercise is.

But, remember – we are not after just any gains at any cost.  We are after the best possible gains we can get using the least amount of effort and time in the safest way possible.  Inevitably, then, after most people settle on which specific exercises to do – they start wondering how exactly to structure their training sessions.  The number of sets, reps and weight increments are all very important variables that serve a specific purpose.  They are somewhat interdependent, but finding the right equilibrium for your specific goals is key to making sure you keep improving.

This is why you might want to follow tried and true protocols created by people who understand how tweaking each of the variables influences your results.  You, on the other hand, do not necessarily need to understand why or how they work – you just need to find an effective protocol and apply it to your training.

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What to bring to the gym: 10 gym bag essentials for better exercise

10 gym bag essentials

As a gym-goer, you may worry about many things – what to wear to the gym, whether it’s easier to exercise at home, how to stay motivated.  etc.  But if one of your dilemmas is what to bring to the gym – with our list of 10 gym bag essentials below you can now have one less thing to worry about.

With so many gyms offering so much equipment and additional services – why would you ever bring anything other than a change of clothes?  Well, the items listed below – despite their affordability and usefulness – are typically not offered widely at commercial gyms, although there may be some exceptions.  Some personal trainers may have and use a few of these with their clients, but if you do not have a personal trainer – you may be out of luck.  Most of the time any of these 10 gym bag essentials – because they are small, personal items – have to be purchased by you.  The good thing is that they are easy to get from your local sporting goods store or online – and relatively inexpensive.

These 10 gym bag essentials are not absolutely crucial for getting results.  You can go your entire life without them and still progress notably.  If you ask me, however, rather than worry about color-coordinated trendy clothes or some latest fitness shoes (most of the time these are useless for serious lifting anyway), or worse – what expensive wireless headphones you show off while you exercise – I would rather worry about these basics, as they can significantly improve your experience and give you that slight edge.

Keep these items in your gym bag all the time – and you will always be ready for the best workout.

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How to get back in shape: the ultra-simple diet and exercise plan

how to get back in shape

“I have never exercised in my life – how do I start?” – this is the question a lot of people ask when what they see in the mirror becomes unflattering and they start wondering how to get back in shape.

We all know – life happens.  You grow older, get married, have kids, get a desk job, settle down, and get busier with life, but less physically active, nevertheless.  You quickly grab whatever food is convenient and quick as opposed to what is good.

Modern technology makes basic tasks that previously required active participation (like shopping for anything you can imagine) possible with a tap on the screen of your smart device.  Machines removed the need for physical labor.  Social media often serves as a substitute for outdoor activities where you might meet (and play with) real people face to face.  Figuring out how to get back in shape (and stay in shape) under these circumstances may be difficult.

Even if you were fit at some point as a teenager, the question of how to get back in shape becomes more and more relevant as you grow older.  Current statistics, highlighting sedentary lifestyles and less than stellar dietary habits, are not very reassuring – more than 80% of adults in the US do not meet physical activity guidelines.  More than one third of US kids – who often carry their habits into adulthood – are getting a significant proportion of daily nutrition from fast food.  In Canada only 17% of men and 14% of women engage in the recommended amount of physical activity and about 69% of Canadian adults are sedentary. Europe is not far behind – 6 in every 10 adults above 15 years of age rarely or never engage in any sport and more than 50% never engage in any physical activity, with the trend going down, not up. European Commission reports that 52% of European adults are overweight or obese – mostly as a result of the same bad dietary habits.

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Are Separate Arm Workouts Worth It?

Strong arm workouts

Why arm workouts are so popular

No matter what objectives you have with your training, arm workouts consistently remain a popular topic for weight lifters, bodybuilders or competitive team athletes.

This is because having muscular and strong arms is both aesthetically pleasing and functionally beneficial.  Not only are large arm muscles pretty much synonymous with strength and masculinity (one of the first things an amateur gym enthusiast does is start doing biceps curls to look better in a T-shirt), but well-developed and strong arm muscles assist and provide stability in larger compound lifts and help in various sports.

Understandably, arm workouts are very popular among athletes of various degrees of experience.  How do these fit into the philosophy of big lifts and mostly compound body exercises?

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