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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Weight training for kids – best workout or a way to stunt growth?

weight training for kids

We have previously seen how unsubstantiated fears kept most women away from weights for many decades because someone, somewhere took a liberty of defining women as overly fragile, helpless beings that were unable (and unwilling) to ever lift more than the weight of their purses.  (Of course, producers of 0.5lb barbells missed the fact that just to be prepared for the challenges of everyday life, women would need to lift, push, squat and carry much higher weights – like their own babies).

In any case, hopefully, you realize by now that when we compare males and females – there are more similarities than differences in metabolic pathways, muscular function and useful methods to achieve athletic and health goals.  So this limiting belief does females a great disservice.

But a similar ill advice and unsubstantiated fears are now defining our attitudes towards weight training for kids.  Most parents still have many reservations when it comes to weight training for kids – because they have heard, at some point, that lifting weights stunts growth (and that lifting free weights causes injuries, generally speaking).

How much of it is true?  Does weight lifting stunt grown in children, as many people believe?  Are there benefits of weight training as a part of structured exercise early in life? And, if you are a parent – what should you know about your child’s training protocols?

Let’s try to take a closer look.

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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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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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Skinny Fat: When Losing Weight is Not Good

skinny fat parade

The very first time you hear “skinny fat” – it almost sounds like an oxymoron.  Except – it isn’t.  It actually describes a condition that is quite common, especially among young individuals.  Sure, there is a medical term for it that you might prefer – MONW (Metabolically Obese Normal Weight), but “skinny fat” is a term that, like a harsh wake-up call, shakes you out of the blissful ignorance and actually highlights everything that is wrong with this condition, instead of hiding behind scientifically sounding terms.

So what is “skinny fat”?  Simply put, it describes a body type that is slim and “low-weight”, but with high proportion of body fat to lean muscle tissue.  On the outside, the problem is not very visible (unless you know what to look for) – skinny fat people can fit into normal-size clothes, eat small portions of what they consider “healthy food” and display no obvious signs of obesity you would typically expect – such as large flabs of body fat, big baggy clothes and heavy mass – so everything seems just fine.

But, generally speaking, “obesity” is a condition where a person has accumulated so much body fat that it might have a negative effect on health – and for the skinny fat, given the relative proportion of such body fat to bone and muscle mass – the definition still holds true.   And even if super skinny people may look healthy, atrophied muscles and low-density bones – coupled with other negative metabolic effects of their chosen lifestyle – significantly elevate the risk of chronic diseases.

Are you skinny fat?  Do you know how to spot the signs?  Let’s see why this is so bad and how to fix this.

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Building muscle after 40 (Part II)

building muscle after 40

Although you cannot change your chronological age, you can control, to a large degree, your biological age – which reflects how well you feel, how well your body functions, how resilient you are to common ailments and the overall quality of your life, including continued ability to participate in the activities you participated in when you were 19. The best way you can do that is to work on building muscle after 40.

In Part I, we saw how detrimental muscle loss can be.  But how do you prevent it?  Should you just accept this and slowly wait for your physical (and mental) demise justifying it by “normal process of aging”?

Not at all – sarcopenia may be a common symptom, but common doesn’t mean “natural”.  And although you may not be able to completely eliminate it, you can – and should – have a big impact on its rate by building up (and maintaining, as much as possible) sufficient reserves of functional and strong muscles.

Even though some evidence suggests that loss of muscle mass may affect even active adults, when you have more muscle mass and better muscular strength to start with –you are in a much better position, because you could, technically, afford to lose more without it affecting your day-to-day function (that’s not to say that you should).  A person like Arnold Schwarzenegger – even with 60% loss of muscle mass accumulated before late 20s – will still be much further ahead than an average adult.

So how do you keep (or even start) building muscle after 40?  Let’s look at a few contributing factors individually.

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Fit at 40 and beyond – Part I (losing muscle mass)

Fit at 40

Can you afford not to be fit at 40 and beyond?

Can you still be fit at 40?  How about 50?  How about when you are older?  Not only you can, but you should – perhaps even more so than during your younger years.  After all, science says that by the time you turn 40, your body starts losing muscle mass and muscular strength, as a result of a condition called sarcopenia, or age-related muscle loss.  Annual rates of muscle wasting and strength loss range from around 1% at 40, to as much as 2.5%-4%, as you approach the age of 70.

Given that the overall body weight often does not change (while the body composition does, as it accumulated more lighter-weight fat and sheds less heavier muscle), the loss of muscle mass is often hard to notice – until it’s too late.  That, by the way, is one of the reasons why you never measure success in reshaping your body in terms of “weight” and focus instead on size and muscular strength.

The true mechanisms of sarcopenia and age-related loss of muscle mass and muscular strength are somewhat unclear and probably include such factors as mitochondrial dysfunction, oxidative stress, a pro-inflammatory state, metabolic inefficiencies, changes in levels of hormones and vitamin D – but physical inactivity is probably the most important contributing factor.

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Nutritional Ketosis, Part II – Ketogenic Diet in Weight Control and Sports

ketogenic diet - bacon-eggs-avocado

(Continued from Part I)

Ketogenic diet and weight loss

One of the primary benefits of ketogenic diet – and also the one that is easy to track – is improved body composition.  Once again, we are not interested in total “weight loss” per se – what we are interested in is reducing body fat, while maintaining lean muscle mass.  Both have profoundly positive effects on health, longevity and quality of life.

Why is ketogenic diet so effective for getting rid of body fat?  Why is it more effective than, say, “low-fat” or “low-calorie” diets, popularized and promoted in the last several decades and still prevailing in the minds of most dieters?

The dogmatic belief that “eating fat will make you fat” is very far from truth.  Not only restricting fat is not the preferred method of weight control (because fats maintain the integrity of your cells, serve as precursors to important hormones – including testosterone, which accelerated lean muscle synthesis and fat burn – and because restricting fats almost inevitably means increasing carbs if you don’t want to starve), but also – restricting fat does not prevent the dreaded cardiovascular disease (because quality fat rarely causes one to begin with) – quite the contrary.

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