Posted by: robertim | September 14, 2011

New Foods! Miracle Noodles

So, I’m still moving steadily along on my goal to cut for halloween. Last week was just a challenge to eat primal, but this week is a challenge to eat less than 2500 calories a day. I know most of you are thinking that’s pretty easy, but as my body and workout demands probably requires almost twice that, its been interesting. It also forces me to make better food choices, because I still need to get at least 200 grams of protein in my diet, and Ideally 1 gram per pound body weight (256 and dropping). Thus my food choices have to be filling, but also delicious. And of course, every once in a while, I crave ramen, not so much because its good, but because I ate it all during my childhood and I have fond memories of maruchan cup noodles (not even kidding).

In comes Miracle noodles!

Already giving it points for looks!

No matter how primal/paleo you are, meatballs will never seem to go right without noodles, and certain dishes just require rice. In come the line of Miracle noodle products. Derived from the konjac (or a similar) plant, these noodles are essentially all fiber. This makes them pretty much calorie-less. Many claim a side benefit is that these noodles can help control cholesterol and blood sugar levels. OF course, that makes sense since you are adding more fiber to your diet while simultaneously (probably) ridding your diet of traditional pastas which always act to spike blood sugar when they are digested quickly.

As much as that would help my weight loss efforts, I care about taste and presentation first and foremost. I’m happy to stay that these noodles, actually look like noodles, unlike some of the whole grain pasta contraptions that have come out more and more recently. Right out of the package they are almost ready to go, though they retain some of the original smell of the plant from which they are derived (not bad, but probably more of a mushroom than pasta smell). You just rinse the noodles for a few seconds, and then boil them for a minute or so to warm them up. Now, I have to admit, I never tried eating a bowl of these noodles straight up because, well, I don’t like to eat just noodles. However, they do absorb sauces and seasoning quite well, and they have gone well with every stir fry and spaghetti dish I have made so far. They also have miracle rice, and that works well too, though the texture is more of slightly over cooked rice in my opinion.

Anyway, I give it 2 thumbs up, just another tool in the arsenal of healthy living.

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Posted by: robertim | September 7, 2011

Cutting and New Food

So, this will be a pretty quick post, but I have started cutting weight. Why, you ask? I’ll tell you. See, last fall, when I bulked, I took a no hold barred approach. No food or amount of calories was off limits, and in the end, it helped me reach a 350 lb bench press, but also added 28 pounds to my bulk (252-280 lbs in 5 months). After this last spring, I reached 247, and stabilized around 250 lbs. I decided at that point I wouldn’t go over 260 lbs again with my next bulk. As I just hit that point (weighed in at 262 lbs last friday), and having gone through 12 weeks of a strength phase (can’t believe I made it), and having considerably upped my strength (new maxes on the close grip bench, and new pain tolerances at least on the squat), AND my halloween costume depends on abs (don’t ask), I’m cutting.

Since everything is an experiment, I’ve also started using new tools for this cut. I’m doing a food log, in the new style. Right now, I’m using My Fitness Pal (http://www.myfitnesspal.com/food/diary/Shadowknight297) to record weight changes, and the food I eat daily. It helps me be brutally honest, as well as prevents me from doing things I might regret (eating a cake for instance). I also log things about the day, energy levels, etc, on the main page. I feel like there is alot more I can do with this, and I will be exploring this tool more in depth and reviewing it after the whole process. Oh, an done more thing. Let’s try to drop below 247 lbs. Could work this time.

Gotta run today, but, you can see further posts on the fitness pal site!

Posted by: robertim | August 31, 2011

Take Those Shoes Off! Adventures in Minimalist Shoe Lifting

So, I’ve been really curious about feet lately. See, I’m a big proponent of knowing your sport and finding new interesting ways to advance. And recently, I’ve come a across a number of articles about barefoot running, barefoot lifting, and living barefoot in general. Usually I’d shrug this off as a fad, but one thing about these articles that caught my eye was that pain reduction and strength gains where a common thread. I usually lift in cross trainers, and I am used to having excessive knee pain after every squat and heavy deadlift session… I just thought it was part of the game. But, after reading these articles, I decided to embark on a two month long experiment on the switch to minimalist footwear.

First, Some Anatomy

The foot isn’t just a useless sack of bones and muscles that are attached to your legs. They are actually quite complex structures, one of the mos complex musculoskeletal structures in your body. It is composed of 26 bones, 33 joints, and a slew of muscles, tendons, and ligaments that hold everything together in delicate balance.

Yup, this is just the top of your foot (Wikipedia)

In addition to all this, your foot has thousands of nerve endings, which are made for sensing changes in the surfaces you are walking/running/moving on. This is where the dangers associated with shoes comes in. For one thing, in order to grow and get stronger, every musculoskeletal system needs resistance, or needs to work. Your quadriceps won’t get bigger if you never lift or sprint, your biceps won’t get bigger if you never curl (but NEVER in the squat rack), your endurance doesn’t go up unless you routinely challenge your heart and lungs. However, with shoes, you’ve effectively cut your feet off from sensory input as well as change the natural biomechanics of your gait. Additionally, you force the various tendons, ligaments, and muscles to shorten, lengthen, and overall develop improperly because shoes force the feet to both strike the ground differently and align the many structures differently during these improper strikes. Multiply all this by the thousands of repetitions you get walking improperly daily and you have a recipe for disaster.

So What Can You Do?

Simple. Walk, lift, and live barefoot. Okay, maybe not so simple. We don’t all have the luxury of living or working in areas where this is simple. Additionally, there are many hazards to consider that making going barefoot dangerous. However, you can get pretty darn close.

Knowing that this could be a potentially painful experience, I waded in slowly and suggest you do the same. This is definitely not something you should go zero to 100 in. The first stop: Converse Chucks!

Yes that is sexy green leopard print!

These were a special gift from my breakdancing days and a perfect start in the barefoot journey. These shoes have been used by lifters for years, if not decades. I lifted in these for about two months before my next jump and I noticed a few things. One, my feet got wider. You don’t want to get tight chucks, because as you ditch more restrictive shoes, you’ll give your feet a chance to spread more. I was worried a little about ankle support, so I got the high tops. Also, the soles are thing and completely flat, so its the the closest you can get to lifting barefoot while in shoes, in my opinion. Another surprise was that my knee pain started to decrease. In my opinion, based on my reading, my old cross trainers just put my feet, and my proxy, my knees and legs in a biomechanically disadvantageous position for the lifts. Since I’ve already had knee injuries, I was just exacerbating those old wounds with my poor shoe choice.

Step 2: Vibrams!

Fancy!

I’m about 2 weeks of heavy lifting in with these and I love them. Now, I admit, it hasn’t been all great. my ankles and balls of my feet took quite a beating the first week, because you essentially have to relearn how to walk (see the picture toward the beginning). In fact, I often found myself wanting to fall backwards (or swag stepping) because the heel strike is so much less dramatic. However, I have already adjusted, probably thanks in part to using the chucks. Additionally, I have started to wear them everywhere, so much so that the only time I wear sneakers is when I am doing something where I think my foot will need the extra protection from the top. Lifting wise, Vibrams get good grip, and I don’t need to adjust my position to account for my shoes. I also like that it drops me slightly closer to the ground during the deadlift, which in my opinion, make sit easier to get that initial squat and leg drive. I’ve tried playing flag football, and they work quite well on grassy surfaces. They fit like gloves for your feet, and have opened my up to a ton of new sensations, as well as made me more cognizant of where I step and how I move. I think one New York Mag author put it aptly that its like going from only seeing things at eye level to having to really feel the entire world around you as you move. In short, I am a fan.

I’ll cut it off here, and leave links to great articles on lifting and living barefoot. But the transition has been good to me, and I hope you’ll at least consider it in your sport of choice.

http://www.t-nation.com/free_online_article/sports_body_training_performance/go_barefoot_to_get_stronger

http://nymag.com/health/features/46213/

Posted by: robertim | August 24, 2011

New Season, New Challenges

For many of you readers, its still pretty warm out. In Ithaca, the mornings are getting colder and colder, and I can just tell fall is approaching. After getting close to my goals and reformulating them, I’ve decided to tack on a few more goals (and some shameless plugs).

Here’s my list:

1. Improve one of my best lifts in the big three (bench, deadlift, squat) by december. You already knew this. Oh yea, and staying at a decent (~255 lb) weight.

2. Start wearing minimalist shoes and write an objective opinion on them. I just got vibrams, and I’ve now lifted in about 6 different kind of shoes so expect the report soon.

3. Get the team back in order. The summer undid or stalled alot of progress, but also made us reevaluate our goals.

4. Train Liz! I’m bringing her onto the team and gonna help her on her journey. You may know of her blog here (http://ihateskinnypeople.wordpress.com/). Well, the summer in NYC was rough, but now its over, and I’m going to be overly ambitious with her. I think this as one of my first tests in directly training someone. I will bring more details about this journey soon.

5. Use Young Smash as a guinea pig for stuff. He is alot more open and knowledgeable of the supplement and equipment world than me, so I want to get his take on a bunch of different things. He might die….

6. One new recipe at least bi-weekly and post it.

7. Along that vein, try different types of raw, organic, and natural foods, probably starting with milk (http://daretodigdeeper.blogspot.com/2011/07/homemade-yogurt-from-raw-milk.html)

8. Try alternative forms of working out (swimming, climbing…running…eh, not)

9. Not kill all the undergrads who just got back and are lifting at my gym, using equipment wrong.

Ambitious but we all need lists. What are your goals for the fall?

Posted by: robertim | August 17, 2011

Clean Bulk! Delicious Food to get you Bigger and Stronger

So, it is pretty useless in my opinion to lift heavy unless you are going to eat more and plan on gaining some mass (not fat, mass). As I’ve written before, lifting is the stimulus; food and recovery will be huge determinants as to whether you are actually getting stronger and gaining more mass or just tearing your body down. That being said, a classic way to do this has been the dirty bulk. This basically means lifting heavy and eating everything and anything on hand. Then cutting in the spring, or eating super clean and primal to lose all that unwanted fat that came with your bulk.

Now if you are serious about gaining strength, mass, and muscle development, you are going to have to admit to yourself that you will inevitably gain a little fat and may lose that prime ab etching you worked so hard to get for the summer. Thankfully, the fall is coming, which means no one will see your abs and its alot easier to fill out a sweater when your a bigger, stronger person. All this being said, the old style of bulking is to all intents and purposes, terrible for your general health, longevity, and your musculoskeletal system (think rampant inflammation). Thus we come to the clean bulk. This is the idea that essentially, when you what to gain mass, you just need to eat above maintenance levels of calories. The easiest way, of course, is to do this with chocolate and fast food. However, with the proper food choices and recipes, you can achieve your goals without hurting you longtime health. In short, just eat more good food instead of eating whats most convenient- the crux of the whole primal style.

Enough of my babble, here are two such recipes that can be used for bulking or just for the fact that they are delicious.

Coconut Curried Tilapia:

At some point we have all eaten fried fish and it is delicious (and I don’t mean those “fish fillets” at McDonalds). However, most restaurant versions are fried in omega-6 heavy, rancid oils, and overly breaded in a wheat or corn based mixture. So I basically just switched out the bad stuff for the good stuff.

Ingredients:
-Coconut Flour (1 cup)
-Jamaican Curry Powder (1/3 cup)
-Red crushed pepper flakes (2 tbsp)
-Garlic powder (1 tbsp)
-Black Pepper (1 tbsp)
-1-2 eggs
-Tilapia (or fish of your choice)
-Coconut oil (if not available, omega-3 enriched butter or olive oil will do)

1. Breading -> Mix the coconut flour, curry powder, pepper flakes, garlic, and black pepper in a bag. The best way to do this is to taste. Personally, I used the above proportions because I wanted a more curry and peppery taste. Quick aside, if you have never used Coconut flour before, you’ll notice is has a sweet taste/smell like..well… a coconut. It also absorbs liquid like a champion. More on this in a second.
2. Beat the eggs as if you were going to scramble them, and them dip the tilapia fillet in the egg mixture.
3. Bread the tilapia. Its easiest if you pour the breading mixture onto a plate and then dust the tilapia fillet with it.
4. Flash fry the tilapia in coconut oil. A couple things here. Its best to use a frying pan, but to not turn the temperature up to high. You want to lightly fry the tilapia, just enough to make it crispy. Essentially, you will slip it into the pan, turn it in 10-20 seconds, and then take it out. Also, if you have never used coconut oil, note that it is a) expensive but worth it and b) solid at room temp.
5. Bake the flash fried tilapia at 350 degrees for 10 minutes.

To make this a true bulking mean, I ate this over a bed of black beans and red peppers. Oh an dthat drink is just diet gingerale with a handful of frozen blueberries thrown in. Amazing.

Now, say you want some dessert. Well, got that covered too.

Almond Flour Raspberry Choco-Peanut Butter Cookies

I somehow lost the picture, but hey, you can picture cookies right?

Ingredients:
-1 cup almond flour
-1/4 cup butter, room temperature
-1/4 cup of half splenda and half raw sugar (I almost feel like its not necessary, but its what I used)
-1 egg
-1/4 teaspoon salt
-Dash of raspberry extract
-1/4 teaspoon baking soda
-1/2 cup of PB2

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees
2. Mix all the ingredients together, starting with the dry ingredients.
3. When you have a nice, thick cookie dough like consistency (if you are not there, use more PB2), place in even amounts on parchment paper (okay, I made a bunch of large cookies, but to each his own).
4. Bake for 10-12 minutes, cool, and serve

You can go alot of ways with this recipe. Due to the almonds, you get large amounts of good fats (great for bulking and feeling full). Why raspberry, you ask? Well, I didn’t have vanilla. But after using raspberry, the taste was unique and delicious so I think experimenting with alot of different extracts and not what seems right is the way to go. I also tried this with coconut flour, however, as I said before, it sucks up moisture because of the high fiber content (8 grams of carbs, but 5 grams of fiber per serving, which is either 1/8 cup). It required 3 eggs and a cup of water just to get it all to mix. And they came out like mini biscuits… something to work on. I also tried coconut flour because the fat content is less and you save 40 calories per serving as opposed to almond flour. Still, I find almond flour easier to use for right now.

More recipes to come!

Posted by: robertim | August 10, 2011

Just Do It! UPA !

As you know, I am currently in a strength building phase. For the longest time I haven’t been able to break 500 lbs int he full squat and I think this is the year to do it. My goal is to hit a 500 lb squat before the year end, while maintaining a 350 lbs bench press and hopefully going above and beyond 600 lbs in the deadlift. Strength indeed.

Anyway, I’ve written before, that the longer you lift the more you tend to gravitate toward your comfort zones and push yourself less. I’ve gone through whole stretches of training sessions where I’ve not felt sore even a little bit. I usually chalked it up to fish oil, a great diet, or restorative measures like ice, stretching and the like. But usually, it’s really a matter of one thing: I am no longer kicking my own ass. I rarely have trouble pushing other members of the lifting team and I always push them harder and higher than they think they can go with great results. Pushing myself is another matter. And sometimes I need a little inspiration.

I read an article a while back about inspiration and your goals. Whether you want to sprint faster or lift more, once you find your comfort zone, its hard to get out of it. The article also asked if you were the strongest motherf****r in your gym? Why? Because if you were, you’d have a hard time getting any better. Once your the best, even in you’re little sphere of influence, its hard to find the will to train harder. The article also claimed that you weren’t a real athlete; a runner, a powerlifter, a fighter, whatever; until you actually got into your sport. Until you studied it, went to meets, participated. Until then, you were just a guy/girl who ran or lifted stuff.

All these thoughts in mind, I went to my first Powerlifting meet this past weekend. It was the United Powerlifting Association (UPA) Pro/Amateur Meet, held at Ultimate Athletics in Ithaca, NY. I had no idea what to expect and I didn’t know what meet etiquette was so I just walked in with Young Smash, sat down, and shut up. The meet started with the squat, and the first flight that went blew me away. In the 108 weight class a kid squatted 155 lbs. He couldn’t have been more than 12 or 13, if that. I thought he was 10! Various athletes went on to squat between 300 and 400 lbs. Most of these athletes were easily below the 220 lb weight class. You could say, pound for pound, I was on par with most of them. What blew me away was the following:

HOLY Crap! Yes folks, this grandma CAN squat more than you!

This lady, one Ms. Shirley Cole, was a masters class (above 55 years old) woman, and her final squat was 355 lbs! Yup… And from there, the competition only got better! The second flight of contestants had squats ranging from 500 lbs to Mr. Bill Crawford who squatted 800 lbs in the 275 weight class (my current weight class). I must also point out that this was a gear free meet: only belts and knee wraps at most were used.

The Bench presses and deadlifts were equally impressive. I can not say whether I would do well in the deadlift. On the one hand, I can deadlift 600 lbs, but on the other I have never tried it after a max squat and bench press. Results can be found here: http://www.upapower.com/downloads/resultsfor08062011meet.pdf

After that meet, Young Smash and I re-evaluated our goals. We were both getting complacent. I thought about my own personal excuses, ones you might think in you’re own training: “I want to keep my bodyfat low so I can’t eat more,” “I need to do more accessory work to bring up weak points,” “I should fix my flexibility/mobility first,” “I don’t have time,” and the list goes on. There are ways around all of the nonsense, and at a certain point, you just have to ask yourself if you want to get stronger/leaner/faster and then do it! So I’m gonna train hard, train smart, and at the next meet, I won’t be sitting on the sidelines in awe. I’ll be down in the trenches with the rest of those lifters, giving it my best shot.

In summation, what are your goals? What is your sport? And why do you do what you do? Even just losing weight and living healthier should be a commitment to learning more about yourself, your body, and the methods you are using. Don’t let yourself stagnate. If you are the strongest motherf****r in your gym, find a new gym!

600 lbs! New Goals! New Motivation!

Posted by: robertim | July 27, 2011

New Goals, Changes, etc

So, over the course of the next few weeks things are gonna change around the Great Ab Race. I think writing only once a week helps me write good quality articles and not the first thing that pops into my head, as opposed to three articles a week. That being said, I think I have a few dedicated readers, and once a week might not be enough for them. I’m planning on switching back to at least a wednesday/friday update, and possibly a monday update too. The difference will be, Monday’s will just be a lifting update, as I would like to keep my training log on the blog again, Wednesday will be an actual article full of the good stuff you’re used to, and friday will be 2 or 3 links on interesting articles around the web. I’ll also be working to categorize the rest of the posts and articles I’ve written, as I am sure I’ve only done this for half.

Next, a change of goals. As I’ve written before, dropping down to single digit bodyfat was killing me. My joints hurt more, I was tired, and I was losing strength. The terrible side effects of long term dieting and driving yourself into the ground. Thus, I’ve switched up my goals to be more strength focused. I’ve decided to work toward a 500 lb squat. My best, at around 265-270 lbs has been around 450 lbs. I usually get buckled after that, and the only equipment I use is a belt. Now my weight is steady between 252-255 lbs, and I plan to stay within this range til next winter, when I will attempt the cut again to 242, but with far less to go (remember, I was 280 lbs in January). I am confident I can achieve this without a dramatic change in body composition by the end of the winter, as I feel I have the strength, its just a matter of tapping my full potential. I am also rebuilding the rest of my body. My right shoulder was a casualty of the Ab Race (probably too many jumping pull ups), and as a result, I’ve changed all my grips to closed grip or supine grip in terms on pressing. I also can not comfortably press overhead or inclined for the time being. Finally, I’ve switched from full body to “body area” training, splitting the days between quadraceps, chest and triceps, back and biceps, and hamstrings/back. My new program looks something like this:

Mon
Back Squat
Goblet Squat
Leg Press
Leg Extension
DB Swings

Tues
Close Grip Bench
Supine Grip DB Bench
Overhead Tricep Extension
Tricep pulldown/Pec Deck superset
Cable Crunch

Thurs
Romanian Deadlift
Good Morning
Heavy Hammer Curl
Leg Curl/DB quarter Squat superset
DB Swings

Fri
Weighted pull ups (supine grip)
Bent over row
Reverse flys
Lat pulldown/seated row super set
Weighted Leg lifts

Set/rep scheme is 4X10,8,6,4 for the first three, and 3X8 on the super sets. I take liberties on this, as on the heavier weeks, I tend to need to break down the reps to get to the highest working weight without burning myself out. DB swings and abdominal work is usually sets between the 10-20 rep range. The program might look a little eclectic, but it helps me address some major issues with my squat, chiefly, that my back collapses before my legs ever give out in strength. Through back heavy programming, I hope to address this. Additionally, I am using a 4 week cycle:

Week 1: Heavy (70-80% of 1 RM)
Week 2: Moderate ( 50-70%)
Week 3: Super Heavy (80%-90%)
Week 4: Deload (20-40%)

As for the Lifting team, another part of the reason I’ve been writing less is that we have expanded…alot. We have about 3 new members, with a potential 4th on the way. Young Smash will be getting back at the end of the week, and we will be planning how to approach our strength training in the fall. We could use this cycle, or we might try a program written by Christian Thibadeau. Either way it will be intense.

So that’s whats going on and what’s to come! Hope you stay tuned in!

Posted by: robertim | July 20, 2011

Stronger in 40 – Dan John’s 40 day program

3X10, 3X8, 4X12, 5X5, 3X3… Anyone who has been lifting long enough, especially if they were taught to lift in high school, will probably immediately recognize those numbers as common set/rep schemes. 3X10’s and 4X12’s are commonly used for “Hypertrophy” or as an introductory program for newbies. Many experts will argue that it’s ineffective for one reason or another (as experts will), but I do find there is some merit to having someone do a large number of reps with light weight and correct form so that that form is drilled into the body. On the other end of the spectrum, 5X5 and 3X3 is used for strength building: low Reps and high weight and gain strength as quickly as possible without impeding recover of the the muscles, tendons, and ligaments that high reps can often put you at risk for over long periods of time.

Last year, on my first go around dropping weight, I tried something that was completely counter intuitive to these notions, and I figured I would right about it here. It’s 10-5-5-10 and it has the potential to kick your ass.

How did I come up with that? Well, I was searching for a fat loss lifting program that would torch body fat and let me build strength. Yup, like a newbie I was looking for fat loss and strength gains. As I read everything Dan John writes, I stumbled upon his 40 day program. For fat loss, that was both the simplest and hardest part. It’s all about diet. Whether you go primal or do something like the velocity diet, fat loss will only come with discipline. As for the lifting program, he recommends for the next 40 lifts, doing the SAME thing! That was kind of earth shattering for me, as depending on how many times a week you lift, that could be the same 5 lifts for 8-13 weeks. The imbalanced development alarms were going off in my head. However, he proposed a very balanced approach; 5 lifts, including the a warm up lift with goblet squats or overhead squat, including:

1. A deadlift (he’s says a posterior chain movement, but we all know this means deadlift)
2. Upper body push (bench press variation)
3. Upper body pull (row or pull up)
4. A simple full-body explosive move (Dumbbell swings)
5. Something Abdominal

He proposes you do 2 sets of 5 on the first three, and one set of 20-50 and 5, respectively on the last 2. Additionally, you don’t worry about progress you just strive to do you’re best everyday. That being said, it seemed to me relatively hard to do without warming up as I have bad joints, and I was overweight, and as much as dieting helps, I wanted a little extra push from the weight training side. I effectively tacked on 2 sets of ten at the beginning and end of the lifts. The first set of 10 was to be ~50% of what you’re first set of 5 was going to be and the last set of 10 was going to be 50% of what the last set of five was. Each week, I workout I would strive to either do better than or the same as the lift before, even if it was just an increase of 5 lbs on one of the sets. I find that this enables you to both warm up and get the high reps that speed fat loss and initiate hypertrophy. And at the end of this, I was able to pull my first 600 lb deadlift. I kept the recommendations for the explosive movement the same, but I made number the abdominal movement 3X5. Additionally, I used a weighted abdominal movement, like weighted leg lifts or cable crunches. Few people realize that like all muscles in the body, if you want the abdominals to grow, they need to be weighted, not just “crunched” a thousand times a day.

As I’ve written before, I love reading and performing Dan John’s lifting regimens. He always works to simplify, and sometimes, we get way to caught up trying to learn and do new and interesting things that we stray away from the classic lifts that will benefit us the most and rocket our progress. If you find yourself stagnating, you might want to try the 40 day program. Do it right and you will torch fat, and add some pounds to your maxes.

For More info on the 40 Day Program, check here: http://www.t-nation.com/free_online_article/sports_body_training_performance/the_40day_program

Posted by: robertim | July 13, 2011

Summer Reading List!

So, I am into the 4th week of my new program and love it. I will post the details of it soon, but in a nutshell, its 4 week cycles that range from deload to “Super heavy” weeks. This cycle has already taught me alot. As with all things in life, you are rarely done learning because new information is always being generated, whether its in labs or down in the trenches with “real” people. That being said, here are a few books I’ve read/am planning to read that taught me alot about lifting and nutrition. Reading just any one of these will drop a huge knowledge bomb on you and help you lift and live better and stronger.

1. Delavier’s Strength Training anatomy:

This one, in its third addition, is a guilty pleasure of mine, as I’m at heart, a geeky bioengineer and anatomy interests me. However, there are various benefits to having this book. First and foremost, it will introduce you to the “anatomy” of the lifts. Are you one of those people who stills says I train arms on this day or legs on this day, but can’t tell the difference between bicep, tricep, quadracep, or hamstring based work? If someone tells you you are working the posterior chain, do you stare blankly? Then this book is for you. Even more impressive, there are over 600 illustrations in shocking details of what muscles and tendons are being used primarily and what is being used secondarily in many lifts. In this newest edition, there are also a number of pages about proper lifting form and common injuries you may suffer from improper lifting form. A great resource

2. Dan John’s Never Let Go:

This was actually the first book about lifting I ever read. It is a great rambling tome that reaches on a number of topics, from diet, nutrition, different lifting programs, and various epiphanies on life and learning that you could only learn from being a coach and competitor in a number of sports for decades. This guy has been around and has trained many athletes in many sports. In fact, if you’ve followed my blog, many of the workouts or pieces of advice that are my favorite come from Dan John’s sage like words of wisdom (my love of goblets squats and dumbbell swings, being one of them). One thing the book left me with is the need for simplicity sometimes… not just in lifting but in life.

3. Mark Sisson’s Primal Blueprint

I’ve paid homage to this book a number of times, but I think I owe alot of my current dieting success, as well as the ability to keep my weight low to the primal lifestyle. His book touches on more than just nutrition, and includes chapters on primal style workouts and other life changes. Its been a truly insightful look into how what we eat and do effects our bodies, and that translate directly into strength gains and fat loss.

4. Eric Cressesy’s Magnificent Mobility

This book I is currently on my docket to read, though I have read parts of it, and they have helped me dramatically. As I started saying in the beginning of this post, new information is always being generated so why not utilize it? How do you warm up? Do you still jog for a few minutes and do some static stretching? Well, you might be…no..you are doing yourself a disservice. This book describes a plethora of stretch techniques and mobilities drills that will help you keep you’re joints and muscle happier and healthier, with the added benefit of helping you perform better. I’ve incorporated some of the movements he lists into my stretch routine every morning, and have notice significantly better mobility which has made squatting to proper depth easier.

These books are on the whole, inexpensive and can save you from worlds of hurt or health problem down the line. As the say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Posted by: robertim | July 6, 2011

BCAAs: Rarely Spoken of, yet so Powerful

My traveling has finally stopped a bit, but it has left me a bit ragged. That being said, I am currently embarking on a strength training as dieting has left me looking good, but weak and injured. I think I have hit that point where being strong is more important than having abs. That being said, I am not going to abandon the body I have now, as I put too much work into getting here. I am just gonna train back up to my previous strength levels. Somehow.

Anyway, two things happen to me quite often around the weight room. One, as I mentioned before, is that I always get asked what supplements I take, as though I could afford thousands of dollars worth of creatine, nitrous oxide booster (what do those do anyway), and fat loss stimulants. The second is well, I ask people who train with me that exact question; or at least, I ask them what they do for recovery. By now, most lifters I know at least use fish oil, if an underpowered one. But many of then, if not all, have never tried or sometimes, even heard of BCAAs. Yet this little talked about supplement can have a profound impact on you’re physique and recovery.

So, what are BCAAs. Well, I’ve actually mentioned them before a few months ago. To summarize, BCAA stands for branched chain amino acids and “the BCAAs are among the nine essential amino acids for humans, accounting for 35% of the essential amino acids in muscle proteins and 40% of the preformed amino acids required by mammals”(1). The three BCAAs are leucine, isoleucine, and Valine (remember those from you’re biology/biochem class?). These amino acids are metabolized in the skeletal muscle, which is important for a number of reasons. Most importantly (for lifters, anyway) is that these amino acids can be used to directly rebuild muscle after they have been damaged or they can be used for fuel in the muscle. Whether they are used for fuel or muscle synthesis is highly dependent on diet: if you are getting adequate protein and nutrient intake, then they BCAAs will be used for muscle synthesis efficiently. If not, well, you’re muscles will need that extra fuel to maintain themselves.

This is where supplementing with extra BCAAs, much like supplementing with vitamins, comes into play. These three amino acids are not synthesized in the body, so adequate protein intake is the only way to get them. In conjunction with a good diet, supplementing with BCAAs can increase protein synthesis and alleviate muscle fatigue faster than without supplementing (2). BCAAs may also be anti-catabolic in nature, preventing excess muscle breakdown during workouts.

So, how should you supplement with them? Well, there are tons of recommendations out there. Many coaches recommend anywhere from 20-50 extra grams of BCAAS during the course of a training day. This would be broken up in terms of 5-10 grams upon waking, during the workout, and the rest split throughout the day. Some professionals also use BCAAs if the wake up at night to prevent excess catabolic activities in the muscle while sleeping, especially after a hard day of training. I have tried a few protocols. I do not wake up much in the middle of the night, and my breakfast is high in protein, so I never felt the need to take BCAAs in the middle of the night or upon waking. That being said, during strength phases, I’ll routinely take 5 grams pre workout and 5 grams mid workout. Then I’ll space out another 10-20 grams through out the day every few hours. This works especially well during cutting (weight loss) phases, as it helps with hunger throughout the day when calories are low, you feel hungry all the time, and you can just feel you’re muscles wasting away.

If these recommendations seem expensive, thankfully, they are not. BCAAs are relatively cheep, and you can routinely find bottles of 80 or so 5 grams servings for $20 -$30. It might actually be the least expensive supplement in your arsenal. Personally, as with most things, I use Biotest brand BCAAs. They have ratios of BCAAs found int he same ratios as in the muscle. Does it matter? maybe, but I have never had a problem with this product, only good results. Additionally, their product is in a capsule form for better absorption ( unlike a chalk like tablet that might not be fully absorbed before passing) and the capsule can be broken open and the BCAA powder poured into you’re favorite recipes for a quick protein bump if you’re not one who likes taking multiple pills.

1. Shimomura+. The Journal of Nutrition. 134:1583S-1587S. 2004
2.Sugita M, Ohtani M, Ishii N, Maruyama K, Kobayashi K. Effect of a selected amino acid mixture on the recovery from muscle fatigue during and after eccentric contraction exercise training. Biosci Biotechnol Biochem. 2003 Feb;67(2):372-5

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