Saturday, May 30, 2009

Link Theory Vol. 4

Here's what I've been reading this week:

At T-muscle, Chad Waterbury says that you can Add 20 lbs to Your 1RM Today and Eric Cressey gives us the techniques to Master the Deadlift (part one features the basics, part two discusses standard pulls, and part three is about Sumo-style deadlifts).

At Adam Khan's youmeworks, I've been reading his Antivirus for your Mind series: Antivirus for Your Mind, Moment of Truth, Learners will Inherit the Earth, and Can We Avoid Explaining Setbacks Altogether?

Mark's Daily Apple has a look at supermarket "food" with WTF... Where's the Fat?
At Whole Health Source: a couple of posts on Omega-6 vs. Omega-3, Eicosanoids, and Heart Disease: part one, and part two.
Ross at discusses his version of Simplicity and Specificity.
An article about BPA in plastics.
Finally, take a look at Lance Armstrong's home gym. Looks familiar, huh?

See you on Monday.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Barefoot Secrets, Part One

I thought I was the only nut out there who liked to train barefoot, but the more I watch things develop, I'm realizing I'm wrong. More athletes are realizing the benefits of training barefoot every day, deciding to do their daily routines in barefeet or specially designed shoes to mimic barefooting. Of course, this isn't news to these guys.
Why Barefoot?
Why barefoot? Men have worn shoes for thousands of years. Why would you take a step back to the primitive times before shoes? What's the use of that?
Let me draw a comparison for you. Imagine that you have a cast put on your arm at age two or three years. At night, you take the cast off, but during the day, especially when you go out to play, you are to put the cast on. The cast covers the entire arm and a lot of your hand. As you get older, you get bigger and more elaborate casts, designed to "absorb shock" and actually to help you lift things. It's a cushion around your arm. Imagine that as you get older, you wear it playing sports, you wear it lifting weights, you wear it doing calisthenics or doing just your daily chores.
Imagine that you have to wear this thing every day. Now imagine that you are the age that you are now, and you've worn these casts on one or both of your arms since the day you were born. Here's the question.
"What does that arm look like?" I sincerely doubt that it has an Arnold Schwarzenegger, stage-ready bulge to it. More likely, it is pale, zombiesque revenant's arm, a shrunken, stinky, pale fish of an arm.
Which when you think about it, is exactly what's been happening to your feet all of these years. Barefoot training seeks to restore more natural posture, gait, and movement while strengthening the feet and arches--to take the cast off of your feet for at least part of the day.
Barefoot training is another reason people stare at me and a great reason to work out at home. Pulling heavy deadlifts will get you stares. Pulling heavy and barefoot will get you kicked out.
Only Arnold can train heavy deads barefoot at the gym

The principal problem with shoes
The principal problem with shoes isn't that they make your feet sweaty and gross so much as they distort the way that your foot naturally works. By "stabilizing" and "torsion controlling" and padding everything in sight, your body doesn't know what to do with itself. In fact, studies have shown that you put about 12% LESS pressure on your knees when you aren't wearing shoes.
Here's another way of thinking about it. If you were to be doing some very delicate work with your hands, would you wear a pair of thick woolen mittens, work gloves, a thin pair of surgical gloves, or no gloves at all?
Now consider that the human foot has a density of 200,000 nerve endings--most similar, in fact, to the human hand.

What are the benefits of barefoot walking, running, and training?
Barefoot training will give you a better sense of balance, stronger, more injury resistant feet, ankles, and calves, as well as a more grounded sense of posture. Your posture will improve, and making this change can have far-reaching effects throughout your body, from lower back pain to shoulder problems. In short, imbalances start at the foot.
Conversely, this means that balances start at the foot as well. If you have strong feet, you have a strong root, and you can have strong ankles, calves, thighs, hips, low back. These create the core structure for the entire body.
I have another thought-experiment for you: how often do you do work lying on your back? I would say maybe less than 1% of the time. If you're wrestling a lot, maybe slightly more, but for most people, lying on the back is only a very small percentage of their actual performance time. The solution is to do most of your training standing up. That means ending your love affair with the bench press and getting to know standing military presses instead, preferably in your bare feet.
Some people say that they don't ever do anything physical, and that's sadly true for a lot of Americans. We are only recently in the age of "knowledge work" where it is possible to let the body atrophy. Making money in the recent past has mostly meant a lot of back-breaking work. Now, one has to seek out the opportunity for physical play.

I believe it is our responsibility and our honor to embrace our physical selves, and this means being reborn as the pale, sick, weaklings that we truly are. You have to embrace (or at least face) where you are if you want to go somewhere different, and that goes for being overweight, and that goes for building strength or endurance, and it goes for trying out barefooting or reduced shoes. It means taking a risk and doing things that other people aren't doing. It means doing things that other people might think are silly or destructive.

Eventually, embracing the physical means being the person that your friends call when they move because they know you are tireless and strong. It means having the energy to play with your kids, or having the energy to go hiking all day on the weekends, or being vibrant and alive enough to go for a swim, or lift weights, or do some barefoot sprints in your backyard or in the field near your house. It means creating the synaptic facilitation and balance throughout your system, or in plain English, developing the connection between your feet and your entire body.

Later in the series, we'll talk more about specifics: the "what" the "why" and the "how" of barefoot training. Stay tuned.

Monday, May 25, 2009

How to Search Craigslist

Recently, I've found myself clicking through craigslist approximately 200 times a day. Between four geographical areas near me and a few items that I'm keeping an eye out for (power rack/squat rack with max weight capacity of 800+ lbs., weight trees, Olympic sets, and 45# and 100# plates) I found myself acting like a chain-smoking Vegas grandma playing the slots, hitting "refresh" on four tabs and praying for the good deals to come up.

Photo by Jeff Kubina

The refresh monster came out after I got beat out on a few deals. Let me explain:

Four 100# Olympic plates, $80 (20 cents a pound). I got the email off and it's already gone.

How about this: bench, Olympic weight set, and 15 pound EZ-curl bar, plus weight tree for $50. I offered this guy $75 just to hold on to it long enough for me to come pick it up!

For context, my local Play-It-Again Sports will buy your equipment at these prices: cash 20 cents a pound, trade at 25 cents a pound. They sell at 69 cents a pound for used weights and 89 cents a pound for new, though depending on the type of weight, you can easily pay up to $3-10 a pound.

How do you make sure you're there for the best deals?

For the last week, I was constantly going back to four local craigslists and trying to find the best deals before anyone else. Frankly, it was exhausting me. There had to be a better way.

There is a better way
I learned this technique from Get Rich Slowly. The trick is using RSS feeds to do your bidding. Don't know what RSS is? Check out the short video below:

Notice my feed icon in the upper right hand corner of the screen

So here's the hack. Go to your local craigslist, and enter the search term that you're interested in. Make sure that you're getting the right results, then scroll to the bottom of the screen and check it out: there's an RSS feed to the lower right.

Now you have a feed of just the search terms that you're interested in. I did this for the four cities nearby and four search terms that I'm interested in, then I cleaned up the names of the feeds in google reader so it's clear where the feed is from and what the search term was. Now, I quickly review my feeds, and I'm done, rather than doing my best imitation of a Vegas grandma.

Let me know how it works out for you in the comments. I'll let you know when I make another purchase.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Link Theory Vol. 3

Image by Toni Lazano

Way back in 2002, the Crossfit journal had this great piece about building a garage gym (the checklist at the end is particularly helpful).

Gary Taubes shows up at T-nation for an interview.

Also at T-nation, Dan John brings back the 40-day program from his Feb. 2005 newsletter. And over at Elite FTS, Darren Mallette tells us about how he went from bombing on the bench at 315 to hitting a personal best at 345 in two months on this plan.

I've been reading about how the body can store fat even without carbohydrate here and here. This is why you have to be cautious with your overall calories, not just carbohydrates.

That wraps this edition up--stay tuned for more in the Pulse series, Mnemonic techniques, and some lifting platform advice.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Heavyhands-an 80s fad that deserves another look

I'm getting sick of kids in neon clothes and big Ray-Ban sunglasses like it's 1989. Some fads deserve to stay buried. That being said, I think there are some 80's exercise fads that didn't deserve to die. No, I'm not talking about Jane Fonda, Jazzercise, or Nautilus circuits.

I'm talking about Heavyhands.

Dr. Len Schwartz, Creator of Heavyhands, in his 80s.

Heavyhands is a fusion of weightlifting and aerobics that improves both strength and endurance. It's easier on the joints than running, yet works the entire body, can be done in a small space in front of the TV or in the great outdoors and uses inexpensive equipment (light hex or padded dumbbells ranging from 1-10lbs with a few exercises calling for slightly heavier, 20-40 lb. dumbbells). It spreads the cardiovascular load across your body and allows you to burn more calories at any given level of perceived effort (meaning, it SEEMS easier to burn MORE calories, as your whole body is participating in the effort). For bigger guys like myself (I'm 220 lbs right now, down from a high of 270+) it allows me to get a pretty tough aerobic workout in without the pounding on the joints that running entails.

In its simplest form, heavyhands is just walking while holding weights and using an exaggerated "biceps pump" maneuver. Just this simple move can really boost the calorie burn of your walks. To vary the difficulty, you can vary your pump height, pace, or walking speed. There are, of course, many other maneuvers to try, from overhead presses, shadow-boxing, and double ski-poling (think of the maneuver you use with ski poles to propel yourself forward). All you really need to get started is a couple of 1-5 lb weights and a route to walk or room to march in place.

So what happened? If this system was so darn good, cheap, easy to do anywhere, and effective, why isn't it still with the masses? I can think of a few reasons.

Dr. Schwartz, the creator of the system says (at Clarence Bass' webpage) "Even huge weights don't evoke much aerobic work when hanging inertly... You have to act boldly." That means you actually have to pump the damn weights, high, fast, or both. This had two effects: one, to get a good workout, some people really pumped the weights, and then realized, "hey, this is still hard," and stopped. Runners found that the weights "threw them off their stride," meaning, of course, that even though they were getting a better work out, their egos couldn't get over the fact that they had to go slower. The second effect was that some people just carried the weights around, then found, "Hey, this doesn't work." And these people went back to just walking. You've got to pump the weights high to get the effect you're looking for.

Two: it looks funny. Though I imagine jogging looked funny at first to people as well. I just try to ignore the funny looks I get, pumping weights, but some people aren't as able to ignore it. To those people, I suggest working out in front of the TV.

Three: ironically, I think Heavyhands kind of killed itself because there was so little equipment to buy. Besides a couple of books (Heavyhands: The Ultimate Exercise System and Heavyhands Walking: Walk Your Way to a Lifetime of Fitness With This Revolutionary, Commonsense Exercise System) there were only the weights to buy. The weights have a little handle, but honestly, regular hex dumbbells have worked just as well for me, so it seems likely that there wasn't as much money to be made in the Heavyhands specific dumbbells as they thought initially.

My recommendation? Give 'em a try. In the meantime, you can do a bit more reading about heavyhands at Clarence Bass' website here and here or at the heavyhands blog (which looks defunct but has a good archive). If you need more info, grab the books. They're packed with good information.

I've got more on heavyhands coming up, plus another post on home gyms in apartments, plus the rest of the pulse series, and a mnemonics series, plus some other surprises. Stay tuned.

Monday, May 18, 2009

My Current Workout

Hey, I just wanted to give you guys a taste of what I'm doing with all my home gym equipment right now. This is the basic format that I build my workouts around. I'll give you some of the twists that I've come up with to burn more fat later in the Pulse series.

Here's the basic progression, which comes from Pavel Tsatsouline in his book Enter The Kettlebell! Strength Secret of The Soviet Supermen.

This is my version of the "Rite of Passage" program. The Rite of Passage is to be able to press 50% of your bodyweight and snatch a 24kg (53 lb) kettlebell 200 times in 10 minutes.

M: Light workout
T: "Variety" or off
W: Medium workout
R: "Variety" or off
F: Off
S: Hard workout
U: Off

On variety days, feel free to perform other workouts: do other kettlebell drills, calesthenics, just keep it light and easy. Or take the day off.

On the light, medium and hard days, what I do is alternate sets of chins and presses in a ladder format. You could easily substitute dips and chins if you don't have kettlebells or dumbbells, or just do the presses. You could also alternate bench presses and rows.

I do these as "ladders", meaning you take a short (5-90 second) break in between the sets. You can take a longer break after all the sets in a series are completed. Clarence Bass explains the technique here, and the reasoning here.

These are in the sets x reps format.
Week 1: Light 3 x 1; Medium 3 x {1,2}; Hard 3 x {1,2,3}
Week 2: Light 4 x 1; Medium 4 x {1,2}; Hard 4 x {1,2,3}
Week 3: Light 5 x 1; Medium 5 x {1,2}; Hard 5 x {1,2,3}
Week 4: Light 5 x {1,2}; Medium 5 x {1,2,3}; Hard 5 x {1,2,3,4}
Week 5: Light 5 x {1,2,3}; Medium 5 x {1,2,3,4}; Hard 5 x {1,2,3,4,5}

On the light days, do one clean and many presses, the medium and hard days, perform a clean before each press.

A kettlebell clean and press in good form

Take two days off and test your new maxes with a heavier kettlebell or dumbbell, or test the number of pullups or dips you can now do.

I vary the pullup type on each workout as follows:
I roll two six sided dice and the result indicates the pullup type that I do:

2: Towel Chin
3: Mixed-Grip Chin
4: Wide-Grip Chin
5: Narrow-Grip (hands touching) Chin
6: Standard chin
7: Standard Pullup
8: Narrow (thumbs touching) pullup
9: Wide Pullup
10: Neutral (palms facing) grip pullup
11: Side-to-side pull (pull to left hand, then pull to right hand)
12: Side grip pullup

If you know about probability, then you know that I will be spending most of my time doing numbers 5-9 and less time doing the outliers, so I designed the workout to focus on the basics in the center and only occasionally get into the weirder pullup variations. This is the idea of "different, but the same". You want enough variety to force your body to keep adapting, but not so much that the stimulus is random. Not enough variety leads to staleness (the guy who is still doing the workout that he learned as a beginner) and too much leads to a failure to adapt (just doing Crossfit WODs). The key words then are, "different, but the same".

Each workout is "finished" with swings or snatches. I roll two six sided dice again to determine the length of the finisher, from 2-12 minutes, and I perform 50-60% of my max snatches on the light day, 70-80% of my max swings on medium day, and 100% all out on the hard day. Again, this uses the "same but different" principle, by changing the difficulty and length of the rounds every workout.

I've just completed another cycle with the 32kg (70 lb) kettlebell. Since I weigh 100kg (220lbs) this is 32% of my bodyweight. My next "official" bell is the 40kg (88lb-40% of bodyweight) but I also have another 70lb kettlebell with 10lbs of plates duct taped to the bottom. This throws the weight distribution all off and makes it harder to clean the weight properly, so I'm hoping to bypass the 80lb "ghetto 'bell" altogether and move straight into the 88lb 'bell.

Coming up on Wednesday, a post about an 80s fad that I think should come back. Stay tuned.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Solving the Home Gym Conundrum

I think it's time for some more specifics on building and outfitting a home gym.

Let's take a few different scenarios and see what we can come up with:

1. Unlimited space, unlimited budget. (Suburban livin')
2. Limited space, unlimited budget. (City livin')
3. Unlimited space, limited budget. (Country livin')
4. Limited space, limited budget. (Solitary confinement)

Suburban livin'
The first, and easiest is unlimited space, unlimited budget. Just take exactly what you do at your commercial gym and take it into the home arena. Get the biggest, nicest power rack that you can find, a great olympic set with bumpers, and fill in with whichever other pieces of equipment strike your fancy--adjustable cable crossovers, a full rack of hex dumbbells, glute-ham raise, monolift, leg press, etc. Basically, you can replicate your gym right now, but eliminate the waiting, and increase the quality of some of the equipment (nicer bars that won't bend, nicer bumper plates, better power rack, etc.)

City livin'
A little more interesting is a situation where you have very limited options in terms of space. In this situation, think about the most space efficient equipment that you can: a lifting platform and olympic set, a chinup bar and rings, and kettlebells can all be options if you don't have enough room for a fully fledged gym. I would probably go with some power blocks or some other selectorized or adjustable dumbbell equipment in this scenario, and a simple flat bench. You can store the dumbbells under the bench and push them out of the way when they're not in use. I would probably go running or do calesthenics for cardio.

Country Livin'
If you're set up in a barn or an open field, but you have less than a hundred bucks, this would be your situation. I would prioritize your equipment needs and try to scavenge as much as possible. You can use sledgehammers and hit an old tire (free if you've got the sledge) or calesthencs or jump rope (five bucks) for cardio. For resistance training, I think I would look to do rafter pullups or look for a playground to do dips and chins. Again, try to get a basic olympic set and build a platform, or hang some playground rings for pull ups, muscle ups, and dips. You can push a wheelbarrow filled with scrap metal, build your own sandbags, build your own medicine balls, get a keg from a liquor store, or build your own isometrics devices for very cheap as well. Cinder blocks make for good ways to adjust the height of your exercises: you can do all kinds of varieties of push ups with your feet or hands elevated to change the emphasis.

Solitary Confinement
If you're a teenager living at home, or you live in a dorm, or if you are actually in prison, this is the scenario you find yourself in. A lot of the same things apply to you too. Calesthenics are your friends: burpees and jumping jacks for cardio, pushups, squats, pistols, and pullups if you can find the space. You can vary the height of your pushups using your bed.

Even this very abbreviated type of program can get results, and you don't even need any equipment or much space to begin. So start here, if you have to, and build from there.
Of course, a lot of you are going to have some combination of these, a medium amount of space and a small budget, or a medium budget and medium space. Combine these suggestions appropriately.

So given the time and space, what are the biggest bangs for your buck?

1. Homemade equipment: Ostensibly, this is the cheapest, and you can get a lot of benefit out of filling a bag or a keg with sand.
2. Inexpensive equipment: jump ropes and ab wheels make this very short list.
3. An Olympic set: Just with this, you can get a lot of the benefits of having a home gym. Deadlifts, rows, military presses, curls, Turkish-get-ups. (Add a lifting platform if you need to).
4. A chinup bar: The lats are the biggest muscles in the upper body, and nothing builds the lats better than a chinup bar. Pullups, chinups, hanging leg raises.
5. An adjustable bench: A lot more pressing options open up to you with this piece of equipment.
6. Dumbbells: These can definitely be an option to complement or replace the Olympic set. I would suggest getting adjustable ones to get the most bang for your buck, both in terms of money and adjustability. You can get hex dumbbells, but then you end up spending the same money over and over again. (I.E. if you buy a 70 and 80 pound hex dumbbell, you have to pay for 150 pounds of weights. If you buy a dumbbell handle with 80 pounds, you have both a 70 and 80 pound dumbbell). These are also good if you don't have a training partner or a power rack to spot you.
7. A power rack: If you're really serious about training, eventually, you're going to need a power rack. The issues are both space and money. A power rack can take up as much as 3x3x8 feet, and cost up to $5000. If you're serious about training by yourself, though, there is no replacement for a good power rack. This is where home gyms can become real replacements for commercial gyms.
8. High/low pulley systems: This opens up woodchoppers, lat pulldowns, pullthroughs, low rows, and some other fun options.
9. Adjustable/cable crossover pulley systems This is another fun addition, a little nicer than the last.
10. Serious training stuff If you've gotten to this point, and you're still building up your gym, you probably know what's going to help you reach your goals at this point. If you're trying to lose fat, maybe some cardio equipment would help. If you're gaining muscle, then some machines would be nice. If you're a powerlifter, Dave Tate has advice for you. Start with what I've suggested above and then start thinking in this direction as your budget, space, and ability level allows.

Also, check out this thread to give you some ideas of how other people have solved the home-gym conundrum.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Link Theory Vol. 2

Here's what I've been reading this week.

On the Mind Hacking front:
Michael Lewis talks about the stat revolution coming to the NBA in The No-Stats All-Star.
Po Bronson discusses what's more important: intelligence or effort? in How Not to Talk to Your Kids (The inverse power of praise.)
And I've been reading some new Malcolm Gladwell in How David Beats Goliath.

Please note that I don't like watching NBA basketball (though I do enjoy it when the Nuggets roll over all comers) but I did enjoy all three of these articles.

On the bodyhack front, Johnny Bowden explains why Waist Size Predicts Heart Failure and Dave Tate asks: Are you Sick of your Gym? (parts two-four are very powerlifter-centric).

Coming up: posts on why you should have a home gym, more in the PULSE series, a series about posture and shoes, and a series about memorizing and memory. Stay tuned.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Pulse: Generate GH with GBC

So, from earlier in the Pulse series, we know that you have to generate GH (Growth Hormone) to create fat loss. I'm going to detail here the best way that I know of to release GH when weight training--something called GBC (German Body Composition) by Charles Poliquin.

Here's the short version:
From TC Luoma's How to Deep-six Holiday Fat.

There's a sample workout in that article. For another sample, click here.

For more on this topic, read an article by Charles Poliquin on Advanced GBC, or check out his book on the same topic (Manly Weight Loss: For Men Who Hate Aerobics and Carrot-Stick Diets, Finally, a Weight-Loss Program That Melts the Fat and Spares the Muscle) that explains it in much more thorough detail.

Our take-home point today is simple: to lose fat, incorporate short rest intervals (30-60 seconds) in your weight training.

Coming up in the Pulse series, how to conduct your "aerobics" sessions in order to release more GH, how to release GH by fasting, and how to put all of this together.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Why I have a home gym, and why you should have one too

Why do I have a home gym?
I find working out in a commercial gym annoying. First, there's constantly a wait for the benches and the other equipment that you want, especially if it's busy--try working out in January sometime. Trying to do circuits in a commercial gym is suicide. And don't even get me started on the "no deadlift rule" that a lot of gyms have instituted.

When you add to that the idea that most machines are inferior to most free-weight exercises, then think about all the time and money that you spend on the gym. How much is your membership--$50 a month? And how many people live in your house that use the gym? two? three? How much is gas? And how often are you waiting for equipment? You begin to think that maybe "hey, I could do this better at home."

The truth is, I've had a lot of my best workouts at home. At home, you have complete control over the music that's being played. Trying to have a PR session in the squat or deadlift just doesn't cut it when you're listening to the oldies station that the gym owner insists on. There is no one who wants to talk to you, no one to bother you and no one staring at the weird crap that you do. (Try lifting a kettlebell in a commercial gym sometime. Though I imagine this has gotten better since I last set foot in a commercial gym in 2006, probably not much.) Plus, the ever-present old dude in the shower is conspicuously absent, unless you are the creepy old dude in the showers. (Why is he in the shower when you get there? and still there when you get done, drying his nutsack with the hand dryers: what is that about?) In addition, it forces you to stay with hard, basic exercises, and keeps you off of the leg adduction machine.

So how do you go about building a home gym?
First off, start up with the basics. I will eventually get a power rack, but I started with just a dip/chin station and some kettlebells. Figure out how much you're spending a month on gym memberships, then save up about three months worth. You can get started with that. Garage sales, craigslist, and sales at Sports Authority or Sears, going-out-of-business sales for gyms, plus Play-It-Again Sports. Weights have definitely gotten more expensive with time, but some people have not gotten the memo. Around here, it's 69 cents a pound for used weights at Play-It-Again, and 89 cents for new, but I got my weights for 31 cents a pound with an adjustable bench thrown in for free. I've heard stories of people getting 300 pounds Olympic sets for $20 at garage sales, and dumpsters filled with 100 lb. dumbbells. It happens, and it's all about keeping your eyes peeled for equipment. Once you've set up enough space and set aside some money every month, you'll be surprised at how fast your home gym starts to become very respectable. Let's take a look around my home gym and you can see what I've got:

New Home Gym

I've had a home gym since about 2001. I started simple, with some dumbbells, a flat bench, and some cinder blocks. (You can see some boxes 18" and 24" here, as well as some sledgehammers). Soon I added a chinup bar and olympic barbell set.

Parker's New Home Gym

After a couple of moves, I was down to kettlebells and dumbbells when I moved into my current place. No bench, no chinup bar, so the first thing I bought was a combination dip/chin station. (You can see the corner of my desk in this shot, too: that's my printer.)

I live in a college town, so the entire month before everyone graduates, I comb craigslist to see what's on there. People often have stuff that they don't want to move, and you can have it for a song. You may be able to achieve the same effect by looking from about March through May or June for "spring cleaning". Some people have failed at their New Year's resolutions by then, and their failure can be your gain.


I've got a whiteboard. This is handy for recording your workouts in real time. I'm thinking about putting up a "gym records" board for my PRs (personal records) and a few posters as well.


The calendar is really for planning my workouts out in advance. As you can see, I haven't gone out too far-right now my performance on this week's workouts determines what next week's workouts are supposed to look like. If I was doing a longer cycle, I would note down all of my workouts in advance here. You can also see my "cardio machine"-two jump ropes.

Medicine Balls

Here I've got four homemade medicine balls, some lengths of pipe that I need to make into standard dumbbells, and an adjustable isometric system like the one Bruce Lee used to use. You can start as low-tech as you want and move up from there. Not pictured is a bag of play sand that I use to weight my home-creations.

New Bench

Here's a shot of my new weight bench--the whole works was $100. Keep your eyes peeled for deals!

The byline of my blog is "hacking MIND and body since 2007". I know there's been precious little in the way of mind-hacks lately, but I have some articles about memorization and memory coming up. I've also got another article about home-gyms and more PULSE coming up, as well as a few surprises, so stay tuned.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Link Theory

Hey: not a long post today, just a couple of quick links:

First up, from at Free the Animal: Poison Sugar: In Shocking Pictures. ONE of those cubes is non-diabetic blood sugar for your whole body.
Alwyn Cosgrove, describing why Strategies are Key. Hmm, reminds me of this post.
Klassy Evans describes some mental benefits to fasting in A Fountain of Youth.
Finally, a blast from the past from Dr. Mike Eades, in Low-carb and calories (why you gotta create a calorie deficit, even if you're watching the carbs).


Monday, May 4, 2009

Pulse: Growth Hormone Basics

There's a slight difference between what Gary Taubes says and what Brad Pilon says: Taubes says that the main precondition for fat loss is to lower insulin levels. He does say that you need some other hormonal responses, but that basically everything else is antagonistic to insulin, including growth hormone, adrenaline, noradrenaline, and glucagon.

Pilon says that you can actually suppress fat loss by suppressing GH levels, which I'm not sure about-I'm still doing the research. It is clear that having a high GH level reduces muscle breakdown and inhibits free fatty acids from going back into the fat cells, as well as encouraging the use of free fatty acids for energy.

Basically, what this means is, a low insulin level "opens the fat cells up" and a high GH level will protect your muscle from being burned while encouraging fat to come out of the open fat cells and be burned for energy. This is a great turn of events for fat loss.

So how do you increase GH levels in ways that we can manipulate in our own bodies (without a prescription)?

1. Fasting
2. High protein meals
3. Exercise
4. Sleep

Things are just getting interesting now that we know how to cut calories, control insulin, and increase GH. Stay tuned: we're going to start putting this knowledge into practice.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Eat Fat and Grow Slim

"Eat Fat, Grow Slim" by Richard Mackarness

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Pulse: Macronutrient Basics and Low Carb diets

I concluded the last pulse post with the following:

In order to lose weight:

Eat a low carbohydrate (LC) diet of probably less than 10-15% but definitely less than 40% of energy

But what is a low carb diet? What does this mean exactly? It's time for a lesson in the basics of macronutrient composition.

All the calories that you eat (or drink) are made up of four types of what are called "macronutrients": fat (aka "lipid"), carbohydrate (carb, CHO), protein (PRO), and alcohol. Carbohydrate and protein have four calories per gram, fat nine, and alcohol seven. And calories are just a synonym for "energy".

When I say, "eat fewer than 40% of your energy from carbs" I mean, if you were to keep a food log, (you are keeping a food log, aren't you?) your graph would show that less than 40% of your calories came from carbs. Here's the macronutrient breakdown of one of my recent days:

Fat: 54%
Carbs: 10%
Protein: 36%
Alcohol: 0 %

Probably the first thing you'll notice about this: I eat a TON of fat. Here's the deal with this: you can only eat so much protein (anywhere between 10-40%), then after that, you have to fill in your energy needs with either carbohydrate, fat, or a combination of the two. Since I'm trying to lean out, fat is my weapon of choice, and I find it easy to take in enough, since it's so rich in calories per gram. Butter (if you're eating dairy), olive oil, coconut oil, tree nuts and nut butters, as well as the fat that your meat (and if you're eating it, dairy) contain are all okay, as are fish oils and things like avocados and artichokes. More processed oils like canola, peanut, margarine , and anything with trans-fatty acids are not so good. Basically, I want to eat things that I can imagine coming from nature. If you squeeze an olive, you get oil, but I've never gotten oil out of a cob of corn.

The next thing you'll notice is how low the carbs are. This graph actually contains a combination of my grams of "active" and "fiber" carbohydrates. I usually don't count the fiber: I subtract the grams of fiber from the total grams of carbs, then multiply by four to get the calories from carbs, but fitday calculates the fiber as being 4 calories per gram. Technically, the fiber provides about two calories per gram--but you'll be hard pressed to get much more than 30g of fiber a day unless you supplement your diet, and I defy anyone to screw up their diet with 30 extra grams of fiber: it's too filling, and 30g of fiber only has about 60 calories with a minimal effect on your insulin levels.

So, you're only getting a few grams of carbohydrates a day, probably between 20-100g. A common question is, "What kinds of foods are the best when it comes to choosing carbohydrates?" Let me quote a couple of sources here:
From Jimmy Moore:
"When eating carbohydrate foods, look at the carb/fiber ratio and keep it under 6. Anything over that and definitely those in double digits are to be eaten very sparingly if at all. For example, the carb/fiber ratio of strawberries is just 3, but bananas is 10. Likewise, broccoli is 2, but corn is 9. Even so-called healthy brown rice contains 12–it’s better than than the 40 from instant rice, but both are still not good for you."

From Dr. Michael Eades:

"Okay, here are my insights. There are no good carbs and bad carbs. Carbs are carbs. They all run up your insulin levels and play havoc with your metabolic system. They are all sugar. Once you accept that, then the question becomes what is my trade off for eating all these metabolically disruptive carbohydrates. If they are packaged as pure sugar, then there is no good trade off. If they are packaged as, say, blackberries then the small amount of carbohydrate is offset by all the antioxidants and other healthful phytochemicals in the blackberries. Same with blueberries, asparagus, tomatoes, and all the rest. It’s a trade off. How much good stuff can I get to make eating the metabolically disruptive carbs worth it."

So basically, we are looking for high-fiber, low carb, high-nutrition foods like broccoli, spinach, berries, and other, similar foods. A good rule of thumb is to eat things that are darkly colored (berries, green leafy vegetables, tomatoes, etc.) and avoid foods that are pale (potatoes, corn, banannas, bread, etc.)

The last macronutrient is protein, which mainly comes from meat, eggs, and cheese. You can also get protein from soy or quinoa, or by combining different grain and legume foods, but that's not what I'm going to recommend here, since our focus is on losing fat, and not on being a vegetarian. The main thing to remember about protein is to eat good, whole sources of protein like meat, eggs, protein powder, or cottage cheese, and not stuff like gelatin or soy powder. If you stick as close to nature as possible, you won't go wrong: wild salmon, free range chickens, grass-fed (and finished) beef, game--these are great for you, but a bacon cheeseburger with no bun will do in a pinch. I wouldn't strip the meat of the fat--leave it on, you'll need the calories. Likewise, don't strip chicken of it's skin, unless you're eating something deep fried.

That's basically it, in a nutshell. 10% or so of calories from carbs--probably 10-50 grams, 100-250g of protein (10-40%), depending on your size and weight, and probably another 100-200 grams of fat (whatever calories are remaining) will be satisfying and help you lose weight. Feel free to adjust your calories as you need--you'll probably find yourself spontaneously restricting your calorie intake, and that's great. Just make sure to get at least 100g of protein a day. As you become leaner and more active, you may find it useful to include more carbohydrate. Just remember the guidelines I've provided above, and you won't go wrong.

Post any questions to the comments.