Tuesday, November 17, 2015

I Need Your Advice: Should I Run a Spring Marathon?

I’ve been mulling something for a while now, and I haven’t gotten any closer to an answer: Should I commit to running a spring marathon?

Dan and I would finally do 26.2 together!
At least one friend is running the New Jersey Marathon, which is the race I ran in 2014. It’s near my house, it’s a reasonably well-organized race, and it’s neither too big nor too small. It’s also very scenic, with most of the course along the Jersey Shore. And running close to home means my friends and family can come out and cheer me on.

In all, I had a positive experience last year, and if I'm going to do it, this is the race for me.

But I can't make up my mind. And there are a few reasons why. Maybe you can help me out.

The Time Commitment
The big lesson I took away from training for the marathon last time is that running is the easiest part of the whole shebang. It's all the other stuff that's hard:
  • There were many nights when I was so tired I was in bed before 9:00.
  • At least one full day of the weekend was consumed by a long run and then recovering from the long run.
  • I didn't get to see enough friends and family -- partly because I was so busy, and partly because I needed to make sure I was getting enough rest and not screwing up with late nights out drinking.
  • Some chores just went by the wayside. There just wasn't enough time and energy for everything.
The flip side is that, having one marathon under my belt, I should have a better idea of how I need to manage my time. I've gotten ruthlessly efficient in preparing my gear for morning runs. I have a better sense of how to schedule the rest of my life around running. And I'm hoping that now that I don't have to get any kids onto the school bus, I have a little more flexibility.

The Mental Drain
When you're training for a marathon, you're doing one of three things:
  • Sleeping
  • Running
  • Thinking about running
It's hard to focus on work, family life, chores, etc. And you really get to be a drag with the people in your life, because it's all you want to talk about. "I hope that twinge in my knee isn't serious." "I ran negative splits the last four miles." "I have 400 repeats planned for tomorrow." God, what a bore.

But again, there's a flip side that comes with experience: I should be better able to compartmentalize. Training for a first marathon is a journey of discovery. But many of those lessons are already learned. I know a lot more about my body and the signs of injury or illness. I have a stronger sense of pacing and what I'm capable of, so I don't need to obsess over that. And probably biggest of all, I know I can do it, which will save me a lot of tossing and turning in bed.

Is a Marathon My Goal Right Now?

This is the aspect of the issue that's weighing heaviest on me. In the past six months, I've started making some real progress in the gym. I feel stronger, I look leaner and I've actually lost some very stubborn weight.

But I know that if I commit to marathon training, I'm going to have to scale back my resistance training.
  • There's just not enough time to fit everything in.
  • Even on days when I have time for lifting, I may not have the energy.
  • As a runner, I definitely want to avoid hypertrophy -- in other words, marathon training and bulking up don't mix.
With the winter months arriving, many lifters are going into bulking mode. They're eating more in an effort to put on size. But if I'm going to race, I don't want to do that. With a May 1st race date, I've probably passed the point at which I can unring the bell. So I have to choose.

So What Do You Think?
There is no question that completing a marathon is the single most challenging physical accomplishment of my life, and the feeling of pride I still get from having done it is huge. And I would love to see if I can improve on my time. 

On the other hand, I've gotten to a really good place with my fitness regimen, and I'm not sure I want to give that up right now to commit to four months of arduous, specific training. I will have to sacrifice some of my strength goals to get ready for the race, because I just won't have the time and energy to focus on both.

Also, I didn't mention the weather. Training for a spring marathon means a lot of winter miles -- which can mean a lot of treadmill work. Total drag.

And of course, I can't discount the strain -- on both me and the people around me. It's a big commitment, and not something you can take lightly. Am I really willing to sign on for that?

So I'm asking all you Regular Guys out there your opinion. Should I do it? Should I sign up for the marathon?

Let me know what you think in the comments, on Twitter or on Facebook.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Winter Is Coming... 5 Obstacles to Keeping Fit in the Cold Months

I'll confess, I'm not actually a Game of Thrones fan.

But when I woke up yesterday, it was 35 degrees out. Frost covered the windshields of the cars. The dog didn't want to go out to pee. A far cry from the balmy weather we had in New Jersey last week.

Let's face it: Winter's coming, like it or not.

And that can put a real damper on your whole fitness and nutrition regimen. The most obvious problem is that you can't -- or won't -- go outside to exercise. But that's not the only obstacle. It's harder to get out of your warm bed in the winter months. It's dark when you get up and dark when you leave work. You're less likely to eat healthy options. And that doesn't even account for the holidays.

Problem One: It's Too Cold to Go Outside
Every Regular Guy has his own breaking point here. Roughly speaking, I won't run outdoors if it's below 25 degrees. But really, the issue is gear. You have to wear the right stuff to keep warm.

  • Layers: Your mom was right about this one. Multiple layers keep the warm in. I'll go with a long-sleeve shirt plus a heavy sweatshirt, and long pants plus a base layer of long johns. 
  • Hat: On a day like today, starting at 35 and headed upward, I'll use an '80s-style headband to keep my ears warm. But when it's really cold, I opt for a regular old winter cap.
  • Gloves: If your hands are cold, you'll never feel warm. It's worth springing for moisture-wicking athletic gloves, and a bonus if they have the smartphone fingertip so you don't ever have to take them off.
Be particularly wary of "breathable" fabrics such as fleece. They're two-way streets, and if it's windy, you're going to freeze. And understand that the added weight plus reduced range of motion is going to impact your performance.

Problem Two: The Bed's Nice and Cozy
For most Regular Guys, getting that seven to eight hours' of sleep is tough no matter what. And when it's cold out, all you want to do is hit snooze, pull up the blankets and enjoy a few more precious minutes of shut-eye. But that makes it easy to get into a rut where it's been days or even weeks without exercise.

  • Get Your Gear Ready the Night Before: Yeah, it's cold out there, but at least if your gym clothes are right by the bed, you won't be fumbling around for 10 minutes in the cold.
  • Set Your Thermostat's Timer: Make sure the heat comes on at least a few minutes before you need to get up. It's at least a little easier to put your feet on the floor if it's not 58 degrees.
  • Have Your Coffee Ready to Go: I enjoy a few ounces of Joe before a workout -- enough to warm me and perk me up, but not so much it sloshes around. Don't stand there tired and shivering while you're scooping the grounds into the basket. Get it ready the night before.
  • Get to Bed at a Decent Hour: You really need at least seven hours' sleep a night. Count back from when you need to get up. That's when you need to go to bed. It's hard enough to get out of bed in the cold -- don't make it harder. That's what DVRs are for.

Problem Three: It's Always Dark
Even if it's not frigid out, another problem with winter is the lack of daylight. Not only is it a safety issue, there are mental and physical issues to deal with.

  • Safety: There are many reflective and lighted products out there. If you're going to be on the streets in the dark, get something to make yourself more visible. I wear a reflective vest, but there are also lightweight lights you can wear. Avoid trails and uneven footing in the dark, too.
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder Is Real: It's not as easy in the winter, but make a point of getting a little daylight. Go out for a walk at lunch if you can. Get that vitamin D!

Problem Four: Limited Food Options
Gone are those warm summer nights cooking on the grill. Those lean chicken breasts and steaks have given way to stews, casseroles and heavy sauces. But it doesn't have to be all bad.

  • Good Cookware Helps: There's nothing wrong with using a little oil to sautee your food. But use a good, heavy-gauge skillet that you can get good and hot.
  • Embrace Winter Veggies: Now's a great time to cook with squash and potatoes.
  • Stew and Chili Are Healthy: Lean protein, veggies and beans, all in a pot. Season it the way you love! Yum!
  • Breakfast Is Breakfast: Do you normally eat a healthy breakfast? Your healthy cereal is still there. Eggs are available year-round. Start the day right, at least.

Problem Five: The Holidays
The holiday season is festive. There are parties and gatherings all over the place. That's a great thing. The year is winding down, and it's time to enjoy a little bit. But all that jolly can get in the way of your fitness goals.

  • You're Going to Be Busy: Start planning now for when you're going to be tied up with family gatherings, cooking and cleaning, travel, or whatever. There's room in your schedule, but you have to map it out a little more.
  • All. That. Turkey.: Accept it now: You're going to overeat. It's a celebration. It's OK. It's good, even. Go ahead, enjoy. Just factor it into your overall plan. Try and shave a few calories earlier in the week. See if you can't fit in a little more cardio. But remember, family and friends are always more important.
  • Hangovers: Hangover workouts suck. But they are restorative. Make sure you get yourself rehydrated before you head out, and go into it with reasonable expectations. You're not going to set PRs. But you'll be glad you made the effort -- even though you really didn't want to.

But There Are Some Great Parts of Winter
Come on, the winter isn't all bad! Here are some great things about keeping fit when it gets cold out.

  • Your aerobic systems work best when it's around 40 degrees, or even a little cooler.
  • You don't have to worry about what to wear -- you need it all!
  • Snow runs are fun -- if you're careful.
  • The gym is empty. Those other cats are staying snug in their beds.
  • If you have a canine running partner like I do, you can actually go more than a couple miles.
  • No bugs.

I Want to Hear From You!
What's the toughest part of keeping fit in winter for you? How do you cope? What strategies do you use to get past the obstacles? What advice would you give me about my hatred of cold weather? Comment below, or hit me up on Facebook or Twitter!

And please, if you find this article helpful, funny, entertaining or even a little educational, pass it along to a friend!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

6 Reasons to Share Your Fitness Journey Online

You know those people who get annoyed when you post your workouts to Facebook or Twitter? They're not interested in mile splits, or reps, or whatever -- they want to hear about what's going on in your life. Or they think you're showing off. Or maybe they just see your Map My Run share as just clutter in their feeds.

Screw 'em.

You should keep right on posting that stuff on your social media accounts. It's a good thing.

It's a Motivator: When your fitness-minded friends and family get used to seeing your workout posts, you'll start getting likes and comments. And when you don't work out for a while, you may even get a query asking if everything's OK. Even though it's no big deal for someone to click an icon or tap out a few words, you can feed on that encouragement. Hey, we all like a pat on the back for our hard work.

You Might Learn Something: When you discuss fitness online -- especially if you're looking for a solution to a problem -- you engage a whole universe of people with knowledge and experience. They might just have the idea that gives you the boost you need. If there's one thing I've learned in the past few years, people love to pass along wisdom. Don't shy away from it!

It Can Calm You Down: For a Regular Guy in the middle of a training regimen, it can feel like an injury or a string of bad workouts is the end of the world. You have goals, you've been working so hard to achieve them, and now this. Ugh! Well, we've all been there, and we've all managed to bounce back. Just hearing that from someone else can give you some perspective and help put your mind at ease. Deep breaths.

You Might Find an Exercise Partner: If you're talking about fitness with friends who live in your area, one of them might suggest a run, ride, swim or trip to the gym together. Even if you usually work out on your own, having another Regular Guy (or Gal) to talk to once in a while is a nice change and an opportunity to socialize. And if you're competitive like I am, it might even push you to work harder than you would on your own.

You Could Inspire Someone: The biggest compliment I've received on my fitness journey isn't about how I've transformed my body, or about how I finished a marathon. I've had a few people tell me that seeing the changes I've made in my life has inspired them to give it a shot, too. To know that I've been even a tiny bit of help in getting someone else going is really just the best feeling. It feels like I'm making a difference in the world.

At Least It's Not Politics: I'm sort of joking, but it can be nice to have online conversations that don't devolve into petty arguments. Sure, there are disagreements in the fitness world, too, but they don't erupt into full-scale battles very often. Fitness and nutrition are often common ground for folks who otherwise wouldn't have much to talk about.

Well, you've made it this far! Let's hear about your most recent awesome workout! C'mon, go ahead and brag! Post in the comments below, on Facebook or on Twitter.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

What the Heck Does That Mean? Some Basic Fitness and Nutrition Terms Defined

Do you ever get confused by all the fitness and nutrition jargon out there?

I was corresponding with a Regular Guy the other day who remarked that he likes the blog because it's approachable and not intimidating. And that got me thinking: I do throw around a lot of terminology that I assume everybody is comfortable with.

Maybe you are -- and I don't mean to insult your intelligence. But maybe you don't know what VO2 max, or fartlek, or HIIT means.

You won't find many of these terms here!

So I thought I'd lay out some definitions, at least to the best of my ability and knowledge. Here goes!

1RM: Short for one-rep-max, or the heaviest weight you could possibly lift in a given exercise, if you had to do it just once. Good for calculating how much you should be lifting in general.

BMR: Basal metabolic rate is your body's minimum amount of caloric output to continue your existence -- in other words, how many calories you'd burn sitting on the couch all day.

Bodyweight: Using your own mass as resistance for strength training. Pushups, squats, planks, etc.

Bro Science: Wisdom straight from the pages of Men's Fitness, T-Nation and various other non-Regular Guy sites. It's easy to spot -- lots of specific advice without any scientific citation. If you can imagine the Planet Fitness "lunkhead" from those old ads saying it, it's Bro Science.

Cardio: Cardio, or cardiovascular exercise, is shorthand for a workout that doesn't involve resistance training and is intended primarily to tax your aerobic systems. Running, biking, swimming, the elliptical, etc. are all cardio.

CICO: That's an acronym for calories in, calories out. Your body burns X number of calories. If you are trying to lose weight, you have to consume less than that.

Core: I wrote a full post on this back in March. People differ on exactly which muscles make up your core, but everyone agrees that it is the base of your body, the part that provides stability -- akin to the foundation of a house. I think of the core as everything from the top of your abs to about where your boxers fall on your legs, all the way around (and through) your body.

EPOC: You'll hear advocates of HIIT talk about EPOC, or Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption. The slang term is afterburn. When you exercise, your metabolism doesn't return to its BMR immediately -- you continue to burn more calories. You know, because your heart rate is still elevated.

Fartlek: Swedish for "run-play," fartleks are an easy way to work interval training into your running without a track or treadmill. You simply pick up your pace multiple times throughout a run, hold it for a minute or two, then slow back down to a comfortable pace. The time, distance and frequency is more or less up to you.

Foot Strike: What part of your foot hits the ground when you run? Most beginning runners are heel strikers -- meaning they land heel first with each stride. Many remain so their whole lives. Others -- including most elites -- are mid-foot strikers, meaning the whole foot lands pretty much flat. There is much disagreement on how important foot strike is. My opinion is that heel striking is likely a symptom of a problem, not a problem itself.

HIIT: An acronym for High Intensity Interval Training. This is a specific exercise routine that involves short bursts of energy followed by periods of rest. Often, though not always, it involves a bodyweight routine.

Macros: Food falls into three basic macronutrients: Protein, fat and carbohydrates. That's all. How much of each one you consume depends on your goals and your activity level. If you're looking to build muscle, you need more protein. If you're looking to fuel endurance training, carbs are the way to go. And fat helps your body regulate your metabolism.

Micros: These are what you think of when you think of vitamins -- vitamin C, calcium, riboflavin, etc. Even if you're getting your macros right, you still need to get your micros on target.

Resistance Training: In short, muscle building. Generally, we're talking about lifting weights -- even if that means using a machine. But it also includes bodyweight exercises designed to strengthen muscles.

TDEE: Total daily energy expenditure is not quite the same as BMR. This is how many calories you burn in an average day without any additional exercise. It accounts for stuff like walking around the office, standing at the stove cooking dinner, and so forth. Because it provides a more accurate picture of your actual metabolism, many experts prefer it when working out a fitness and nutrition plan.

Thermic Effect: You burn calories by digesting food -- this is called the thermic effect. You'll burn about four percent of your carb calories, 9 percent of your fat calories and 20 percent of your protein calories. A little extra good news: You'll burn 13 percent of the calories from alcohol.

VO2 Max: Short for volume of oxygen, this is the maximum amount of oxygen your muscles can use in one minute. It corresponds closely with your heart rate. It's not the fastest you can possibly go, but the fastest you can go without sucking wind. Once you surpass the amount of oxygen your muscles can use, you are exercising anaerobically and will tire quickly.

What fitness jargon leaves your head spinning? Get the conversation going in the comments below, on Twitter or on Facebook!

Monday, October 26, 2015

The 2 Basic Rules of Fitness

I recently posted on Facebook that if I were to break down all of my fitness advice to its core, there are really just two main points:
  • No exercise regimen will deliver results disproportionate to the effort you put in.
  • No diet can circumvent the first law of thermodynamics.
That probably deserves a little more explanation, though. So here goes.

No Exercise Regimen Will Deliver Results Disproportionate to the Effort You Put In
The Internet is awash with all sorts of exercise advice in which a certain "move" or routine will burn a ton of calories. You'll often see clickbait such as "blast," "fry," "sizzle," "torch," etc. The notion, of course, is that by doing X instead of Y, you'll get bigger results with less effort. Sorry, but that's simply not possible.

The amount of calories you burn exercising is a matter of math. It's simply a measure of the energy demand you place on your body. The more energy your muscles ask for, the more fuel your body burns to give it to them. And the more more fuel you burn, the more oxygen you need. So in real basic terms, you can calculate it this way: how much your heart rate is elevated X how long it's elevated X your weight. 

There are some minor variables, such as your body-fat percentage and VO2 max, but those aren't going to make a significant difference for the average Regular Guy. The bottom line: It's about how hard you work, and there's no getting around that.

No Diet Will Circumvent the First Law of Thermodynamics
Every fad diet out there has one thing in common: They all promise to help you lose weight without having to worry about those pesky calories. Atkins, paleo, intermittent fasting, gluten-free... And there are magic foods like Bulletproof coffee, green coffee extract, chia seeds... One little problem: The laws of physics say otherwise. 


The first law of thermodynamics is a bedrock scientific principle: The amount of energy expended cannot exceed the amount of potential energy available. Imagine you're a pioneer living in a log cabin in the Appalachian mountains. Let's say that on an average day, you chop 10 logs a day to add to your wood pile.
  • If you always burn 10 logs, your wood pile will remain exactly the same size. You've added and used exactly the same amount of potential energy. This is akin to burning exactly the number of calories you consume.
  • If you burn 12 logs, your wood pile will dwindle. You've burned more energy than you've added. This is akin to losing weight.
  • If you burn 8 logs, your wood pile will get bigger. You've burned less energy than you've added. This is akin to gaining weight.
You can't burn 8 logs and cut the size of your wood pile. It's a physical impossibility. Likewise, you can't burn fewer calories than you consume and lose weight. Also physically impossible.

So Stick to Basics
Don't twist yourself in knots trying to do some fancy exercise routine. Stop worrying about meal timing, gluten sensitivity, super foods and the like. When you exercise, work hard. Do both cardio and strength training. At the table, make sure you get your macros and micros, and keep your calories in check. Find a calorie calculator if you're not sure how much to eat.  

This is what being a Regular Guy is all about.

Like what you've read here? Make sure to share it with a friend! And don't be a stranger -- sound off on Facebook or Twitter.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Eight Fitness Mistakes We All Make

If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times: I've made every mistake there is.

If you have friends or loved ones who are also keeping fit and living their lives, then you've probably heard stories from them. If you've ever watched people in a race or just kind of looked around at the gym, you've undoubtedly seen lots of people making mistakes.

But let's not judge. Hey, we're all human. And the real error is not learning from your mistakes. So here are a bunch that I think are pretty common.

Not Going Hard Enough: When you're exercising, you have two main goals in mind: getting stronger, and improving your cardiovascular health. (Yes, improving flexibility and mobility are goals, too, but only insofar as they help you with strength and fitness.) But if you're comfortable the whole time, you're not really getting stronger or fitter. You're not breaking the tissues that will repair and build muscle. You're not expanding your lung and heart capacity. Don't be that guy who reads the paper on the treadmill or pushes super-light weights just to feel the pump.

Pushing Yourself Too Hard: Regular Guys have only so much time to exercise. The whole point is to keep fit and live your life. So the temptation is to push yourself to total failure on every set, to run or bike or swim every distance the fastest you can without having to let up. But you shouldn't.
  • You're setting yourself up for injury. The more tired you are, the more your form suffers.
  • You're going to wear yourself out. 
  • Your body will still get great benefit from moderate-intensity work.
  • Endurance is an aspect of aerobic fitness. The longer you can go, the more you can do.
Yes, there is benefit to pushing yourself to failure some of the time. Unless you're an elite athlete, you probably have not gotten your VO2 max as high as it can go. And if you don't lift heavy some of the time, and do it till you can't, you won't recruit the fast-twitch muscle fibers that build explosion and power.

Wasting Time: So you really have only so much time. You can sit there on the bench between sets, check your text messages, scope the cute gals (no staring!), or whatever it is you do while you recover. Or you can work another part of your body. When I'm lifting, between sets I'll work my core muscles with stuff like bicycle crunches, flutter kicks, leg circles, bodyweight squats, lunges, etc. -- muscles that I'm not lifting with. It keeps my heart rate up, I get in some necessary core strengthening, and it really doesn't add any time to my workout.

Not Resting Enough: I just ran into this two weeks ago. From the last week in July until the end of September, I'd been attacking my fitness program with no abandon. I ran or lifted at least five days a week, and generally more. And then I ran into a very busy stretch at work and tried to keep it all up. You can guess what happened. One morning at the gym, I was dragging. I had a splitting headache. And I totally failed during a set of dumbbell presses. I realized: What the hell am I doing? This is ridiculous. I was completely fatigued and wound up needing the rest of the week off from workouts. Sometimes you can keep up that pace. And sometimes, life catches up with Regular Guys. Cut yourself some slack -- long term, you're better off.

Disregarding Form: As I mentioned, if you exercise around other people enough, you're bound to witness a ton of bad form. Maintaining good form has two main benefits: You maximize efficiency, and you minimize injury risk. I've found that, as a real general concept, breakdowns in form involve asking too little muscle to support too much weight. That can mean:
  • Simply trying to lift more than you're capable of.
  • Over-extending your body. For example, flared-out elbows are a major no-no for most upper-body lifts.
  • Over-striding while you're running, instead of keeping your weight centered over your feet.
That's just a real general guideline. Do some reading up on stuff you're not sure about. Ask a trainer for help. Watch a video. Whatever it takes to get things right.

Doing Too Much of One Thing: We've covered this before. An effective fitness program includes both cardio and resistance training. The amounts should be based on your current levels and your overall goals, but ignoring one or the other will keep you from achieving those goals. Beyond that, however, you can get stuck in smaller ruts.
  • If all your runs, rides or swims are the same general distance and intensity, you're not going to build your VO2 max, and you're not going to effect the molecular changes that come with endurance training. For example, competitive runners employ eight different types of training runs.
  • We've all seen the leg-day memes, but it's really no joke. Your body has about 640 muscles. And in any training session, you're never going to be able to hit all of the major muscle groups effectively. Even if you had the time -- which no Regular Guy does -- you'll deplete your energy long before you hit everything. So if you're doing the same handful of upper-body lifts every time, you need to branch out.
  • If you're looking to build both endurance and power -- and unless you're a specialist, that's what you should be doing -- you want to recruit both fast-twitch and slow twitch-muscles. That means you should mix up low rep/high weight and high rep/low weight lifts.

All your macros, not a ton of calories, and delicious!
Ignoring Nutrition: I'm not a nutritional zealot by any stretch of the imagination. Unless you're a competitive bodybuilder, you don't need to go down the rabbit hole of metabolic timing, extreme macro counting, yo-yo bulking and cutting phases, food measuring and the such. And a diet that makes no room for enjoyment is pointless -- a perfect physique shouldn't come with a side order of misery. That said, working out is not license to eat whatever you want, whenever you want. Some basic guidelines:
  • To build muscle, you need protein. I shoot for 30 grams per meal, plus a whey shake after resistance training and high-protein Greek yogurt for a late-afternoon snack.
  • If your caloric intake is greater than your output, you'll gain weight. If it's lower, you'll lose weight. If it's the same, you'll stay the same. I'm not a slavish calorie counter, but you have to have a ballpark idea.
  • The quality of your food matters, but only after you work out your CICO.
  • You should also learn a bit about pre- and post-workout nutrition. I try to get a little bit of carbs before a morning workout. After a run, I replenish with chocolate milk. If I'm lifting, it's a protein shake.

Not Learning About Your Body: Really, this could be a whole blog post on its own. But what I'm focusing on is understanding the signs that you need to take a break. You know I don't like the admonition to listen to your body, but you do need to understand what's a minor blip and what's a harbinger of big problems. And when it's the latter, you need to take the right steps to fix the problem. That almost always starts with some time off.

So What About You?
What are some of the mistakes you've made? And what have you learned from them? What advice would you give to someone who's just starting out, or struggling? I've found that one of the best ways to learn is to share ideas with other Regular Guys, so don't be bashful! Comment below, on Facebook or on Twitter! And if you've gotten something out of this post, please share it with other people you think will, too!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Let Go of the Past

Have you really committed to a Regular Guy lifestyle?

You've made some changes to your diet. You're getting some exercise. You're trying to get to bed at a reasonable hour. But the questions still remains: Have you cut the tethers that keep you tied to the old fella?

The thing is, it's comforting to know you're still anchored. That way, if things go wrong, you can always just reel yourself in to terra firma. But those tethers are also keeping you from truly reaching the heights you want to.

What's Holding You Back?

Here are some of the tethers. Maybe some of these sound familiar.

Keeping Your Fat-Guy Clothes

These jeans are in the bag going to Goodwill soon.
Some years ago, I lost a fair amount of weight, primarily through diet. But I never got rid of all those extra-large shirts and big-waisted pants. That way, if I ever gained the weight back, I wouldn't have to buy all new clothes. Let's be honest: What I was doing was giving myself permission to fail. It took me a year to lose the weight, and I kept it off for another, and then I spent the next four years gaining it all back. Guess what? I had a bunch of clothes that fit. It was like I'd planned it all along.

Stocking the Pantry With Comfort Food

If you've been reading the blog, you know I'm not big on deprivation. If you want the cookie, eat the damn cookie. But the temptation is to keep all your favorites around, in case a craving strikes. That's a recipe for disaster -- pun sort of intended. You're relying solely on your willpower, and nobody's willpower is that good. Pick a few things you want. Put them away in cabinets -- out of sight. Eat what you want when you're actually hungry. And stop buying all the rest.

Listening to Your Buddies

I'm in the back there with my tailgate crew
You're not the first Regular Guy you know to commit to being a fitter, healthier, better you. Remember the old days, when it'd be beers three, four, five nights a week? Or when you'd make fun of those guys who'd wake up early to hit the gym -- or worse, who'd curtail a night out because they had to get up early? Guess what?  Now you're going to be the one hearing those things. I'm not saying you shouldn't kick back with the guys once in a while -- you are keeping fit and living your life. But those guys don't get what you're trying to do. You're focused on the important stuff, like keeping up with your kids and being healthy for the long run. It's not their fault -- really, they're not doing anything wrong. You may not be the fun guy anymore, but it's up to you to tune that stuff out.

Listening to Your Mom

My mom has actually been really supportive!
It may not actually be your mom, but there is undoubtedly someone in your life who thinks your commitment to fitness is selfish and that you should revert to what he or she sees as a better version of you. But you know what? You're giving your family, friends and other loved ones the best version of you now! Are you really taking time from your responsibilities, or are you making time in your day that might otherwise go to TV or popping some coldies? People who exercise report feeling sharper and more focused, and we all know that cranky feeling when you don't get out there for a few days. It's not selfish to be the best you that you can be.

Let Go of Emotional Baggage

Of course, what you really have to let go of is the emotional baggage. You have to start seeing the fitness-minded you as the real you. For example, every time I run a race, I look around and feel like a fraud, like I'm crashing the party of the "real" runners. I've talked to other runners about this, and they all feel the same. But you know what? I am a real runner. I know what I'm capable of. And I'm going to keep doing it as long as I can.

So can you. So should you. You are striving toward your best you now. Don't let the past convince you otherwise.

What say you? What do you have trouble letting go of, and how does it get between you and your goals? Sound off in the comments below, on Facebook or on Twitter!

Monday, September 7, 2015

Regular Guy Reads of the Week: Labor Day Two-Week Edition

Sorry I haven't gotten to these for a while. To be honest, I've actually been hitting the gym hard and logging some miles on the beach and the pavement, too! But that's kind of taken up some of the time I devote to this. But here goes nuttin'!

Reach for Goals You REALLY Want: It seems obvious, but you're more likely to put in the work to achieve a goal if you have a strong motivating factor. For example, if you were personally affected by the Boston Marathon bombings, you're much more likely than the average Joe to run Boston. Find your motivation for the fitness lifestyle you're looking to adopt.

Why I Stopped Caring About Leanness: This blog post complements the previous one. It's easy to lose sight of why you're doing something when you get in too deep. You need to have a real motivator, but it also needs to be something that fits your life.

These 15 Guys Lost 50+ Pounds, and Their Tips Will Seriously Inspire You: Buzzfeed brings us some real-life advice. Some is obvious, like setting realistic goals. And some you might not have thought of, such as: For every 25 pounds you lose, treat yourself to a new, better-fitting set of clothes.

Scientists May Have Pinpointed the Reason for "Runner's High": And all this time, you thought it was a myth to trick you into exercising. Nope, research suggests it's a physiological reaction to a specific hormone that targets hunger.

How Often is BMI Misleading? About 18 percent of the time, BMI categorizations for underweight, normal weight and overweight do not correlate with body-fat percentage. Honestly, I thought it would be more. That said, I suspect that the percentage is higher among those who work out consistently and are building muscle.

What Anti-Diet Project's Kelsey Miller Eats: Here's a good real-world example of someone who dropped the diet mindset and just started eating generally healthy for the long haul.

No, You Don't Have to Drink 8 Glasses of Water a Day: The science is clear on this and has been for years. I'm a big proponent of the pee test. When you go, check the stream. You don't need to be clear, but it should be pale yellow. Bright yellow means you could use a drink, and dark yellow or orange is a good indicator you're dehydrated.

The Truth About GMOs: This will hardly be the final word on the subject, but I largely agree with it. GMOs are a convenient bogeyman, but they're really not a problem. You may have heard that some Kashi products recently tested high for the pesticide that's in Ortho Home Defense. Yeah, but what you didn't hear was that the amount was still less toxic than the caffeine in a cup of coffee. A true Regular Guy always employs a critical eye and ear.

Five Dangers of Superfoods: I am not a huge fan of the idea of "superfoods." Different foods have different nutritional makeups and nutritional densities -- there's no magic bullet. But if you're in the superfood camp, this is a smart look at making sure you do it right.

How to Build Muscle Faster: This is another solid analysis of why you should incorporate both low weight/high reps and high weight/low reps into your strength routine. There's a specific workout at the bottom -- use it if you like. I'm more interested in the general wisdom.

Run for Your Knees: Another study to add to the pile of evidence that running is actually good for your knees. One caveat: If your knees are already messed up, definitely talk to your doc before going for a run.

Transitioning to Trail Running: If you're getting tired of the same old pavement, you may want to take your runs off road. Here's a good primer on what you need to think about.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Curiosity Killed the Cat -- But Not the Regular Guy

At the beginning of 2015, I wrote the most accurate statement I've ever typed: I've made every mistake there is.

In that post, I covered stuff like not warming up, overtraining and trying to do too much too quickly. But back when I started the blog, I said that I hoped that doing this would help me learn at least as much as it helps other Regular Guys. And one big lesson I've learned: Don't be afraid to try new things.

It's All a Bit Much at First

If you join a gym, all the different machines and other equipment can be overwhelming -- especially if you're new to exercise. There are free weights, Smith machines, squat racks, Nautilus machines of every size and shape, cable-cross machines, Hammer Strength machines, TRX straps, kettlebells, medicine balls, treadmills, ellipticals, stair climbers, exercise bikes, recumbent bikes, row machines... It's enough to make your head spin.

Likewise, if you're just starting to get into serious running, there's long runs, tempo runs, all sorts of track intervals, fartleks, hill repeats, strides. You may also have heard about all sorts of paces -- easy, lactate threshold, VO2 max, all-out sprint... And of course, that doesn't even get into the contentious topic of running form.

I'm not a biker, but I'm sure it's equally confusing to the newcomer. Swimming is much more than just diving into the pool and doing laps. And so forth.

The easy thing to do is simply to find the handful of things that are familiar to you and do those. I think that's why you see so many people on treadmills at the gym -- people know how to do it, and they feel like they've accomplished something when they're done. 

But you're cheating yourself.

The Problem With Sticking to What You Know
In my opinion, a good fitness plan works all of your muscle groups and includes both aerobic and strength training. As we've discussed, you do need to do what works for you. You need to evaluate where you are now, what your goals are and what your interests are, and create a plan that fits. But that doesn't mean you should limit yourself. The issues:
  • If all you do is cardio -- i.e., all aerobic exercise with no strength training -- you're going to hit a plateau quickly. The better your strength -- even if it's sport-specific -- the faster or longer you'll be able to go.
  • Also if you ignore resistance training, you will likely burn fat and lose weight, but you won't have the nice definition that some modest muscle will give you.
  • On the other hand, if all you do is lift, you're also going to hit a plateau, because you will lack the fitness and endurance to hit it really hard. You may hear or read a lot of anti-cardio notions, but this, this, this, this and this give you plenty of evidence that it's essential.
  • But let's say you find two or three pieces of weight equipment you're familiar with. You're still not out of the woods. You need to work all your major muscle groups -- arms, legs, back, chest, shoulders, etc. -- or risk creating a muscle imbalance and getting injured. 
  • Also, if you keep doing the same couple of exercises, your body will adapt, and it will become easier -- too easy, and you'll again hit that plateau. Adding more weight can help, but it's not the complete answer, because, again, strength in some areas and not others is a recipe for injury.

Don't Be Afraid to Try New Stuff
What I've learned in my time at the gym is that most of the equipment is easy enough to figure out. I've also picked up a lot of ideas by watching other people and by reading solid fitness literature. Here are some ideas for how to expand your fitness regimen.

Add Things in Slowly. I have a friend who came up with a great metaphor for information overload: Our brains have only so much bandwidth. You have work, family, home issues, your other interests, and so on. Plus you have only so much time to spend at the gym learning to do new things. So add in new exercises one at a time. Watch other people. Find videos on YouTube. Ask a trainer if you have that opportunity. But first and foremost, learn to do one thing properly before trying to add the next.

Find Resources Online. Just about every discipline has at least one good website -- and usually more.
Keep Your Eyes Open. You can learn a lot just by watching other people at the gym or on the track. I've picked up a number of good exercises simply by observing other people. Just be sure that it's actually a good exercise. If it puts undue strain on a joint or just doesn't feel right, don't do it. Or find out more about it.
  • One important note: Don't steal by watching personal training sessions. Someone's paying good money for a tip you're picking up for free, and someone else is potentially losing your business. If you see something specific you like once in a while, that's OK, but if you make it a habit, you're stealing.
Just Ask. If you're unsure of the proper form on a piece of equipment, you can usually ask a trainer. If you see someone at the gym doing something that looks interesting, wait till he or she is done with a set, then ask about it. Everyone was a noob once, and just about everyone at the gym -- behind the grunts and scowls -- is more than happy to offer a piece of advice.

Don't Be Afraid to Push Yourself. The first time you try something entirely new, it's going to suck. Just accept it. You're asking your systems to do something they aren't accustomed to. Your muscles will be sore. Your lungs will burn. Your heart will race. These are good things, because next time, you'll be able to accomplish more. Finish the exercise.

But Go Easy the First Time. Learn how to do something right before you go all-out.
  • If we're talking about weight equipment, go nice and light. Get the motions down. Once you feel good about using it, you can start pushing. 
  • For track intervals: If you're relatively new to running, you're going to have trouble with 400-meter intervals. You have to know how to pace yourself, and you have to have pretty good aerobic fitness to start with. So go with just a few reps, or scale back to 200-meter intervals. 
  • HIIT is tough, too. You don't have to do every exercise to failure; in fact, unless your aerobic fitness is already in place, you won't get through more than a handful of moves before you're wiped.

Bottom Line: Don't Be Intimidated
If that exercise machine were really that difficult to use, you wouldn't see people on it all the time. If the side plank were really a mystery, it wouldn't be a staple of just about every bodyweight exercise routine out there. If intervals were just for elite runners, we'd need far fewer tracks, and most treadmills wouldn't have those programs.

You can do it.

Don't be afraid to make mistakes. We all have, and we all continue to. I recently misread which peg to rest the Smith machine bar on and wound up getting pinned under the weight -- and couldn't get it up a peg. I had to push it up enough to squeeze out and escape. It happens. But those are learning opportunities.

There are so many options out there these days. HIIT, Crossfit, Olympic lifting. Running and biking trails. Treadmills. Everything else at the gym. Yoga. Don't be afraid of what you don't know -- learn! Not only will you learn more about fitness, you'll learn more about you.

And that is a key to Keeping Fit and Living Your Life.

I want to hear about your experiences trying out new fitness routines. What stuff did you learn? How did it benefit you? And what kinds of mistakes did you make along the way? Hit me up in the comments below, on Facebook or on Twitter!

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Regular Guy Reads of the Week: August 22nd

Sorry I wasn't able to get to this last week. But to make up for it, I have a really good collection this week! If there's one takeaway, it's that we all could use a little more health education. Have any good reads you'd like me to include? Drop a line!

Fitness Fundamentals Still Challenge Americans, Poll Finds: 75 percent of Americans don't know that you have to create a calorie deficit of 3500 to lose a pound. The average American scored 42 out of 100 on a basic fitness quiz. We have to do a better job of educating people if we're ever going to make a dent in public-health issues.

The Viralization of Pseudoscience: I was sort of hoping this piece would go a little deeper, but it's still a good rake over the coals of garbage "health" blogs. As I've said before, you don't have to read the scientific studies, but read the pros who fully understand the scientific studies. In other words, avoid the Food Babe at all costs. 

Coca-Cola Funds Scientists Who Shift Blame for Obesity Away From Bad Diets: Yes, you should be troubled when any "scientific" study comes to a conclusion that a corporate sponsor wants it to. But there is some sense in this study -- there's strong scientific evidence that our real public-health crisis is inactivity, not diet. 

The Solution to Obesity: Reacting to the Coca-Cola news, Alex Hutchinson makes a good case for why there's no one silver bullet that's going to fix our country's public health.

Southern Diet Linked to Big Increase in Heart Disease: Also, sky is blue.

Houston Texans' J.J. Watt Fuels Body With Up to 9000 Calories a Day: And I thought my daily intake of about 3000 or so was high. J.J. Watt is a freak of nature. But this is strong evidence that, if you balance your macros and keep an eye out for the bad stuff, it really is about CICO.

Overcoming a Fat-Loss Plateau: First: Have you really plateaued? The number on the scale isn't the only measurement. Next, are you really doing what you need to do? Third, has your body adapted to the point where you need to make more changes?

So You Lose All That Weight, Now What? Some great advice from top fitness professionals on how to make fitness a lifelong journey, not a destination.

15 Negative Effects of Having a Low Body-Fat Percentage: Wanna get ripped? This montage will have you re-thinking that six-pack. Remember, Regular Guys, it's about lifelong health, not fitspo pics on Pinterest.

Food Rules: This is not the greatest title for this piece. It's actually a takedown of all those "rules" people spout without any real science behind them. Don't finish everything on your plate. No carbs after 6:00 p.m. Like, what?

Fitspiration on Instagram: Where a Picture Rarely Paints a Thousand Words: This goes beyond the basic fistpo stuff. The point is that advocates of ANY fitness plan tend to show you the upside and leave the fine print for later. 

Why Weight Loss Misses the Mark: I just had a conversation a couple hours ago in which the person I was talking to quantified my getting lean and healthy in pounds lost. It's a metric, but it's just one metric. Hip-to-waist ratio is a much better one. So is body-fat percentage.

The Smart Way to Build a Fat-Loss Diet: The title has Bro Science written all over it, but this is really smart advice. Overly restrictive diets don't work -- here's how to set it up to be in a calorie deficit without feeling deprived.

Fit at 50: What It Means for Your Lifespan: Recent studies indicate that your fitness at age 50 is a major barometer for chronic conditions going forward. No time like now, Regular Guys!

The Person Who'll Live to Be 150 Is Alive Today: I like this article because much of the advice for longevity is also good advice for living a happy, healthy life now, too. Don't let your brain atrophy. Don't skimp on sleep. Be flexible in your approach to fitness.

Screaming Improves Your Workout: There's mounting evidence that grunting and even yelling confer an actual physiological advantage when you're exercising. It's not just some Bro being obnoxious. Science takes down Planet Fatness!

Why Do Some Runs Feel So Freaking Hard? Sometimes it's physical, and sometimes it's psychological. Here are some specific strategies for both preventing and dealing with off days. It's aimed at runners, but much of this is good for any fitness regimen.

Easy Does It: Here's the argument for keeping 70 percent of your running at a comfortable pace, and some advice on how to get that done.

Run-Fit Certification: RunJersey contributor Ed Halper attended Dr. Jason Karp's recent Run-Fit Certification seminar at Monmouth University. His takeaways are as useful for runners as they are for running coaches. I love the first one -- base your training on recent results, not what you did five years ago.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Fitness-for-Busy-People Articles Blow

One of the things I really hate about just about all fitness writing is that it just isn't realistic for Regular Guys. Even stuff that's written specifically for busy people makes me roll my eyes. Surely you've seen articles like this. And this, this and this. And this, this, this and this.

Work out on your lunch hour. Get up an hour earlier. Just turn off the TV in the evening. Make your time at the gym more efficient. Get a standing desk. Do this 20-minute workout. Blah blah blah blah blah.

Let's Get Real
Most of the Regular Guys I know are stretching it just to get in the exercise they do. 
  • I know multiple people who get up by 4:30 a.m. to fit in their workouts. They are sacrificing sleep -- it's just math. And your body needs rest as much as it does activity.
  • If you're not working through lunch, do you really have time to change, exercise, shower, dress AND get something to eat at your desk? 
  • Oh, how Americans waste so much time in front of the boob tube, right? If you just used that time more productively... I seriously don't know anyone who spends hours a day watching TV. I have specific programs on my DVR, and that's it. And I watch them usually between 9:00 and bedtime -- when the gym is closed.
  • Bike to work. On the New Jersey Turnpike? Through the Lincoln Tunnel? Even if you have a reasonable route, can you show up all sweaty and gross? And what about bad weather?
  • Yeah, there are guys who just sit there for two or three minutes before a set of five lifts. But look around -- there are a lot more who are moving quickly to get everything done. Sure, something is better than nothing, but exercise can't be rushed, in my opinion. For me to get done enough reps and sets of enough lifts, it takes an hour or so. There's no getting around it.
  • And sure, just go in and ask your boss to drop a grand on a new desk for you to stand at. Let me know how that goes over.
But here's the thing: Your body doesn't care about all that.

And you know that. The problem is, all those "how to fit fitness into a busy lifestyle" articles leave you feeling like it's a matter of motivation -- or lack thereof. Even busy people find time, so you're just lazy. Right?

Of course not. So what do we do about it?

Priorities, Priorities, Priorities
I hate to say this guys, but it comes down to priorities.

I don't want you to walk away from this piece thinking that your priorities are out of whack -- or even that I'm trying to tell you so. There are only 24 hours in a day, and there's simply no way for you to accomplish of the things you'd like to every day. So some things go to the top of the list, and some things get pushed down. You have to bring home a paycheck. You have to make sure your family is healthy and happy. You have keep your home clean and in good repair. You can't ignore your wife or significant other. I'm sure you can add plenty more.

But where do you fall on the list?

The biggest piece of advice I can offer here is that your health should be in the "have to" portion of the list, not the "want to" portion. Being fit enough to keep up with your kids isn't a luxury. Staying alive to see them graduate college and give you grandkids isn't, either. Going to the gym isn't the same as going to a ballgame. Spending a couple extra bucks on healthier food isn't the same as springing for craft beer over macro-produced swill.

You're not a jerk for wanting to be healthy.

There's me 45 pounds ago, scarfing burgers and fries!
But I would also urge you to take a critical look at all the various aspects of your life. For example, during some corporate restructuring years ago, I was thrust into a position of more responsibility at work. And for four years, I put on 10 pounds a year. But the additional hours and extra stress weren't actually moving the needle -- I'm second in command to my boss, and unless one of us quits, that's where I'm going to stay. So when I decided to get healthy, I made a value judgment to dial back work to hectic instead of crazy, and use that time for exercise. Or as I put it to my boss: "I gave you 40 pounds over the past four years, and now I'm taking them back."

Now I'm not telling you to march into your boss's office and demand scheduling flexibility just so you can go to the gym. I'm not suggesting you hand your screaming kids to your wife and take off on a 10-mile run. What I'm saying is that whatever you're prioritizing over your health should be worth it -- and that you should give it some real thought. Maybe you'll come to the conclusion that your priorities really are where they need to be. Or maybe you'll have a Eureka moment like I did.

Short version: The things you spend your time on should be the things that are most important to you.

Your Life Should Match Your Priority List

Don't beat yourself up over things you can't change. That negative energy will just make everything worse. Nobody's life is perfect. There's nothing wrong with your priorities. Just be sure your actions actually match them. And if they don't, it's time to figure out how to change your life.

Where does keeping fit and healthy fall on your priority list? And what other fitness writing drives you bonkers? Sound off in the comments below, on Facebook or on Twitter.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Are You a Generalist or a Specialist?

Some guys love to lift and get big. You'll find them in the weight-training section of the gym -- usually by the free weights.

Some guys love nothing more than a good 10-mile run. You might find them on a treadmill, but more likely on the side of a road, bopping along.

And some guys like a little bit of everything. You never know where you'll find them. And one of those guys is me.

First, the Specialists
If you have a singular passion, by all means, you should do what it takes to pursue that. For example, if you want to run a marathon, you need to focus your training on that. Coaches will suggest weight training, but only in limited doses, and with your specific goal in mind. Frankly, your running regimen will take up enough of your time and energy by itself -- my peak when I ran one was 48 miles in one week.

Similarly, I have a neighbor who's a competitive bodybuilder. He spends a lot of time picking things up and putting them down. He does some cardio to keep his body-fat percentage low, but ultimately, he has to focus on a lot of max-strength lifts to build muscle. But he's also having a blast doing what he's doing, so why shouldn't he keep at it?

And of course, there are specialized workouts for just about every team sport. In some sports, it varies by position. For example, an offensive lineman in football needs to work on explosive strength (i.e. fast-twitch muscle fibers), a hugely strong lower core for leverage, AND endurance to make it through 60 minutes of banging against other huge guys. If you look at most offensive linemen, they are big and strong, but they generally aren't "ripped" like bodybuilders, because that sort of hypertrophy comes at the expense of explosive strength and flexibility. Here's an example of the kind of training offensive linemen do -- very little one-rep-max or even 5x5 work, plenty of sprints and core work, and a big push to build endurance by minimizing rest.

Even your diet is going to vary if you're specializing. Runners are going to seek out high-carb diets, which will keep them lean and provide the energy they need for 25+ miles per week. Bodybuilders will go for protein -- my neighbor says he gets 300 grams a day, nearly six times the USRDA for the average American. And an offensive lineman needs to eat A LOT just to keep up with his tremendous energy output.

So if you're involved in a particular sport, you should seek out the fitness regimen that best fits what you're looking to do. Just about every sport has plenty of information online, or you can seek out the help of a qualified trainer.

But What About the Average Regular Guy?
But being a better runner, or bodybuilder, or offensive lineman doesn't mean that your overall health is where you want it to be to keep fit and live your life.

Most Regular Guys I know are just looking to improve their overall health without making a huge dent in their schedules. My goals are to build some modest muscle, have the strength to accomplish the things I need to around my house, keep my heart and lungs in good shape for the long haul, and have some endurance.

It should come as no surprise that I have a number of friends who consider themselves endurance runners. So their training is directed at improving their performance in distance races. As you know if you've been reading the blog for a while, I love running, too. But I think that the specialization-vs.-generalization discussion is, in some regard, a chicken-or-egg argument. Are you exercising to improve your fitness, or are you trying to improve your fitness to get better at a specific exercise, such as running?

Some months ago, I wrote about Cardio vs. Strength Training, and that's a good starting point for the discussion of specialization vs. generalization. The bottom line in that piece is that regardless of your endeavor, you really need to do both. How much of one vs. the other depends on your starting point and your goals. For example, Usain Bolt and Meb Keflezighi are both elite runners, but the similarities end there.

And of course, there are other Regular Guy variables. How much time do you have in your day and your week? What are you actually interested in doing? Do you have access to a gym? Do you have access to a treadmill or other cardio machine for bad weather? Do you have old injuries that preclude you from doing certain things?

The Benefits of Being a Generalist
You Don't Have to Focus on One Thing. One major factor that keeps many Americans from exercising more is that they see it as pure drudgery. But when you generalize, you can -- and should -- change things up from day to day. Not just "cross train" once a week, but actually do different stuff. Run one day, lift the next, play a sport on another day, go for a bike ride on a nice morning, or even get some solid yardwork in.

You're Probably Going to Look Better. I really hate the criticism of marathoners that they look "skinny-fat." They do because they actively avoid hypertrophy, which would slow them down. But the thing is, endurance athletes generally do lack muscle tone. Bodybuilders, frankly, have too much muscle -- there comes a point when it's unappealing. And offensive linemen, despite their strength and athleticism, look kinda fat. If you meet a retired offensive lineman, you're often shocked at how much smaller he is compared to when he played. The generalist -- if you commit to a fit lifestyle -- is going to achieve solid muscle tone and a low body-fat percentage. In other words, you're going to look like the Regular Guy your wife wants you to.

You Don't Need as Many Rest Days. Most workout regimens, regardless of specialization, force you to take two, three or even four rest days a week. That's because the repetitive stress on particular muscles, joints and bones leads to injury, and because part of the process of strengthening is allowing muscle fibers time to regenerate before breaking them down again. But if you work different muscle groups on different days, you don't have to spend so many days being inactive. If I work upper body at the gym one day, I have no compunction about a long run the next.

Doing Stuff You Like Counts. Most specialists like to do things aside from their sport. But often they can't, either because they're maxed out by their sport-specific workouts, or because they're concerned about injuries. For example, runners training for a race are advised not to play sports with a lot of jumping or lateral movement, such as basketball or tennis. But you can.

Regular Guy Life Doesn't Specialize. Do you never have to lift furniture or heavy boxes? OK, then don't worry about strength. Do you never have to chase your kids? OK, then don't worry about speed. Do you never have a four- or five-hour yardwork or home-repair job in front of you? OK, then don't worry about endurance. The rest of us could use a little of all of these.

You Can Do What Works for You. You know that's a mantra of Fitness for the Regular Guy. But this is where the rubber hits the road. No easy access to a gym? Do some bodyweight exercises. Old knee injury that keeps you from running? Get on your bike or hop in the pool. Gotten bored with that stuff? Grab a football, basketball, tennis racquet, whatever.

You're Not Slave to a Schedule. When I was training for the marathon, I had a pretty strict schedule. Mondays and Fridays were rest days. Tuesday and Thursday were short-ish runs, Wednesday was for a kinda-long run (8-10 miles), Saturday was long-run day, and Sunday was strength or cross training. But if I had a little sniffle, or was just tired, or had car trouble, or had extra work responsibilities, or whatever -- that would all throw me off. But now, I worry far more about keeping my overall activity level up and much less about when I get specific things done. It's a lot more flexible, and I feel healthier.

So Are You a Generalist or a Specialist?
Does one thing really do it for you? Do you get joy from shaving a few seconds off your 5k time, or adding five pounds to your 1RM at the gym, or increasing your shooting percentage on the basketball court? Then keep rockin' it! The kind of fitness regimen you embark on has a particular focus, but it makes you happy, and you're still in better health than anyone who's still sitting on the couch.

But if you want to feel better, stronger, healthier, more attractive overall, and you don't have that singular focus, do a little of everything. It's all good for you, and you're working both your aerobic and anaerobic systems. You're building muscle and cardiovascular health. And you're a lot more likely to enjoy your exercise, rather than finding it to be a chore.

I want to hear from you, Regular Guys. Are you a generalist or a specialist? What does your regimen look like? What are your goals, and how closely does your exercise program align with those goals? How do you fit everything into your Regular Guy life? Sound off on Facebook, on Twitter or in the comments below!

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Regular Guy Reads of the Week: August 8th

Some weeks are famines, and some weeks are feasts, like this one. I have a wide variety of stuff this week, including some regular-old fitness-related news -- without the extra helping of advice or inspiration. But there's plenty of that, too. Dig in!

Austin Runner Starts Petition to End Catcalling: We've discussed this on FftRG before -- women should be able to exercise without having to endure sexual harassment. One woman is taking action to make it a ticketable offense. Good for her! And no, criminal harassment is not a First Amendment issue.

Navy Changing Body-Fat Rules, Fitness Assessment: Anyone who is willing to put his or her life on the line for our country is way beyond Regular Guy, but it's good to see that the brass understands that the most important thing is functionality, not arbitrary numbers.

Majority of Americans Say They Try to Avoid Drinking Soda: OK, ready for some Regular Guy contrarianism? If you can fit the calories into your daily or weekly allotment, don't worry about it. Yeah, they're empty calories, but so are cookies, beer and pizza (mostly). If you maintain a deficit, you'll lose weight -- regardless of what you drink.

How to Overcome the Top 5 Exercise Excuses: I really like number-five: I just end up quitting -- what's the point? Dovetails perfectly with a major Regular Guy mantra: Do What Works for You. 

Five Ways to Fit Working Out Into Your Busy Schedule: To be honest, a couple of these are not realistic. But a couple are just good common sense. For example, if the drive to and from the gym adds too much time to your workouts in the morning -- and you wind up skipping them instead -- find something you can do at home, and hit the gym on off days.

My Secret to Workout Motivation: This one also has some advice that dovetails with a Regular Guy idea: Give yourself permission to stop after five minutes. Because you won't.

All by Myself: Two things: I know have Eric Carmen running through my head on repeat, and the main reason I'm linking this is because it's about running on the beach at the Jersey Shore.

Debunking the Breakfast Myth: I've suggested many times that Regular Guys should follow Mike Samuels. Here he dismantles the "breakfast is the most important meal of the day" myth. It's true only if you overcompensate later on. A big lunch and a big dinner don't always add up to more calories than three smaller meals.

Nutrition Made Simple: The Most Important Things You Need to Know About Nutrition: This article as aptly named. I love Joe Dowdell's nutrition pyramid (much different from, and more common-sensical than, the USDA's). This is a don't-skip-it read.

Everything You Know About Fat Is Wrong: Good breakdown of the different types of fat, how your body deals with them and what -- and how much -- you should actually be eating.

How-To Carbohydrate Manipulation for Better Performance: This one's aimed at endurance athletes, but it offers some great, specific advice on how to fuel yourself on long runs. If you're ramping up for a half or a full, you'll find this really helpful. 

Bedtime Snacks Could Boost Strength but Hurt Endurance, Studies Say: Alex Hutchinson drops some more science on us -- and once again, it jibes with common sense. If you get some protein in you right before bed, your muscles will make better use of it while you're resting and recovering. But if you keep away from carbs right before bed, your body will adapt better to glycogen depletion, which will help you run or bike farther and longer.

Scientists Scan the Brain to See How Stress Undermines Your Diet: I'm sure you'll be shocked to read that people are about 25 percent more likely to make a bad nutrition choice after enduring a stressful experience. The takeaway here is that the stress itself doesn't add pounds -- it's how your brain gets you to deal with it.

Nine Bro-Science Myths Destroyed by Actual Science: I love when "musclehead" sites get it right -- the one myth this one doesn't address is the idea that all bodybuilders are lunkheads. This article tackles topics such as "You don't need cardio" and meal frequency. A little technical, but it'll definitely help you with the strength portion of your regimen.

The 10 Worst Things You're Doing for Your Muscles: A refreshingly good article from Men's Health. Stuff like not warming up, not drinking enough water and not incorporating recovery.

Heavy Weights vs. Light Weights: Alex Hutchinson makes the scientific case for light weights, high reps. My one question is: How does this interplay with working both slow- and fast-twitch muscle fibers.

Four Secrets to Lifelong Fitness: Why the Body You Want Won't Happen Overnight: Another good one from Men's Health. The four secrets are: Choose the right program for you, take your time getting in shape, place importance on the beginning and end of workouts, and train for volume before intensity.

Unconventional Core Training: Tony Gentilcore gets a little technical here, but he needs to do that to explain why he recommends the exercises he does. A pretty significant break from the usual crunches and leg lifts -- but he walks you through it all. 

The 10-Minute, No-Equipment HIIT Workout: Pretty basic stuff here, but some changeups from the bodyweight stuff you're probably doing. Worth a quick glance.

10 Questions About Stretching: This is a good breakdown of dynamic vs. static stretching. I think it's a little harsh on static stretching, but if you're still doing toe-touches before your workout, please give this a read.

The Dangers of Overstriding -- And How to Stop It: We've discussed this before: You want your lower leg to be perpendicular to the ground and your weight directly above your feet on contact -- that allows your entire leg and core to absorb the impact. What's new here is the specific advice for how to make that a habit.

There Are Only Four Speeds at Which Runners Should Train: Dr. Jason Karp is lecturing about two miles from me as I write this -- maybe next year I'll get there! Short version: You should either go easy or run at one of three levels of hard. Click the link for details.

Takeaways From Jason Karp's Running Clinic: Here's a good summation of Dr. Karp's overall training philosophy. He really emphasizes lots of easy runs and training for time over distance.

Should You Walk or Run for Exercise? Here's What the Science Says: Thanks to Regular Guy Jim Carty for the heads up on this one. I'd say it's what some of the science says. The writer makes a case for running, but not enthusiastically. I think she's a little too deferential to the O'Keefe "running will kill you" crowd.

Choosing the Right Running Shoes: A new study shows what many runners have long believed -- the gait analysis you get at running stores is basically BS. Choose the shoe you're most comfortable with.