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.