Warm Yourself Up

Not many people take a lot of time to warm up before a workout. It seems like, unless they’re in a class (like a martial arts or yoga class) where gentle stretching and warming-up is part of the routine, and there’s an instructor leading them through it, people would just as soon jump straight into lifting or cardio without taking any time for simple mobility exercises. But taking time to properly warm-up mitigates risk of injury, improves circulation to muscles and joints—which improves performance—and gives you a few minutes to shift mental gears from whatever you have been doing out in the world all day, to whatever you’re about to do in the gym. Give yourself a good warmup as part of your next workout. Give yourself that chance to check in with your body and gently test how everything is moving and feeling today, and give yourself a chance to bring your mind into the room, so you’re fully present when you get down to your first deadlift or squat or whatever.

Part of the problem is that, unless they’ve learned it already, again in a context like martial-arts or yoga, most people don’t HAVE a go-to warmup routine to use. They don’t know any good ones, ergo they just don’t do it.

BLAMO—GUESS THE FUCK WHAT. Here’s a general purpose warmup and whole-body stretch I generally use before a workout. Call it routine A, if you want—we’ll take a look at routine B later. I’m putting it up here, free to a good home. Do as many reps of all this stuff as you want, take as long with it all as you want.

· First off, hold a full squat for a while. (Feet a little over shoulder-width apart, ass to the grass or as close as you can get it. A couple minutes at the bottom of a squat is all the stretching for hip flexibility you need. Come up every now and then for a second if you feel like you need to get the blood moving back down in your legs, it’s no problem.

· Walk around shaking out your arms, legs and shoulders to get the blood flowing; throw in some light trunk-twisting, and some swimming motions with the arm/shoulders—breast-stroke and back-stroke. Do that for as long as you want. When I’m leading the warmup for a martial arts class, we stick with swimming-motions for a good 30 seconds to get our shoulders ready.

· Walking, lift your knee way up with each step, grabbing it with both hands and pulling it towards your chest. You’ll especially feel the stretch at the attachment of the hamstrings and glute. (Day after Leg Day, this stretch is hella uncomfortable.) Remember this about all stretching: it isn’t like lifting! Nothing should be done hard. Think 50% intensity, max. You’re not trying to rip your body open, you’re trying to increase natural range of motion gently and steadily. Also, breathing always normal. Normal breathing is breathing you don’t even have to think about. (Mouth closed, inhale/exhale naturally through the nose.)

· Walking, lift your foot up behind you with each step, reaching back to grab it around the instep and pull it in like you’re trying to crack a nut between your calf and hamstring, stretching the quadriceps. Make sure you keep good posture, chest up, shoulders back, little arch in the lower back to increase the stretch.

· Step forward into a lunge, gently sinking down as deep as you can go. Put both arms up over your head and lean to the side away from your bent leg. Keep stepping forward through lunges, leaning side to side in alternate directions each time. You can break perfect lunge form in these to increase your stretch in the hip—that is, bent knee going beyond the line of your toes is fine, it’ll bring your hips down further and give a better stretch. you’re not lifting any weight, so don’t worry that it’s bad form.

Now back to the shoulders. Find a broom handle, straight walking stick, PVC pipe, whatever. (If you need to, you can even use a towel—holding either end and pulling it tight, not hard, just enough to maintain tension.) Grab it with both hands, about as far apart as you would hold the barbell doing an overhead press. Hold your stick up over your head, and move it backwards as far as you can. You’ll feel the stretch in your front, anywhere and everywhere from your anterior deltoids down the front of your body, depending on your level of flexibility. Gently pull your shoulder blades together, arch your back a little. Hold it however the fuck long you feel like.

Holding the stick the same way, bring it in a big arc down to one side—now one arm is behind your head, one arm is out to the side. don’t let your elbows bend. same deal as before, don’t do this hard—your goal isn’t to tear your body apart. Hold the stretch for a while. Do both sides, as many times as you want.

• Finish with another full squat, again holding it for a couple minutes. Seriously, holding a squat like this will up your hip mobility like you wouldn’t believe. Another thing you can try, is reaching up to grab something with your hands so you can “hang” from it while you’re holding the squat. I just set the barbell in my squat rack at the right hight to use for this. That’s a pretty easy way, but you can use whatever you want. You’ll get a great stretch in your back and shoulders that way. Gentle, gentle, gentle, everything gentle. It’s a warmup. It shouldn’t be hard.


Abs For Days

Next summer, everybody is going to be looking for a fast, easy way to get a flat stomach and six-pack abs.

I’m here to tell you: winter is the time to start. Give yourself MONTHS to undertake your new fitness routine and make steady progress. That way you’ll have real, lasting results to show off next summer when you finally pull the big reveal and take your shirt off the first day it’s warm and sunny again.

I’m also here to share the one big secret everyone who’s looking for a way to melt fat, build muscle and transform their body needs to know: you’ll have to train hard, and train consistently. There’s no magic trick. I have nothing to sell you, and anyone who says they have something to sell you “to make getting fit easy” is lying. You don’t need a miracle, you just need to work steadily and have a critical, intelligent attitude towards your physical conditioning. Don’t take everything everyone tells you about fitness and nutrition at face value. Discriminate. There is a ton of bad advice out there—way more bad than good. Time to tackle some of the long-standing misconceptions surrounding “getting a six-pack,” and maybe arrive at some good ideas about intelligent training in the process.

Forget crunches and sit-ups. They are a lousy exercise for your abs, and they put more strain on your low-back than they’re worth. I realize it might be hard to sever all ties with an exercise that’s been touted for generations, but once you’ve tried a few ab workouts composed of better exercises, you won’t even miss crunches or sit-ups.

Recognize that your abs don’t function alone when you exercise. You don’t get nice abs without having a nice core. Core muscles include everything from just below the chest, down to your knees—front and back. Working abs safely and effectively is going to involve working that whole area.

“Plank” is your friend. Plank is a terrific core-muscle workout. You can’t do too much plank. Start off shooting for a 30 second hold, and gradually try to build to a minute. Then two minutes!

If you’re going to plank, do it right. Hips parallel to the floor. Elbows in line underneath your shoulders.

Is plank getting easy? Make it harder. As it gets easier, try moving your elbows forward from the line of your shoulders. It’ll be way harder!

There are a million and one other plank variations. Do your homework. Find the variations that you like, that work for you, and try them out! Have fun. Play plank.

Try out other core workouts, find what works for you. Have you ever tried knee-raises? L-sits? Why not? Try it. Try new things! Have fun!

L-sits: Space two chairs next to each other, so you can stand between them with your arms down by your sides, hands on the chair backs (make sure they’re chairs that will stay steadily in place as you go.) Lift your feet off the floor, so now you’re holding yourself up with your hands. With legs straight and toes pointed, try to raise your legs parallel to the floor. That’s an L-sit! Hold it as long as you can, even if that’s only 1 or 2 seconds at first. Work steadily! Keep trying, build it up to 30 seconds. Who cares if it takes a long time to develop?

Get a workout buddy. It’s easier to train with a friend than alone.

Try this fun workout with your buddy: Partner A lays down flat on their back, raises feet up vertical to the floor. Partner B stands over Partner A’s head, and Partner A grabs Partner B’s ankles with both hands for stability. Now, Partner B (not too hard at first!) pushes Partner A’s feet away. Just a quick push, directly away—Partner A will get a terrific core workout by trying to keep his or her legs straight up in the air while they’re being pushed away. When you’re tired, switch places and give your buddy a turn!

Knee-raises: Hang straight down from a pull-up bar. Bring your bent legs up until your knees are parallel to the floor. From there, raise your legs up towards your chest, high as your can, then lower them back to parallel. That’s one rep. Do as many as you can! Build up to 12 over time.

Leg-raises: Lay flat on your back—if you want, you can put your hands underneath your tailbone for extra support. Raise your legs two inches off the floor. That’s all. Just hold it! You’ll quickly realize what a good core workout it is. Navy SEALs don’t do this in bootcamp for no reason.

Scissor-kicks: After you’re done with leg-raises, stay in position while you catch your breath. When you’re ready, lift your legs up again two inches off the floor. Now, gently kick your legs up and down, legs staying straight, alternating. One up, one down, one up, one down. Legs never touch the floor as you go, they just keep going up and down a couple inches in the air. Go until your tired, put your lags down and catch your breath, then do another set. What do you have in common with a black-belt? This exercise.

Train with free weights. Do your homework on the proper way to work with a barbell. Get a coach. Seriously. Free weights are way more effective than training with gym machines. Squats, deadlifts, bench-press. They will all work your core in a positive way.

Forget about weighing yourself. Weight is a stupid metric for measuring the success of a health and fitness regimen. Really—muscle weighs more than fat. Also, as you get more fit, other changes in your body composition are going to play into changing your weight. Things like denser bones and stronger joints—they will change your weight. Just going by weight is a really narrow, pointless way to measure your health.

You can do more to change your body with exercise than you can with diet. Forget fad diets. Forget diet “reboots” and “jumpstarts.” Those are short-term results. You want long-term results. You get those long-term results from exercise—as long as you’re consistent and make an ongoing commitment to your fitness training.

Have incremental goals. Abandon the mindset that always looks for sudden, miraculous transformations, and gives up when you don’t immediately see the results you want. Instead of having such broad, extravagant goals that they serve to discourage rather than motivate you—because you always see yourself falling beneath them—have incremental goals that carry you in the direction you want to go. There’s always a next step to take, there’s always progress to make. If your goals are incremental instead of all-or-nothing, you’ll always have the next goal within reach. You’ll always see yourself passing milestones, and that will give you the motivation to keep trudging along the road.

Track your progress. Write everything down. Keep track of your workouts. Track how long your worked in each session, track everything you did. Keep good notes. Give yourself hard data to follow, to see what’s working and to measure your progress.


Let’s Learn Some Shit About Sugar

Sugar is the generalized name for sweet, short-chain, soluble carbohydrates, many of which are used in food. They are carbohydrates, composed of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. There are various types of sugar derived from different sources. Simple sugars are called monosaccharide and include glucose (also known as dextrose), fructose and galactose. The table or granulated sugar most customarily used as food is sucrose, a disaccharide. (In the body, sucrose hydrolyses into fructose and glucose.) Other disaccharides include maltose and lactose. Longer chains of sugars are called oligosaccharides. Chemically-different substances may also have a sweet taste, but are not classified as sugars. Some are used as lower-calorie food substitutes for sugar described as artificial sweeteners.

Sugars are found in the tissues of most plants, but are only present in sufficient concentrations for efficient extraction in sugarcane and sugar beet. Sugarcane is any of several species of giant grass in the genus Saccharum that have been cultivated in tropical climates in South Asia and Southeast Asia since ancient times. A great expansion in its production took place in the 18th century, with the layout of sugar plantations in the West Indies and Americas. This was the first time that sugar became available to the masses, who previously had to rely on honey to sweeten foods. Sugar beet, a cultivated variety of Beta vulgaris, is grown as a root crop in cooler climates and became a major source of sugar in the 19th century, when methods for extracting the sugar became available. In a shit ton of ways, sugar production and trade have changed the course of human history. It influenced the formation of fucking colonies, the fucking perpetuation of slavery, the transition to indentured labour, the fucking migration of peoples, wars between sugar trade-controlling nations in the 19th century, and the fucking ethnic composition and political structure of the new world.

The world produced about 168 million fuck-tons of sugar in 2011. The average person consumes about 24 kilograms of sugar each year (33.1 kg in industrialized countries), equivalent to over 260 food calories per person, per day.

Since the latter part of the twentieth century, it has been questioned whether a diet high in sugars, especially refined sugars, is good for human health. Sugar has been linked to obesity, and suspected of, or fully implicated as a cause in the occurrence of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, dementia, macular degeneration, and tooth decay. Numerous studies have been undertaken to try to clarify the position, but with varying results, mainly because of the difficulty of finding populations for use as controls that do not consume, or are largely free of any sugar consumption.

Glucose

Let’s get lay down some background shit about nutrition, so you’ll have a clearer conceptual framework to keep in mind as we proceed. “Nutrients” are the nutritious components in foods that an organism utilizes to survive and grow. Duh. “Macronutrients” provide the bulk energy for an organism’s metabolic system to function, while “micronutrients” provide the necessary cofactors for metabolism to be carried out. Both types of nutrients can be acquired from the environment (or in other words, from diet). Carbohydrates are a vital macronutrient (and remember that sugar is a generalized term for forms of carbohydrates.) Carbohydrates break-down quickly in a rapid digestive process and are thus quickly available to the body as energy. Consequently, sugar provides a quick metabolic spike—and consequently they are not a stable, long-lasting source of energy. You can easily understand this without needing to consider it in physiological terms. Imagine a kid who wolfed down too much candy: they go fucking wild with a sudden blaze of energy, and afterwards “crash,” and, like a switch has been flipped, become overtired. This is because the sugars they ingested quickly metabolize and become available to the body (and brain) as energy, and, just as quickly, the energy is burned up, the metabolic spike is over and is followed by metabolic depression (i.e., tiredness) if no other, “longer-burning” food energy has been ingested. Proteins and fats are the other two forms of macronutrients our bodies require from diet, and both provide more stable, longer-lasting energy as they are digested.
Glucose is a simple monosaccharide found in plants. It is one of the three dietary monosaccharides, along with fructose and galactose, that are absorbed directly into the bloodstream during digestion. It is an important carbohydrate in biology, which is indicated by the fact that cells use it as a secondary source of energy and a metabolic intermediate. In fact, that shit is used as an energy source in most organisms, from bacteria to humans. Use of glucose may be by either aerobic respiration, anaerobic respiration, or fermentation. Glucose is the human body’s key source of energy, through aerobic respiration, providing about 3.75 kilocalories of food energy per gram. Breakdown of carbohydrates (again, that’s sugars) yields mono- and disaccharides, most of which is glucose. Through glycolysis and later in the reactions of the citric acid cycle, glucose is oxidized to eventually form carbon dioxide and water, yielding energy sources, mostly in the form of ATP (adenosine-triphosphate. Look it up. It’s outside the scope of this article, but it’s fucking interesting.) The insulin reaction, and other mechanisms, regulate the concentration of glucose in the blood.

Glucose is a primary source of energy for the brain, so its availability influences psychological processes. When glucose is low, psychological processes requiring mental effort (e.g., self-control, judgment, decision-making, etc,) are impaired.

Misconceptions

Because sugar is such a general term, it’s natural that many people have only a vague idea of what it is and of its place in their diet. These vague ideas give rise to a lot of generalized misconceptions about it.

“Sugar is evil!” or “I don’t eat sugar,” are familiar slogans for people who follow conventional wisdom regarding healthy diet, and who simultaneously lack a very deep understanding of the term they are using. As a matter of fact, carbohydrates comprise the primary caloric (food-energy) content of plants, fruits and vegetables. A hypothetical person who takes a righteous pride in their healthy, sugar-free diet—who eats fruit for breakfast, a green smoothie for lunch, and sweet-potatoes for dinner—in actuality derives most of their food-energy over the course of the day from sugars.

A fact often cited by misguided proponents of a low-sugar (or, even more misguided, no-sugar) diet, is the fact that glucose in high concentrations in the bloodstream becomes toxic. The body deals with this, as mentioned above, by regulating the concentration through various mechanisms—including, notably, the insulin response. Insulin is a peptide hormone produced in the pancreas, which, among many other functions, serves to force the intake and storage of glucose in the liver, muscle cells, and adipose (fat) cells. This is a negative thing, low-sugar proponents claim, because the pancreas eventually becomes fatigued by the need for insulin-secretion and the body’s cells become gradually more insulin-resistant due to the increased levels of the hormone circulating in the bloodstream. Something to consider, before impulsively following this line of thinking, is that insulin-secretion is also stimulated by the metabolization of amino-acids—amino-acids are the building-blocks of proteins. Ergo, in healthy individuals there is a comparable increase of insulin secretion following the consumption of protein to that which follows the consumption of carbohydrates.

Another argument made against sugar, as mentioned above, is derived from the fact of glucose’s toxicity in high concentrations in the bloodstream. But, as Paracelsus said,

“Poison is in everything, and no thing is without poison. The dosage makes it either a poison or a remedy.”

Glucose in high concentrations is poisonous, granted. So is water in high concentrations. So is oxygen. They are essential to survival, but in too high a concentration, they are toxic. That doesn’t mean that we should altogether avoid the intake of water and oxygen. It simply means we shouldn’t inundate the body with these chemicals in a greater quantity than it can effectively regulate and metabolize in the ways that are vital to the functioning its systems.

The takeaway from all this should not be that taking in copious amounts of sugar is healthy or that a fucking all candy-bar diet would be a good idea. Instead, the takeaway should be that sugar, carbohydrates, are an essential part of a healthful diet, and impulsively following prevalent fashions that state sugar is always “bad for you” is an extreme and misguided action. Closer consideration is needed; magazine articles and fad diets cannot provide you with adequate understanding to make truly informed dietary choices. Look deeper into the science. By default, be skeptical of health and diet gurus. Always consult the studies they cite—suspect them, until it is somehow proven to you that their information is valid—of “confirmation bias,” that is, a tendency to view the conclusions of the clinical research they reference in a way that lends the facts to the confirmation of whatever position they have already decided to hold on the topic. Rarely are things as black-and-white as they are presented in our popular ideas about food. Rarely are the answers as simple as they seem. Generally, if the answer appears to be final and does not allow for any exceptions to the rule, the answer is false.


WELCOME TO PLANET BEAST

EVERYONE SHOULD KNOW THIS ONE SIMPLE TRICK FOR BUILDING MUSCLE AND BURNING FAT, GETTING IN SHAPE AND STAYING IN SHAPE: work consistently and intelligently, over the course of months and years.

That’s it. Sorry, I have nothing to sell you.

If that’s disappointing, then get ready to be even more disappointed—because I’m about to tell you all the things this blog isn’t going to do. It’s not going to offer you a succinct 6-week program to get fit and jumpstart your health. It’s not going to help you lose weight. It’s not going to present you with a “science” based diet plan for across-the-board improvement of your eating habits and general well-being. It’s probably not going to answer any questions you may have regarding health, fitness or exercise. At least not directly.

Basically, if you’ve seen it on the cover of a health-and-fitness-related magazine, you won’t see it here. Except maybe in the form of belligerent satire.

What you will see on this blog is level-headed, experience-based analysis of what it means to be healthy and “fit.” The goal here isn’t to answer the familiar questions, because a lot of the questions we have surrounding health and fitness and diet are framed in fundamentally wrong ways (and you can’t get a right answer to a wrong question.) The goal is to deconstruct a lot of prevalent questions, and replace them with better questions. Better, stronger, faster.

For instance: ask me how to lose weight, and I’ll ask you if weight is actually a valuable metric in measuring a human being. Ask me how to get fit, and I’ll ask what you mean by “fit,” because you can be fit in a lot of different ways, and some of them mutually exclude each other. Ask me why the sky is blue, and I’ll tell you flat-out that it fucking isn’t. Literally more than 50% of the time, the sky isn’t blue. Maybe that seems like an irrelevant, off-topic observation, but I’m not just trying to be argumentative—I’m pointing out a flawed mode of thought that we generally  bring to bear on matters of health, diet and fitness. We see things as cut-and-dried, black-and-white, good or bad.

Particular foods are either good for you or bad for you. You’re either exercising the right way or the wrong way. There’s no in-between, there’s no variation. There’s a right way to eat and move your body, you just have to find it. The sky is blue. That’s just how it is.

Except, no, it isn’t. The sky isn’t blue. You think you know it is blue, and you’re not wrong—you’re just not right. The sky is blue, and it’s black, and it’s gray, and it’s red and yellow and every color of the literal goddamn rainbow.

Now, apply that thinking elsewhere. In what other contexts are you accepting “the sky is blue” as an answer, glossing over and disregarding hundreds of shades of color?

The purpose of this blog is to look at all those other shades of color. It’s meant to take questions apart and examine their inner workings, and generally won’t settle for an answer that doesn’t multiply into new questions. It will spend a lot more time wondering than defining.