Switch Up Your Gym Routine!

Are you bored with going to the gym and doing the same old thing? If so, it’s time to switch things up! Simply by changing the repetition range, lifting technique or body part split, you can infuse your workouts with something new and exciting. If you really want to ramp up your routine, add plyometrics or calisthenics, or perform supersets or giant sets.

If you don’t exactly know how to make the changes I am suggesting, I have broken down different exercise elements so that you can easily make changes to your workout routine which will keep you interested.

CHANGE REPETITION RANGE – If you have a habit of doing four sets of 15 repetitions regardless of which exercise you are doing, how about switching it up? Perhaps you can do a warmup set at the same weight which you usually eke out 15 reps, but push yourself to do 20 really good reps. Then increase the weight and do 3 sets of 8-10 reps, and perform them with intensity.

STACK REP RANGES IN PYRAMIDS – Another thing you can try is pyramids, which basically consist of gradually increasing or decreasing the rep range, while decreasing or increasing the weight lifted accordingly. You can perform ascending, descending, or ascending-descending pyramids.

Ascending Pyramids = You will gradually increase the weight used, and decrease the number of repetitions accordingly, with each set. For example, your first set may be 20 repetitions, the second 15 reps, the third 10 reps, and the fourth set 7 reps. Ascending pyramids are effective for increasing strength since you gradually increase the load on the muscle worked.

Descending Pyramids = You perform your first set at a heavy weight, eking out about 6 to 8 solid reps. Subsequent sets will consist of gradually decreasing the weight used, and increasing the number of repetitions accordingly. For example, the second set may consist of 10 reps, the third 15 reps, and the fourth set 20 reps or to complete failure. Descending pyramids are effective for increasing muscle girth since the gradual drop in weight enables you to perform sets to failure.

Ascending-Descending Pyramids = With this pyramid approach, you gradually increase the weight used, and decrease the number of repetitions accordingly, with the first few sets, then DECREASE the weight used and increase the number of reps to finish out the routine. Because of this, I recommend performing odd numbers of sets. For example, your first set may be 20 repetitions, the second 15 reps, the third 8 reps, the fourth set 15 reps, and a fifth and final set can consist of 20-25 reps.

CHANGE THE NUMBER OF SETS PERFORMED – If you are in a rut because you always perform four sets of every exercise, challenge yourself and do 5 or 6 sets. A great way to shake out the cobwebs in your routine is to go for volume, perhaps performing 8 to 10 sets of each exercise to really work your muscles to exhaustion.

CHANGE YOUR LIFTING TECHNIQUE – Many people tend to perform exercises rather rapidly every time they train, so they don’t really focus on what they are doing. There are a couple of ways in which you can challenge yourself and break through plateaus if you have this tendency. One method is to perform negatives, which basically means that after you lift the weight in the concentric phase (in a bicep curl, this would be the phase in which you curl the weight toward your shoulder), you slowly return the dumbbell to the starting position for a count of 5 or 6 seconds. Another great method is rest-pause, in which you perform a repetition at a normal rate, pause briefly, then go to your next repetition forcefully. When using rest-pause technique, slightly increase the weight used to really challenge yourself.

CHANGE YOUR BODY PART SPLIT – If you always train legs on Tuesdays and chest on Fridays, perhaps you might want to switch things up. If you aren’t seeing enough desirable changes in your lower half, add another leg day and focus on the areas which you would like to improve. If you always train your entire body every time you hit the gym, start splitting up body parts so that you devote more time to getting maximum recruitment in the muscles you train.

ADD PLYOMETRICS OR CALISTHENICS – Adding ballistic movements like plyometrics or calisthenics can serve as the catalyst for rapid body transformation. Just be careful if you have hip, knee, or ankle issues. Try adding moves like jumping jacks, jump squats, mountain climbers, burpees, and X-jumps.

PERFORM SUPERSETS OR GIANT SETS – Try stacking two or more exercises together without resting in between exercises to increase muscle fiber recruitment. You can either stack weighted exercises, or perform a combination of weighted moves and plyometrics.
Examples are:
Leg press machine/jump squats
Incline bench chest presses/pushups/dumbbell pullovers

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How To Be As Prepared As You Can Be for Your Big Run

I am posting this a second time with links embedded in the article. What a great contribution by Jason Lewis!

– Written by Jason Lewis

Mike Tyson once said, “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” For those about to compete in a major race, the logic still applies. Everyone has a plan for their run until they come face to face with some of the harsh realities of the race running. It can be hard, and you may face what feels like insurmountable obstacles. But if you prepare yourself properly, you can make sure you have the best chance possible to beat whatever punch – metaphorically speaking of course – comes your way. Here are some tips.

Know how to properly hydrate

If there’s one thing that any runner must know, it’s proper hydration. Dehydration lowers your blood volume and when you have lower blood volume your heart has to work extra hard to get blood (oxygen) to your muscles. Long story short, you can’t run your best when dehydrated. So, drink as much water as you can before, during, and after your runs?

Not exactly. Overconsumption can be an issue. For the most part, you should drink when you’re thirsty – no more, no less. Don’t overcomplicate things. Here’s a good resource on how to properly hydrate for certain types of runs.  

One big question is whether water is good enough, or should you hydrate with sports drinks. Both are true, actually. Water is fine, but there are some benefits to Gatorade. Sports drinks contain carbs (in the form of sugars) and electrolytes (which you lose when you sweat) – two things your body needs when participating in demanding physical activity.

Find a routine and stick to it

You should develop a routine surrounding your runs and keep it the same through training and through race day. Eat the same thing before, during, and after runs. Wear the same shoes and clothing. Get the same amount of sleep the night before. Listen to the same music. This routine, if you keep to it, will help your body and mind stay strong through the tough stretches.

Know how to treat common running injuries

Running puts a good amount of stress on your body – whether it’s trail running, city running, or even practicing in a gym or on a treadmill. If you run a lot, you’re going to get hurt at some point. There’s no getting around it. It’s vital that you know how to deal with sprains, scrapes, blisters, and more. The shorthand guide is to always ice a sprain, stretch a cramp, pressure a wound, and leave a blister intact. For more on this, check here.

Know why you’re running

Sure, you’re running for the exercise and the feelings of personal accomplishment. The runner’s high isn’t an unwelcome byproduct. But in the end, running is about a mentality – even a spirituality for some. Focus on how running gives you a mental boost and makes you a stronger person: push your self to achieve goals you never thought possible; give yourself a chance to find a stronger you through self-discovery; heal from a broken past; overcome seemingly impossible obstacles. As Jim Friedrich says in the article The Spirituality of Running, “What we do with our bodies manifests and expresses inner states, the sacred ground of our being. But bodily practices can also induce inner states.”

Whether you’re running for fun, a charity 5K or a marathon – the principles of proper running preparation are pretty much the same. If you know how to hydrate, deal with inevitable injuries, and stick to what you know works, you will have a good chance at succeeding in whatever you do. “Success” is whatever you want it to be – only you can decide your own criteria.
Photo Credit: Pixabay.com

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jason Lewis is passionate about helping seniors stay healthy and injury-free. He created StrongWell.org to share his tips on senior fitness.

The Challenges Of Traveling: How to Eat Clean and Train While On The Road

It can be extremely challenging to adhere to regular training and healthy eating habits while traveling. As if that wasn’t enough, the impending holiday season presents even more of a challenge because of the indulgent foods which emerge. That is why some die-hard fitness people are resistant to travel, and are almost terrified of the holidays. And while it is possible to stay on track with workouts and food while traveling, foraging for fitness resources like a gym to work out at and places which carry clean food selections can range from frustrating to impossible.

With a little determination, it is definitely possible to exercise regularly and eat clean when traveling. The guidelines listed here will give you a blueprint which you can use to manage and stay on track with your fitness goals.

WORKOUTS ON THE ROAD

A little creativity can go a long way in figuring out ways to get your daily workouts while on the road. Here are some suggestions on how to make the most of what is available to you when you are traveling.

1. Search for gyms in the area before you travel. Once you know your travel destination, you can do an online search of the area to find gyms and fitness centers. In some cases, hotels have very nice fitness centers which are fully equipped with free weights and exercise machines.

2. Try hotel room workouts. It is always possible to create intense workouts in any location by performing body weight exercises, exercises with resistance bands, and mat work. Resistance bands are lightweight and can easily be thrown into a suitcase.

3. Train outdoors. In most cases, you should be able to find a local park or school in which you can perform body weight exercises, plyometrics, calisthenics, stairclimbing, running, etc. You can use park benches or ledges for your workouts as well. Get creative, and keep up the intensity to get your body moving and the blood pumping!

FIT FOODS WHILE TRAVELING

Whether you are a seasoned competitor who is accustomed to following a strict meal plan, someone who wants to adopt healthier eating habits, or battling excess body weight, you may find it very difficult to pass up regular restaurant meals, fast foods, and holiday treats while on the road. The holidays can be especially brutal, since evil culinary temptations abound and threaten to sabotage any efforts at maintaining clean eating habits.

If you aren’t on prep, you can still indulge in small amounts of rich foods which are not considered clean as long as your other foods are healthy and clean. This means that your abs don’t have to hibernate during the holidays. However, if you compete and have competitions coming up, you can’t exactly throw caution to the wind and consume whatever you want. You will need to keep a tight rein on what you consume while traveling, a feat which is challenging, but which can be done.

Here are some tips to keep you in line with clean eating while traveling.

1. Invest in a great food cooler bag. A food cooler bag will enable you to enjoy your trip without having to worry about what you will eat throughout the day.

2. Make sure your meal plan is balanced. Don’t use traveling or the holidays as an excuse to rationalize bad food choices! Eat enough protein each day to keep you feeling full and fed so that hunger pangs are kept at bay, and drink plenty of water.

3. Prep your meals in advance. If you prep your own meals, you will have total control over ingredients, cooking method and portion sizes. Once you have prepared your food, store single serving sizes in individual containers or bags which are easy to pack. Freeze the food you will eat during your trip, and refrigerate the food which you will eat on the day you travel to your destination.

4. Ask the hotel for a refrigerator in your room. In most cases, hotels can supply a refrigerator upon request.

5. Consider a meal prep service. Meal prep services can be a blessing because they take the hassle of having to prep food out of the equation, and they can deliver directly to your destination.

6. Pack emergency fit foods. Non-perishable foods like protein powder, protein bars and nuts can be easily packed into your luggage and will ensure that you have backup food.

7. Consider staying in a room with a kitchenette. You can visit a local market, purchase fresh food, and prepare it in your hotel room.

8. Explore local produce and clean food selections in the area. Most countries tend to consume whole foods, so as long as you avoid sauces, you can often find clean dishes to eat.

9. Consume a small amount of lean protein right before you have a carb cheat. This will slow down digestion so that the carbs aren’t stored as readily.

10. Drink at least eight ounces of water before you indulge in a decadent treat. This will help to fill you up so you consume less food afterward.

11. Eat smaller, more frequent meals. If you have a holiday feast to attend, make sure to eat every 2-1/2 to 3 hours beforehand to ensure that you won’t be ravenous come party time.

12. Don’t cave in to peer pressure. Sometimes family and friends can sabotage clean meal plans by convincing others to eat forbidden foods. If you find yourself in such a situation, you need to ask yourself if it is worth unraveling your healthy eating habits in order to appease a relative or buddy.

Anti-Inflammatory Meds and Muscle Growth

NOTE: This was originally written for Oxygen Mag digital version.

There has been a heated debate over many years within the bodybuilding community about whether anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxen sodium hinder muscle growth. These medications inhibit the synthesis of prostaglandins, which also play a role in muscle synthesis. All it took was one clinical study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism to put bodybuilders into a panic about reduced protein synthesis, and it didn’t matter that such results were found in laboratory rats. While there is some evidence to suggest that the anabolic signal is shut off when anti-inflammatories circulate in the bloodstream, nothing is absolutely conclusive, and what might be seen in the rat model might not necessarily be the case for humans.

While I will never advocate chronic use of painkillers and anti-inflammatory agents, I think they definitely serve a purpose when acute injury is present. When I find myself in the middle of disputes with bodybuilders who INSIST that a few days on such medications will completely destroy all their efforts in the gym, I simply shake my head in frustration. If you are injured and your lifting is adversely affected by the injury, whether it be a muscle strain, a ligament tear, or a minor disc herniation, you need to be aware that training through that injury, especially when it deranges your form and causes other body parts to compensate for the injury, will end up really messing you up over time. I honestly think that a minimal decrease in muscle mass over the course of a few days is preferable to the imbalance and asymmetry which usually occur when a bodybuilder foolishly pushes through heavy workouts despite an injury which has a domino effect on the body.

Common sense, and medical expertise, dictate that the inflammation must be removed from the area, most commonly through short term administration of anti-inflammatory agents, ice, and rest. Trust me, if you follow a regimen like this, you won’t lose all the muscle you have built over the years. Be sure to take these medications with food, and if you have any history of gastric ulcers. bleeding disorders, or kidney dysfunction, avoid taking them.

Remember that I am talking about DAYS, not weeks or months. This is one time when eating constantly has its benefits, since bodybuilders and fitness people can pretty easily fit in their medication administration with one of their meals. I know it’s difficult to back off from training, but if you truly want to HEAL, you must give the injured area time to repair itself. If you insist on continuing to train through the injury, especially, without any medications or other interventions on board, you can count on the injury either lingering or worsening over time.

L-Carnitine Tartrate For Athletic Performance

I am personally a big fan of l-carnitine supplementation. This amino acid compound, consisting of lysine and methionine, can be found in a couple of different forms. This article discusses L-carnitine tartrate, which is the form known to benefit athletic performance and recovery.

There are a couple of important points to consider when supplementing with carnitine. First of all, insulin must be present in the body for carnitine to enter muscle. One way of taking carnitine is to ingest carnitine with carbs so that there is an insulin release, but another effective option is to ingest carnitine with omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids optimize cell membrane health, thus making cells more sensitive to insulin. Carnitine serves as a delivery system for fatty acids, so if carnitine levels are high, more fatty acids will be shuttled into cells to be utilized for energy.

Conversely, when carnitine levels are low, fewer fatty acids are moved into the cells and are instead stored as fat. Supplementation with carnitine before intense exercise, especially cardio, will switch the focus on burning fat rather than utilizing glycogen stores, resulting in longer sessions before glycogen stores are depleted. In addition, the presence of carnitine inhibits production of lactic acid, so recovery from intense exercise is more rapid.

Carnitine is not only an excellent performance supplement, it also serves as an excellent means of addressing metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome, characterized by diabetes, atherosclerosis and high cholesterol, can be countered by carnitine’s ability to induce fat loss, prevent atherosclerosis and minimize the development of diabetes. After several months of carnitine supplementation, carnitine levels reach a level at which energy production and performance are enhanced. For this reason, it is best to consider carnitine an essential supplement in your daily regimen rather than as something taken only periodically.

Take 500 to 2,000 milligrams of l-carnitine tartrate daily, along with omega-3 fatty acids, for best results.

Keep That Body Running Smoothly

I’m willing to bet that most of you who are reading this article keep up to date with scheduled maintenance on your vehicles so that they will run as smoothly as possible. I also know that many of you insist on using a certain brand or grade of gasoline to optimize your car’s performance. Do you take care of your body in the same way, putting healthy, nutritious food into your gullet every day? Do you exercise regularly? If the answer to either or both of those questions is no, then you are neglecting your body’s needs for optimal function, fitness and health. Over time, such bad habits have a cumulative effect and can manifest in countless diseases and dysfunctions, including potential killers like hypertension, heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

Just as additives in gasoline can hinder the performance of a car, processed foods will interfere with optimal body functions, and your body must deal with breaking down, eliminating, or storing the chemicals found in packaged meats and other junk foods. The preservatives and artificial colors and flavors which are added to packaged foods trigger production of free radicals in the body. Free radicals are unstable molecules which damage the cells of the body and contribute to the development of cancer, atherosclerosis, and aging in general. In contrast, foods which are rich in antioxidants offset this harmful cascade. If your meals regularly consist of fresh vegetables, fresh fruit, nuts, beans and lean meats, you will be filling your body with clean fuel, providing nutrients which will optimize your health.

Another important component of optimal daily body maintenance is regular exercise. If you can commit to a consistent exercise schedule (and you CAN), you will reap a myriad of benefits, including improved circulation, better cardiac output, improved muscle tone, better concentration, and more energy. Your body is an amazing machine, and just like any machine, will begin to malfunction if it is mishandled or neglected. Regular exercise can be compared to running the engine in your car regularly to keep the pistons and gears running smoothly.