Saturday, May 30, 2009

Familiar Territory again!

Back to training at the school gym! Gold's gym was good, but its definitely good to be back training among friends. Thursday's and Today's workouts were at the school gym. Its always a great feeling to walk in and see familiar friendly faces, who are there to train just as hard as I plan to.
Working out on a Saturday is extra special for me, because usually, Friday is a carb up day which means eating whatever I want, resting and doing other things I enjoy. So this means I'm rested, full of energy and totally looking forward to a long hard training session.

Today's workout was:

Pull ups - 4 sets of 10 reps
Incline Press - Working sets with 75 lb, 85 lb and 95 lb dumbells for 6 reps each.
Deadlifts - Working set with 315 lbs for 10 reps
Seated rows - Working set with 180 lbs for 12 reps
Leg press - Working set - 6 plates each side for 2 sets of 12 reps each.

Just 5 exercises, but I pushed myself hard on every one of them and they were compound exercises which hit all the supportive muscles like shoulders, biceps, triceps and hamstrings, so I did not try to do direct work for those muscles.

From the diet and supplementation angle, I added 250 mg of Alpha Lipoic Acid and 5 gms of creatine to all my meals yesterday. This accomplishes 2 things, the alpha lipoic acid acts by increasing insulin sensitivity and also as a shuttling agent and drives the creatine into muscle cells. This improves the storage of carbohydrate as glyogen. This again means I store glycogen, not fat. The result is that my body has enough creatine and glyocgen and is ready to be pushed very hard the next time I want to exert maximum effort.

When I came back from my workout, I checked my mail and found a really cool black T-Shirt from Jay Cholewa who runs Big Red Physical Performance. Jay is an upcoming fitness trainer and a good friend who writes for and knows what he's talking about. I hope me wearing his brand brings his business much well deserved success!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Question Of Taste.

A friend called me yesterday asking if I wanted to go in with him on a great deal on protein powder from 5 lbs protein for like 23 $ and he wanted to buy 10 lbs and share with me to save on shipping. It sounds like a great deal but I turned him down and explained to him that I drink about 2 protein shakes a day, which means that if the protein powder tastes lousy, its going to be very hard for me to motivate myself to drink it on a daily basis.

I use Syntrax's Matrix protein, which is one of the best tasting protein powders out there today. It costs me about 39 $ for 5 lbs and 5 lbs lasts me quite a long time, so from a price perspective, its not really that expensive. Also, Matrix contains a mix of whey isolate, casein and egg albumen which ensures a steady supply of slow digesting amino acids which keeps the body in an anabolic state for many hours, which makes Matrix a perfect drink right before bed.

Just some happy thoughts I had after drinking a protein shake :-)

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Warm Days, Hot Workouts!

I've been training at Gold's gym the last 2 days. School gym's closed for a week and I signed up for a free 7 day guest membership at the closest Gold's gym. Sometimes, change is good. I was eager to train at Gold's and try out the equipment, which are better than the school gym I usually train at. Ofcourse, normally free weights are all one needs, but machines can bring new angles and unworked muscles into play, which is a good thing.
I've also started on my new summer program, and hope to further improve my physique as a result.
Yesterday was a leg workout day at Gold's and a high rep workout being Monday. Special part of the workout for me was using the Donkey Calf Raise machine, which trains the calves at a different angle. I liked the new environment and had a great workout.

Today was a upper body workout day, exercises were:
Incline Dumbell Press.
Wide grip pull ups.
Parallel Bar dips.
Seated Hammer Strength Rows.
Bent over raises superset with Lateral raises.

And I finished with some low intensity cardio. Today was a hot day and I struggled to complete the workout and maintain intensity through out. My ears were ringing by the time I got done, but was satisfying to know I didnt compromise on intensity despite the heat. Summer is here to stay though, and it means I have to improve my conditioning to keep up.

The best part of today was buying a george foreman grill! I've wanted one for so long, and am super happy I finally got one. George foreman grills are pretty much a must have for anyone who wants to cut carbohydrate and fat intake while keeping protein high. I was looking for ways to do so and a conversation with a friend sold me on it. Cost me 40 dollars and probably worth every cent.

Bed time, I take my Vitamins and fish oil, drink my protein shake. Its not rest, its momentum gathering.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Unstoppable Progress!

School's done for the semester! Whats next? The possibilities are endless. As they always are. On the fitness front, I've set some goals for myself and am about to write up a plan to achieve these goals. For now, the goal over the next 3 months is to gain about 5-10 pounds of quality muscle while keeping my conditioning. This I believe is a reasonable target, as I tend to add muscle easily.
To achieve these goals, I've written up a training, diet and supplementation program for myself.

1. Training: I will continue with a 4 day per week split, training the whole body thrice a week. Monday, Tuesday and Thursdays I'll train in the 12-15 repetition range and Saturdays will be heavy workout day with 6 rep sets.

So, training will be:

Monday: Lower Body(high rep)
Tuesday:Upper Body(high rep)
Thursday: Whole Body(high rep)
Saturday: Whole Body(low rep)

Low intensity cardio in the mornings and cardio post workout(depending on energy level)

2. Diet:
Carb Cycling. However, my low carb days will have about 100 gms carbs because I'm trying to add some muscle.

Monday - Thursday Evening:- 100 gm carbs, 200 gms protein and whatever fat naturally is in food.
Thursday Evening(post workout) :- Saturday Morning:- 600 gms carbs, 400 gms protein and keep fat low.
Saturday PostWorkout - Sunday Night :- Maintenance level eating, 200 gms carbs and 200 gms protein basically.

3. Supplementation:

I'm going to be adding a new product to my supplement stack.

NO-Explode:- I'm picking NO-Explode because it contains:
1. Arginine and other compounds to improve pumps and ATP levels in the gym.
2. Creatine - Ive already written quite a bit about the benefits of creatine.
3. Caffine, and some useful Amino acids like L-Tyrosine and Taurine.
4. Electrolyte Replacers.

All this makes NO-Explode an ideal product to rely on for my summer lean muscle gain goals. I will be using 1 serving on all days of the week.

Apart from NO-Explode, I'll be using my regular supplement stack of:

1. Syntrax Matrix 5.0 Cookies & Cream

2. Now Foods Alpha Lipoic Acid

3. Fish Oil

4. VPX Redline

Its a solid program, with all bases covered. My progress is inevitable and unstoppable!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Vitamins may block the benefits of exercise?

News channels yesterday covered this latest study on the effects of taking vitamins along with regular exercise. The conclusion after the study was conducted was:
"Exercise helps increase insulin sensitivity and ward off diabetes, but taking supplemental antioxidants such as vitamins C and E actually blunts that benefit."

This caught my attention because I use
Nature's Science Vitamin C-1000, 1000mg/100 Capsules

so I decided to look deeper into this topic.

When we exercise, the muscles work hard because there is stress on the body. There is oxidative stress on the muscles and muscles respond to this stress by creating free radicals. This process increase insulin sensitivity, which helps keep diabetes at bay. Increased insulin sensitivity is also key for people to process carbohydrates properly and store than as glycogen in the body and not as fat.

The study claims:
"If you take antioxidants like vitamins C and E, you block the oxidative stress response, but you also block the beneficial effects of exercise on insulin sensitivity"

Few things to keep in mind:
1. Excessive free radicals in the body can harm important cellular components and cells start functioning poorly.
2. This was a 4 weeks for 20 men and no mention was made of the doses used, their dietary and exercise habits.
3. Vitamins C and E increase insulin sensitivity.

Another important aspect to consider is the aspect of "timing". Taking Vitamins before a workout will do exactly what the study says, it will blunt the oxidative stress from the exercise and will prevent the athlete from getting the full benefits off it. However, taking these vitamins and supplements like Alpha Lipoic Acid post workout are an integral part of recovery.
Such studies should be "taken with a grain of salt", accepting them blindly might prevent us from achieving our fitness goals.
So don't throw away your vitamins! Or if you want to carefully dispose of them, send them to me for decommissioning!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Trying out SizeOn

Recently, I was at a local NPC contest and I visited the Gaspari Nutrition booth there. I was given a few sample packets of Gaspari Nutrition's SizeOn to try out. SizeOn is primarily a creatine product along with a few other useful compounds which help the creatine to be absorbed better and is meant to be used during a workout. It promises a better pump during workout, increased recovery rate and clearance of lactic acid from the muscle(allows one to train harder).

Today being Tuesday(one of my low carb days), I'd eaten less than 100 gms carbs before training, and I had a hard training session scheduled. I was going to train with a friend who was significantly stronger and weighed more than me so I needed to be at the top of my game to keep up with him strength wise, and I decided it was a good time to try the SizeOn sample.
I mixed it with water(mixes very easily without needing a blender!) and took a bottle to the gym, and sipped on it between sets. I definitely noticed a better pump and my strength was much better than usual(for a low carb day, low carbs makes it harder to lift heavy). I was also more vascular which is obviously from using SizeOn. The taste was pretty good too, I liked the product over all and would recommend it to someone looking for a new creatine and intraworkout supplement.

Workout today was:
Flat Bench press - 6 sets(last set being a giant drop set)
Push Ups - 2 sets of 25 reps each
Cable Crossovers - 2 sets of 15 reps each
Bent over lateral Raises superset with Side Lateral Raises - 4 sets
Shoulder Press on the Smith Machine - 4 sets of 8 reps each
Lying tricep extensions - 4 sets of 8 reps each
Parallel Bar dips - 2 sets of 10 reps each
Tricep Pressdowns superset with Reverse Pressdowns - 2 sets
Weighted rope crunches for the abs - 4 sets

Pretty long and hard workout! What doesnt kill me makes me stronger.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Quality Muscle.

A lot of guys in the gym try to add muscle fast and in that pursuit, eat everything they can get a hold of hoping that will get them bigger fast. While they may add weight this way, the muscle/fat ratio is very bad with this approach. Ideally, one would want to gain mostly muscle and a little fat(which is inevitable while trying to add muscle) and then strip away the fat with some dieting. With the "eat everything in sight" approach, most of the weight added is fat, and people who do this look big, but are soft and completely lack muscle quality.

The intelligent way to approach building muscle is to understand how the body works and supply the proper nutrients at the right time. For example, Branch Chain Amino acids consumed during or before a workout greatly help in adding quality muscle. This is because supplementing with free form Amino acids spares muscle tissue from being broken down to acquire BCAA. This spike in amino acid levels during the workout also increases growth hormone levels in the body, helps speed recovery, enhance ATP production and promote cell volumization. Sounds good? Add a creatine and Nitric oxide product along with BCAAs preworkout and most people would gain a few quality of pounds of muscle in a few weeks. Ofcourse, this is assuming they are eating and resting properly the rest of the day.

Why does this happen? Muscle growth and/or fat loss is not about calories alone. Counting calories is the most basic step. Body is a complex system with multiple growth pathways. The body's testosterone levels, insulin sensitivity, presence of free radicals and cortisol levels all control the amount of muscle we add or fat we store. Intelligently tweaking these will make our task of looking the way we want much easier.

And I'm sure everyone will agree adding a few pounds of muscle at a time is better than looking like michelin man and then spending months trying to get leaner!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Training right for your Body Type.

In pursuit of their fitness goals, people who are serious about it seek to follow a schedule. The first place they look is in the popular fitness magazines. There are various fitness magazines for men and women. Men tend to read Muscle and fitness, Men's health or Muscular development while women read fitness, shape, women's health or oxygen and so on. While these magazines tend to have a lot of programs targetted towards getting into shape by losing fat and gaining muscle, its important to realize that these programs are very generic and may not work if one blindly follows these programs. Every person is unique and following programs blindly from magazines or the internet doesn't always work.

Its not unusual to see people at the gym who look the same week after week, month after month. Why don't their bodies transform? They seem to train hard, and claim to eat right. I meet several such people in the gym, and its obvious to me why they are stuck in the rut they are in. They're not training right for their body type. Most of them are told to stick to the magical 4 sets per exercise, 10 repetitions per set, 12-20 sets per body part. No one ever questions if this is right for them, or if it even works. They do it because their favorite bodybuilder or model said so in a magazine.

This is one way of going about it. Follow the magazines religiously and wonder after a few months why you look nowhere close to the person promoting the program.

Another way is to put some effort into recognizing the best way to train for your own body type. Our bodies are unique. There are certain muscles which grow easier than other parts in our bodies. We accumulate and store fat differently, and have problem areas.
Today, someone asked me in the gym how to get bigger biceps, and this person has been trying very hard to increase his bicep size for the last 3 months. His biceps are a whopping 12 inches, and one can barely tell he works out. I asked him what he usually does for his biceps and it turns out he does about 16 sets of 4 different curling variations. I explained to him how working the brachialis adds more size to the bicep than all of the curling movements he's been doing, and that doing chin ups would help him improve the size of his biceps while also improving his back.

Again, another person complained how his legs don't grow although he squats 315 lbs for 6 reps easily. I pointed out to him that his muscle fiber type predominance in his legs might be slow twitch, and to target such muscle fibers, 20 rep squats and drop sets are a better approach. Time under tension for people with primarily slow twitch muscle fibers should be over a minute per set.

Also, diets tend to be different based on the person's insulin sensitivity. People with low insulin sensitivity(store fat easily in love handles and abs) should cut down their carbs and increase their fat intake to lose weight, while people with high insulin sensitivity should eat a moderate protein, moderate carb and low fat diet.

Few of the many things which differ from person to person. Over the next few weeks, I'll try to explain some of the common mistakes people make, and solutions to them. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Michelangelo and the Sistine Chapel

It is recorded that Michelangelo worked on the Sistine Chapel for 4 years. That's a long time to paint a ceiling. Why did it take so long? Because it is art. And beautiful art like that at the Sistine Chapel comes together as a result of endless repetitive effort, patience and an eye for detail.

Molding the body into a desirable object is similarly an act of art.
Our sedentary lifestyles are such that, if unchecked, the body goes out of shape, loses strength and vitality. The repetitive act of training our muscles in a gym to get stronger and look a certain way is our effort at making an art form out of ourselves, so to speak.

Ofcourse, we're all born with certain physical limitations, we cannot get taller after turning into adults and cannot alter our bone structure. However, within the given framework and limitations, we can extend it to an extent that body is an object of beauty and health.
This is art. Bodybuilding is an art. Working out and pushing ourselves to get better is the effort required at producing the unique Sistine Chapel which is our own bodies. This is a repetitive endeavor. Getting into shape is not something achieved in a few weeks, but if we're at it consistently, results are always apparent to the eye.

The reason behind such an endeavor is your own, whether you want to look good at the beach, perform better at a sport, be a model or simply look and feel better about yourself. While everyone's reasons and destinations are different, the journey toward achieving such a transformation is similar for everyone in most respects.

This journey however is not a boring or painful one, although it may seem so to beginners. Once people get into the habit of challenging themselves, beating their previous best efforts, start to see results and get complimented by their peers, they're hooked to this process. It turns into a healthy expression for the release of daily stress and frustrations, and the dopamine which is released by the body in response to exercise makes people feel better. Very rarely do people who have been exercising for years quit, or even if they quit, before long they feel like an integral part of their life is missing.

Anyway, these are just thoughts I had while on the way to the gym yesterday. Every workout I do, I know exactly what exercises to do and what I'm trying to achieve out of them, and this realization made me draw parallels between Michelangelo's art and what we try to achieve in the gym.
In a way, I'm Michelangelo, and I'm painting the ceiling.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Diet Soda and Weight Loss

Many people used to drinking regular sodas on a daily basis tend to switch a diet version of their favorite drink when they realize they drink they love so much is almost entirely made of sugar. A 12 oz can of regular coke contains upto 40 gms of sugar, a single such can would mess up anyone's diet if they were trying to eat healthy. So people switch to diet versions hoping they can continue to enjoy their favorite drink without the calories. I personally drink my share of diet coke/coke zero/sugar free redbull. Normally at least one can a day with a meal.

However, there's been a lot of press about how even the diet versions of our favorite drinks tend to create problems for people on diets. An article on webmd quoted a study which claimed people who drank diet sodas are still under the obesity threat. Most people read this and are quick to blame diet sodas. However, the article further goes onto mention that its probably because people drinking these diet sodas are still on a lousy diet. The lousy diet is always overlooked, and people read between the lines and believe what they want. The popular argument against diet soda being that it fools the body into thinking that real sugar is being supplied, so the same amount of insulin is released as a response to drinking diet soda. This is simply not true, because people who switched from cane sugar to the zero calorie versions have all benefited from it, including diabetics to whom the insulin response to food is very important.

While its true that switching to a diet soda and eating crappy will keep a person fat, I believe someone who cleans up his diet, and also switches to diet soda will benefit from the change. I'm not saying diet soda is healthy, drinking a carbonated drink loaded with all kinds of chemicals and preservatives isnt the best thing for our health, but I find drinking water all the time to be boring and find diet soda as a reasonable alternative occasionally. Plus the caffeine in the diet soda boosts metabolism.

So dont hesitate to pick up a can if you crave one. Its sexy!

That time of the month!

Its that time of the month again, when I look in my cupboard and realize I'm out of protein powder, etc and need to buy some more. Yesterday was such a day. These days are both exciting because I get to pick out new supplements, but I also hate having to spend more than I need to.
So what did I buy?
1. Syntrax Matrix 5.0 Cookies & Cream :- Syntrax always makes the best tasting protein powder in my opinion, so I decided to pick up some Matrix powder. This powder is a blend of whey, casein and egg protein thus providing a steady availability of amino acids for the body hours after drinking the protein shake.

2. Cytosport Muscle Milk n Oats :- This is my standard breakfast. Its great because a serving has about 30 gms of protein and another 30 gms of good carbs in it, perfect for my busy mornings where I dont have time to make eggs, etc.

3. Now Foods Alpha Lipoic Acid :- As I have already written before, alpha lipoic acid is one of the healthiest supplements one can take to protect the body from free radicals which are generated due to stress and exercise.

4. Zone protein bars :- Protein bar to snack on in the middle of the day, I get hungry a few hours after lunch and a protein bar is useful when on the move. I buy Zone bars because so far I've found them to be the best tasting and low in compounds like glycerin, etc which upset the stomach.

So that was my shopping list! even threw in a free tshirt because of the big order. Now I wait for the mail like a kid waits for his christmas presents.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Know Thyself

Training in the gym is addictive. Once we learn how to work the muscles, and keep challenging ourselves in the gym, we're hooked on the dopamine/feel good hormone the body releases as a response to exercise. This is similar to "runner's high", which is a pleasant feeling a long distance runner feels which keeps them going. Infact, some compare the runner's high to an orgasm! Anyone who watched the movie "Pumping Iron" will recall how the pumped up feeling one gets in the gym is like an orgasm. But getting hooked on this can sometimes result in overtraining. We need to really know ourselves well and know what our bodies can take, and recognize the signals to rest it.

This again applies more in my case because my frequency of training each muscle is very high, I train the whole body thrice a week, so its very important for me to keep track of recovery, otherwise, the training is counterproductive. So after partying hard last weekend, and training from Saturday through Tuesday, and not eating so much, I was drained. I recognized it because I've been at this for a long time now and know my body's signals.
Bryan Haycock calls this "art" of resting as "Strategic Deconditioning", which is a way of letting the body get back to normal before pushing it hard again.
Few things to do when you realize you're over training:
1. Eat normal, which means get enough protein, carbs and healthy fats.
2. Get extra sleep.
3. Take time off from the gym(much hated but necessary part).
4. Break the monotonicity of the usual routine and do something nice to feel relaxed. In my case, it was shutting off the computer and TV and just taking a walk + reading a book.

After 3 days of resting, I was feeling relaxed and ready to head back to the gym today! I decided to go in and train upper body with emphasis on working the back.
Today's workout was:
Incline DB press - 4 sets.
Smith Machine press - 2 sets
Wide grip pull ups - 4 sets
Rack Deadlifts - 5 sets
Side laterals - 4 sets, last set was a giant drop set.
Another shoulder exercise which my friend came up with, which is basically a lateral raise movement from various angles.

It was intense! The lateral raises were done with very high intensity and I was feeling strong! I went on to do deadlifts, where I pulled 495 lbs for 1 rep today which is a new personal best for me! Super! After that, worked shoulders some more and got outa there. I got back home and it was time to hibernate again until its time to go all out again!