Category: Strength Training

Foods That Kill Your Testosterone

I quite simply abhor sensationalist headlines, and the one for this piece is indeed one I would normally skip right over without even a glimmer of interest of what I might find should I decide to investigate further. Today was an exception.

My personal Facebook page has been deluged with advertisements from one whom I’m only going to refer to as The Shredded One. I have read the headline: “Eight Foods That Kill Your Testosterone” multiple times a day and despite the fact I keep blocking The Shredded One and his infomercial, it keeps coming back to my feed. Today, I said the hell with it and investigated just what The Shredded One is selling to my fellow man. After watching a short video presentation by The Shredded One, where he proclaimed to have backing for his work from Harvard, I then went on to watch the next 20 minute video he insists you watch where you will sit and listen to a huge amount of nonsense and fear mongering before the sales pitch goes into full effect for you to purchase the information you have just sat through about thirty total minutes of video presentations to receive. My friends, I am going to give you the information this huckster is trying to sell you about these foods for free.

That’s right, no charge to you at all!

For possible legal reasons, I am not using The Shredded Ones name, but I will say that if you are a weight trainer who follows Jeff Cavalier from AthleneX, you will know The Shredded One as the young guy who has directly copied Jeff’s video work to sell as his own creations. It actually may not make any legal difference if I use the guy’s name or not, but I will not since I do not want any legal hassles out of him.

What is testosterone and why do I care how food is impacting mine?

Testosterone is a hormone produced by the human body. It’s mainly produced in men by the testicles. Testosterone affects a man’s appearance and sexual development. It stimulates sperm production as well as a man’s sex drive. It also helps build muscle and bone mass.

Men can experience a range of symptoms if testosterone decreases more than it should. Low testosterone, or low T, is diagnosed when levels fall below 300 nanograms per deciliter (ng/dL).

A normal range is typically 300 to 1,000 ng/dL, according to the Food and Drug Administration. A blood test called a serum testosterone test is used to determine your level of circulating testosterone. (1)

A good many men, especially young strength trainers and body builders completely freak out when they believe their body is not producing a sufficient quantity of testosterone which is why you can find “Low T” clinics in just about every major city across America today. The issue of “Low T” is a topic that can be easily found on every online strength training forum I have ever visited or have been active on, which is several to say the least.

Why the hell do I care about someone selling us a diet based on information about foods that might lower our testosterone levels? Face it fellas, as men we can be kind of dumb sometimes, especially those of us who pursue great strength and Schwarzenegger like body’s. If you do not believe you might be occasionally dumb, turn and ask any of the women in your life what their opinion might be on the topic. Too often, we might just jump on the latest information that might give us a competitive edge while never taking the time to actually research the information being put out. If you do not believe this is a problem, then consider the number of fools who take steroids and SARMS in order to get stronger, consider the idiots who are injection the synthetic oil Synthol into their muscle tissue in order to look more muscular without putting in the work to get there through the hard work that body building requires. And then, think about the crazy ass extreme diets that body builders and wannabe’s subject themselves to. Guys will do all of this stupidity without a care in the world about how they might just be shortening their very lives by doing so. Never mind if ones advice is sound or not, if it is coming from someone who looks to be stronger and better shape, gym rats will jump on it.

Eight foods that allegedly lower testosterone.

In the interest of saving you the expense of your hard earned money, here are the eight foods The Shredded One wants you to avoid in order to not lower your testosterone:

  • Soy and soy based products. Animal and human studies have found that certain compounds in soy-based foods may decrease testosterone levels, but research is still inconclusive. One study in 35 men found that drinking soy protein isolate for 54 days resulted in decreased testosterone levels. Soy foods are also high in phytoestrogens, which are plant-based substances that mimic the effects of estrogen in your body by altering hormone levels and potentially reducing testosterone. Though human-based research is limited, one rat study showed that consuming phytoestrogens significantly decreased testosterone levels and prostate weight.However, other research found conflicting results, suggesting that soy-based foods may not have as much of an impact as these isolated soy components. In fact, one large review of 15 studies found that soy foods had no effect on testosterone levels in men. (2)  Consumption of soy and soy products are indeed wonderful for women for their hormonal health. But guys, let’s be realistic, you do not need to completely shun these products being as the research is still inconclusive and if you believe an occasional soy protein shake or other soy product is going to hurt you, you probably have other nutritional issues causing yourself even more harm than a little soy once in a while.
  • Mint. Good lord, Jesus jumped a freight train! Just how much mint would you need to swallow to have an impact on your testosterone? Some studies show that spearmint and peppermint may cause a decrease in testosterone levels, but research has so far focused on the effects on women or animals . High-quality human studies focusing on both genders are needed to assess how mint affects testosterone levels in both men and women. Before you chuck your mint gum out the window, or your mint tea down the drain because it might lower your testosterone, how about finding a conclusive study first. It could be that you might need to drink 50 gallons of mint tea a week to have an impact on you.
  • Licorice root. Ok, first off, we are talking about the root, not the candy. Licorice root is a popular natural remedy in holistic medicine and often used to treat everything from chronic pain to persistent coughing. In recent years, several studies have found that licorice may also influence hormone levels, potentially leading to a decline in testosterone over time. In one study, 25 men consumed 7 grams of licorice root daily, which caused a 26% drop in testosterone levels after just one week. (2) Chances are that if you consume 7 grams per day of licorice root, you are doing it for a medicinal purpose and may not be too concerned with a temporary drop in testosterone anyhow. Because people can be kind of dumb, and run wild with little tidbits of information, I will say this; If you come to me and tell me you will not eat licorice candy because it will lower your “T” levels, I might just force feed you enough to get you good and sick, just for being that dumb. If you are using licorice root for relieving stomach discomfort, nausea, stomach pain, and heartburn, you are not going to have your testicles shrink up from a few days use.
  • Vegetable oil. If you are still eating foods fried in vegetable oil, you are likely not too interested in your waist line, nor your health in the first place. One study in 69 men showed that frequently consuming polyunsaturated fats was associated with significantly lower testosterone levels. (2) Would anyone care to wager that these men might also have had an obesity problem from consuming far too much vegetable oil in their fried foods? It is not rocket science that folks who eat a fair amount of fried foods have weight control issues, and men who are over weight or obese have low testosterone levels because of it. If you are disciplined in your dietary habits and exercise, a little vegetable oil is not going to drain your “T” levels.
  • Flaxseed. Flaxseed is packed with heart-healthy fats, fiber and various important vitamins and minerals. However, some research shows that it may cause a decrease in testosterone levels. This is because flaxseed is high in lignans, which are plant compounds that bind to testosterone and force it to be excreted from your body. Flaxseed is also rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which may be linked to a decrease in testosterone as well. But consider this before discarding your flaxseed, or products which contain flaxseed, is the heart health benefit from the omega-3 fatty acids going to over ride any negative effect derived from the lignan component for you? If you are a strength athlete who might be concerned about your “T” levels, odds are you probably take fish oil pills to aid in keeping inflammation down in your body after hardcore workouts. Let’s use a little common sense when deciding to use, or not to use flaxseed. I would wager that if you consume enough flaxseed to have an impact on your testosterone, you will without a doubt be spending a tremendous amount of time on the toilet evacuating your bowels. 
  • Processed foods. Well duh! Processed foods are full of all kinds of garbage that is supposed to resemble actual food. They are high in sugar, unhealthy fats, sodium and preservatives. Part of the blame here is being laid on trans fats which are also to blame for heart disease, diabetes and inflammation. If you are a disciplined eater, you might get away with eating processed foods and not having your “T” levels impacted much. If you are not disciplined in your dietary habits, you are going to have a plethora of health issues related to obesity at some point anyhow. Fellas, if you are fat and out of shape, your testosterone is going to be lower no matter what the hell you are eating.
  • Alcohol. The evidence isn’t completely clear-cut when it comes to the effects of alcohol on testosterone. In fact, both human and animal studies have had mixed results, with some research indicating that alcohol could actually increase testosterone levels in certain cases. Further research is still needed to understand how different doses of alcohol affect testosterone levels in the general population. (2)
  • Nuts. Nuts are a great source of many important nutrients, including fiber, heart-healthy fats and minerals like folic acid, selenium  and magnesium. However, some studies suggest that certain types of nuts may decrease testosterone levels. Despite some findings, more research is needed to determine how certain types of nuts may impact testosterone levels.Do you really want to shun the health benefits that are known about nuts for vague research that has not been found to be conclusive? I hope not.

Cleaning up your dietary habits along with vigorous exercise is one of the most effective ways to maintaining healthy testosterone levels. Before you get caught up in any hype coming from a personal trainer, or internet fitness guru, be sure to do your own homework too. Sometimes, these people are trying so hard to be the best, or first to teach something new to others, they do not do their own due diligence first either.

 

(1) https://www.healthline.com/health/low-testosterone/warning-signs

(2) ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed

 

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Lessons of the Iron

When I first got my inspiration to write about continuing to push through a weight loss plateau, I wondered if that was enough to write about and then I realized, that’s only one lesson of the Iron. The weight loss plateau is only one of thousands of difficulties that the Iron helps me to overcome. When I first began my journey with the Iron, my first question was, “How long will this take?” My wise trainer hesitated and kindly responded, “The rest of your life.” Thank you, David, that truth has sustained me and caused me to push when it’s hard, damn hard.

The weight loss plateau responds to the same tactics that the Front Squat responds to, diligence to pursue the goal regardless of everything else. It doesn’t matter if I feel like it. It doesn’t matter if it’s a hard thing to do. The Goal is everything. The Goal is all. The method that I use to get there doesn’t have to be pretty or comfortable. The truth is, lofty goals are hard fought and harder won. How many people find a hard fight fun or comfortable? Very few, I would imagine, but we all want to win. We all want what we want. Those of us who are willing to persevere when it’s hard are the ones who will be victorious.

When I first began lifting I had some pretty quick “Newbie Gains”. It’s encouraging and it makes you feel like a “Lifter”, but when the progress slows and you’re struggling and fighting for every quarter pound gain, you will know whether or not you really are a Lifter. I found myself doing what a lot of folks do. stopping short on my squat. I was fighting the weight all the way to the floor, trying to control the descent. All that got me was an uncommitted squat, you know, the kind where you look at your video and think, “Wow, I should be lower.” We do that in everything. We take on a difficult task and do it pretty well but don’t go all in. You can do that but you will never get what you came for, in the squat or on the job or on a weight loss program or a relationship or anything else. It’s all or nothing if you want all it’s got to offer. I have learned to give it up to gravity, drop like a rock, don’t fight the process and then…all I have to do is get up. It works for everything, go all in and get what you came for and be strengthened. You will get up stronger.

I know people who hack around, doing all kinds of random resistance training and say that they lift but really don’t have the strength or the appearance of a lifter. Again, they are not committed to pushing and pressing through hard times. When it gets really hard, they do something else. Sometimes they will quit squatting or deadlifting and do the newest, dumbest, trendiest thing that they saw on YouTube or at their gym. God, if I see one more video of a trainer having someone squat on a ball while struggling to hold onto a barbell I think I’ll scream. The first thing that you need to understand is respect for the weight, it is relentless. Don’t do stupid stuff. Have an established program and stick with it through the hard times.At David’s Way we promote the idea, “Live to lift another day.” While lifting can be done safely, it requires forethought and diligence to safety and form. While our bodies are fearfully and wonderfully made, they are not indestructible. Respect the Iron. Speaking of form…

The day that I finally gave it up to gravity on my Front Squat and let it drop me was one of the happiest days of my life. Believe me, that’s saying a lot. I am 63 and live a full life. I grew up during the pursuit of happiness of the hippie era. I was a little young for some of it but that just made me more determined to experience my share of the good times and I did. I have traveled a bit, I have a son, I work three jobs, I write, I enjoy my dogs and am always up for a laugh. The day that I squatted below parallel on my front squat was still one of the best days of my life. Conquering that fear of descent changed my entire life. I knew that if I could trust myself to handle that weight, I could trust myself to handle anything. It was hard. I have learned to embrace hard things. The Iron has taught me that. Almost every worthy pursuit in life is hard. If we only do easy things, we won’t reach our full potential. The Iron makes me grow, muscle hypertrophy and mind hypertrophy. You gotta love it.

Living David’s Way, eating a low carb, (NOT keto), high protein, nutritionally dense diet and working out hard requires me to eat ENOUGH. Yes, now I am always concerned about eating enough. I have been a size 22. I have been 60 pounds overweight at my heaviest. I always had to worry about eating too much because I ate sugar and other simple carbs that contained too many calories and provided little to no nutrition. I was always hungry and craving something else. I was never satisfied. Now my biggest nutritional concern is making sure to get in all my calories before the day is over. I cannot lift if I don’t eat enough calories. Every bite that I eat is nutritionally dense and I have no cravings and rarely get hungry. I see food as fuel that is created to make me healthy and strong and by eating nutritionally dense foods, it does. I am finally free of the perpetual sadness that a “Dieter” lives with, I am not deprived. I am nourished.

There are many situations that we face in life where we can’t see the end of the journey. In order to reach our destination, it’s mandatory that we just trust the process. We get on the interstate and trust those road signs that tell us how far it is to our destination. We can’t see the destination, but we know it’s there. We trust the interstate system. The journey of The Iron is the same. I know that my destination is there. I know the shape and appearance of the body that I am furiously pursuing. I know the perfect form and ease of motion that awaits me. I know the strength and confidence that this journey brings. I just have to trust the process. The Iron has made good on every promise. It will continue to deliver as long as I trust it. My confidence and self-esteem is formidable. The Iron has made it so. I have made changes in my life that some people find astounding since I began this journey. Instead of “winding down”, I am “winding up”.

I almost never go to the doctor because I don’t remember the last time that I was sick. I take absolutely no medications. The financial impact of this alone is staggering. Good nutrition and The Iron is my first medical insurance. I don’t remember the last time that I needed the other kind. I spend my money on things that I want, not things that I have to have to stay alive. Neither of my parents had good health. My dad developed cardiac issues early in life and my mother was always sick. My good health is not genetic. It is choice.

Our choices are the most powerful tool that we have to create a healthy life. Every moment of every day we make choices. What would happen if you always made the choice for health? I challenge you, try it and see. Before beginning any weight management or exercise program, always have your doctor’s permission.

Ladies, Forget About Getting Bulky from Strength Training

Resistance training with weights is the best form of exercise for anyone, male or female. Yet far too often women will shy away from it. Besides maybe a lack of knowledge on how to proceed with a good strength training program, many women shun it because they are afraid of getting too bulky. News flash; You will never get bulky from lifting weights on accident. Weight training takes a considerable amount of work even for men to get bulky. The female body does not produce the testosterone to do so. If you think you will become bulky, lose your femininity, and look like a freak, it will be only because at some point you made the conscious decision to become a She-Hulk. It will never just happen. But what will happen is you will become mentally stronger as well as physically. Your self esteem and sense of self worth will increase as you begin to enjoy your new look. Ladies, strength training will improve your life in countless ways as every time you get under the iron, you will feel more and more formidable. It is guaranteed to make you better across the full spectrum of your life.

Why care about muscles?

When it comes to weight loss, many of you on on too large a caloric deficit and  lose muscle along with the fat you are losing.

This is not a good thing!

It will only serve to keep you at a high body fat percentage even if you have hit your goal weight. The loss of muscle will slow your metabolism and also make you weaker.

This is a fact.

And then, if you regain the weight you have lost without also replacing the lost muscle, your body fat will only be at a higher percentage than before and therefore your metabolism will be slowed even more. And when you yo-yo diet, you are only compounding the problem with each and every up and down cycle you take your body through this insanity. Any time you lose your lean muscle mass, you are only making yourself physically weaker. At some point there could be severe consequences from not maintaining lean muscle mass.

We all know that our muscles give us the power to lift heavy objects, whether it is a bag full of groceries or a crying baby we need to comfort. They give us the power to stroll around the zoo with our children and or grandchildren, and the ability to accomplish a multitude of fun activities. None of these activities require us to be star athletes, but they do require a modicum of strength and endurance to take part in. You need, and should desire that your muscles have the ability to accomplish the basic functions of life and then some. Yet many, lose these simple abilities that most of us took for granted before our nation’s obesity problem became an epidemic. Resistance training is of great importance for a healthy body, while hormones are directly responsible for a large portion of your metabolism, your muscles ramp up your ability to burn off unhealthy and undesirable fat, your muscles will expedite the burning of calories while at work or when at rest.

Our body’s lean muscle mass give us the metabolic ability to more efficiently burn calories every time we move. This is true whether we are under the iron, swimming in a pool, or even just getting up and pushing a vacuum cleaner around our living room. Our lean muscle is constantly burning calories, therefore, the more you have, the more calories you will burn even at rest. A simple factoid for you; Our muscles will burn 40 to 120 calories a day just to sustain it’s existence, while fat will only feed on 1 to 3 calories per day. That is a pretty stark contrast between the two components of our body’s. Just by adding about 16 ounces of lean muscle mass to your body  , about enough to fill a soda pop bottle, your metabolism will continue to increase your ability to burn off body fat.

Ladies, when you think of strength training, no matter the form in mind, forget the idea of becoming the female equivalent to Arnold Schwarzenegger. It is not going to happen without a lot of hours expended in the gym, and then only with the help of illegal steroids. You are not going to bulk up, but your muscles will appear fuller as your body fat decreases. This will make you look as healthy as you will feel with your newfound body.

By focusing on compound muscle groups in your workouts, and following the right workout plan, you will firm up and stimulate the amount of growth your body requires to burn more calories each day. The best thing is, you do not need expensive equipment or gym memberships in order to realize a difference. You can accomplish everything you need from the comfort of your own home while using your own body weight to get there. If you have questions about strength training, Brenda Sue would be happy to answer them. I began training her in free weights a year and a half ago. When she began, she could only dead lift about 50 pounds. She recently dead lifted 215 pounds. And she has not become a bulky She-Hulk, nor has she lost any of her femininity in the process. Despite me now referring to her as the “Beast of Bama”, she is still a proud and petite Southern Belle in all aspects of how she lives and conducts her life.

The Benefits of Foam Rolling

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I have heard about foam rolling for years but had never tried it until recently. The benefits are well known in the fitness industry. It is “self-myofascial release”, or SMR. It is known to relieve muscle stiffness, soreness and inflammation and increase joint range of motion. The fascia is a band or sheet of connective tissue, primarily collagen, beneath the skin that attaches, stabilizes, encloses and separates muscles and other internal organs.  Trainers advise rolling each muscle group for about 1-5 minutes.

Foam rolling can be utilized to help warm up before a workout. It only  takes  about  5 minutes  to warm up and hydrate your muscles and fascia. Make sure to support your body well with your arms as you roll to avoid falling off of the roller. If you find a tender spot don’t work it too long, just long enough to feel a relaxation  in the muscles.   Breathe deeply and relax into the roller and roll back and forth. Remember,  you are rolling muscles, not bones and joints. Concentrate  on the length of your muscles, not the joints. There is no benefit to rolling a sore joint until it is achy. Your muscles will respond by relaxation, your joints will not.

Foam rolling  let’s you  massage yourself effectively.  There are many different rollers to choose from. You want to consider 1-Density 2-Surface Texture  3-Shape and Size

Density- When  you  first begin you might want to consider a medium density roller. While they don’t  last as long as the denser rollers, their softer feel is easier to accommodate when you’re  learning to roll. White rollers are the softest while the blue and red are medium density and the black rollers are the most dense and the hardest. If your roller is too soft it may be ineffective  but if it’s  too hard, you may bruise. Most people begin with a medium density to achieve effectiveness  without undue trauma while learning.

Texture- While some rollers have knobs and ridges to give a more targeted massage similar to human hands, a smooth roller gives even pressure across the muscle. Smooth rollers are also less expensive. There are some rollers that provide a variety of textures for finding exactly  the amount of pressure that you like. The knobs and ridges on some rollers provide intense pressure which  may not be suitable  for everyone.

Shape and Size- Long rollers, around 36 inches are good to begin with because they provide stability and great coverage with little effort. They are great for massaging  your  back. Smaller rollers, around 24 inches are good for your calves and arms and work well in limited space.

The 5-6 inches in diameter rollers are comfortable for beginners and offer a less intense massage than the 3-4 inch rollers. The 3-4 inch rollers will deliver a more targeted, intense massage. You can even get a roller that looks like it’s  been cut in half lengthwise for the soles of your feet that is supposed to help with plantar fasciitis. There are foam covered roller massagers for the upper back and foam balls for curved areas such as the lower  back. Always get your  doctor’s  permission  before  beginning  any physical fitness activity or program.

Rolling is also a great cool down exercise. The same techniques  that you use to warm up will work  as a cool down, dispensing  the lactic acid from intense exercise for less post workout  soreness and stiffness.

You can buy  these fitness tools online or in store at any sporting goods retailer for anywhere from $10  to $100. Usually the $100 roller will come with a vibration  function built into the roller and the $10 roller being a plain, soft roller that will feel good enough but it won’t  last very long. Choose the one that’s  best suited to your needs but after your doctor approves, get rolling!

 

Women and Strength Training

I want to address the topic of strength training and women in this article and hopefully clear up a few misconceptions. Over the last few years, I have had several women ask me about how they should best approach resistance training and they are about always surprised when I recommend they train with the exact same exercises as a man would do, the only difference being the amount of weight used as a starting point.

Women who regularly train with weights can improve their health, develop a healthier self esteem with a higher degree of self confidence, reduce their risk of degenerative diseases such as osteoporosis and they can enhance their athletic capabilities. In the past, some women have questioned the value of strength training and have even avoided it because of social stigmas, and or the fear of getting too big.

You might even believe that training with a barbell is too hard for a woman to attempt.

Current evidence clearly displays that women are perfectly capable of tolerating and adapting to the stresses of strength training, and the benefits of doing so are quite substantial. An excellent example of how strength training benefits women, even those who are older, is our very own Brenda Sue whom I have been training via online videos for the last year and a half. Brenda Sue asked me for weight training advice and I took her on as a trainee. Despite being a 62 year old female, I began her on the same training program I would any young man, only at a lighter starting weight. Her strength gains have been remarkable to say the least, and it is incredible how much it has improved every other area of her life through being stronger physically and mentally. These qualities bring on a higher sense of self confidence which simply makes the tasks we face every day seem much easier. Brenda Sue has learned that if she can rise back up from a heavy squat, then she can tackle anything else that comes her way.

Sex differences, body size and composition.

Obviously because of differences in strength between men and women, some approaches to strength training might need to vary by a small degree. That being said, there are many men who are weaker than many women when they begin strength training too so this is not as large an issue as some might believe.

Before puberty, there are essentially no differences in height, weight and body size between boys and girls. As the children begin going through puberty, the differences between boys and girls becomes more evident primarily because of hormonal changes. During puberty the production of estrogen in girls increases fat deposition and the development of breasts. Whereas testosterone in boys increases bone formation and protein synthesis. Though estrogen also stimulates bone growth, boys have a longer growth period, and thereby adult men tend to achieve greater stature than women. On average, women tend to have more body fat and less muscle than men. Women also tend to weigh less than men, yet require a higher amount of body fat for good health than a man requires. Anthropometric measurements of adults indicate that men have broader shoulders relative to their hips and women tend to have broader hips relative to their waists and shoulders. The broader shoulders of men can support more muscle tissue and can also provide a mechanical advantage for muscles acting at the shoulder. Yet, again I still maintain there not be weight training programs that have to be different solely because of the differences in the sexes as our anatomies and physiology is not that different. We might have a difference in our build, yet we have the exact same muscle groups, our cardiovascular systems are also the same. Women prove every day they are just as capable of performing the same physical tasks as men. In a world where my fellow men feel they need to prove their manliness, I will tell you straight up that I would rather work with a woman who can physically pull their load than with a weak man who cannot. This was true both when I was in the military and during my period as a maximum security correctional officer.

Strength and power output.

When comparing training induced changes in muscular strength between men and women, it is important to distinguish between absolute and relative measures. In terms of absolute strength, women generally have about two thirds the strength of men. The absolute lower body strength of women is generally closer to male values, as compared to the absolute values for upper body strength. Gender related differences in body composition. anthropometric characteristics, and fat free mass distribution can partly explain these differences.

When compared on a relative basis, gender related differences in muscular strength are greatly reduced. Because the average man and woman differ considerably in body size, it is useful to compare gender differences in strength relative to body weight, fat free mass and muscle cross sectional area. When expressed relative to body weight, the lower body strength of women is similar to that of men, while their upper body strength is still somewhat less. If comparisons are made to fat free mass, differences in strength between men and women tend to disappear. It is interesting that but there is data that suggests that eccentric strength may be more similar between men and women than concentric strength when compared to relative fat free mass.

When strength is expressed relative to muscle cross sectional area, no significant difference exits between genders, which indicates that muscle quality is not gender specific. Granted that the muscle fibers in men and women are also similar in fiber type distribution and histochemical characteristics, never the less men tend to have larger muscle fiber cross sectional area than women. Notwithstanding the importance of these observations, we need to remember that there is a wide range of strength abilities and that in some cases differences between two women may in fact be greater than the difference between a man and woman.

In terms of absolute strength, women are generally weaker than men because of their lower quantity of muscle. When compared relative to muscle cross sectional area, no differences in strength exists between genders, which indicates that muscle quality is not gender specific.

Strength training for women.

Despite gender related differences, men and women respond to resistance training in similar ways from pre-training baselines. Although the magnitude of change in selected variables may differ to some degree, the overall value of resistance exercise for women extends far beyond an increase muscular strength and includes favorable changes in other important measures of health and fitness.

Being as the physiological characteristics of muscle between the genders are the same, there is no sensible reason why weight training programs for women need to be any different from that of men. In fact, because the muscle groups involved are the same for men and women, resistance programs should be designed to improve the performance of the muscles involved regardless of gender. It is a misconception that weight training programs for women should be any different from those of men. It is also a misconception that women lose flexibility and become bulky from weight training. The only difference required between weight training programs for men and women is generally the amount of weight used for a given lift.

Ladies next time you balk at the idea of strength training, consider female Olympic athletes such as gymnasts who are able to perform 40 pull ups and competitive female weight lifters who can lift over two times their body weight. These outstanding female athletes display what is possible through strength training. For another excellent example of what is possible when a woman commits herself to “Life under the Iron”, take a good hard look at our own Brenda Sue for inspiration. This little lady is 62 years old, weighs about 135 pounds, and can deadlift 190 pounds, and will soon surpass 200. Brenda Sue has become strong without becoming bulky, her health and level of fitness are that of a twenty something, her self esteem and confidence levels are at an all time high.

I will place this topic on our new forum where you can comment or ask either of us questions. I am positive Brenda Sue will share some of her fitness secrets with you there. Lets get the forum up and rolling!

Life Hack of The Iron

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I have learned many things from strength training. Today, with guidance from my Trainer, I have learned the greatest Truth of the Iron. “When we fix our lifts, we learn how to fix our lives.” (David Yochim)

“You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know.” (David Yochim)
When I first began heavy weight lifting I was at the physically weakest point of my life. I didn’t know this until I picked up a barbell and could only squat 35 pounds. If I’ve ever been any more embarrassed, I don’t remember it. I don’t usually get embarrassed. What is, is. But, when I squatted with 35 pounds and struggled to stand up, I could have just gone through the floor to escape facing the truth of my physical condition. I daresay that was not a deep squat either. Although I squatted as deeply as I thought I could at the time, now I know that it was nowhere close to proper depth. I have discovered that not hitting depth puts an incredible strain on me because I don’t activate my glutes and hamstrings properly to stand. I was making what was already hard, harder with improper form. We do the same thing in other parts of our lives. We make things harder than they have to be by doing them the wrong way or just allowing ourselves to do less than our best. If we give every nuance of every lift our undivided attention to detail, we will do much better. The same thing applies to other aspects of our lives. I have an extremely difficult, high-stress job. The better I focus, the easier the job is. If I allow myself to lose focus while doing a menial task at home, that task becomes difficult. I have learned this from the Iron. Since my weights are heavier now, focus is not only mandatory for the lift, it’s mandatory for safety. This applies to a road trip. Don’t lose focus on the interstate at 80 mph. It could end badly.

Proper Preparation

Last night, although I was front squatting a weight that I had not squatted before, I was not pleased with my lift. I wanted to get more reps. As I analyzed what might have been wrong, I thought about my preparation. Last week when I was pleased with this lift, I had gone out of my way prepping. My calories were perfect and I ate them early enough that they were pulsing through my system when I needed them, I had an excellent pre-workout, I had the most adrenaline pumping music in existence blasting in my dungeon. Last night, I struggled through a mandatory continuing education course, stuffed the remaining calories for the day in my mouth at the last minute, skipped the pre-workout and started lifting without music. There was so much wrong with this picture for me because I know what I need to have a good session. I didn’t do it. I was not pleased with the results. How often do we do this in other areas of our lives? I got bit by a rattlesnake in 2016 due to stupidity. I know exactly what I did wrong. We do things like this all the time with that still, small voice screaming instructions in our ears. The Iron will not yield to me unless I approach it prepared. Everything works this way.

Analysis

Even as I lumbered up the stairs to my bedroom, I began to analyze my lift. Without analysis there is no learning. I combed each moment of my approach, my breathing, my focus. It was in this moment that I began to see the discrepancies between this week’s squat and last week’s squat. Unless we examine ourselves, we will never improve. I was not happy with that lift. I wanted more. Even though lifting is a lifestyle, not an ever increasing exhibition of strength and ego, I still wanted more. I knew that I was off and when I began to analyze my day, a cascade of differences in this week and last week flooded my brain. How often do we encounter difficulty and disappointment in other areas and we just chalk it up as a lesson learned when nothing was actually learned because we did not analyze our behavior? Self examination is necessary for growth and mastery of every area of our lives. I have learned a very practical application of this through the Iron. Unless I analyze my behavior with it, there will be no progress. I must correct myself as I go. Most of the time when we stall out in life it’s because we do not correct ourselves. We’re too busy correcting other people. Regardless of what I do to that Iron, it’s me that must yield and adapt. Only then will my relationship to the Iron be all that I want it to be. This applies to every relationship. Analyze your behavior, adjust, adapt.

Wisdom

I was one of the ones who thought that weight lifting was just picking up heavy stuff and putting it down. That’s because I had never lifted heavy. I had lifted but not heavy. There are so many benefits to exerting my muscles to their limits, pushing as hard as I can, refusing to quit and doing it with proper form. This is true work. I have learned that I can endure and accomplish more than I would have ever believed. The key here is proper form. Do it the right way. I cannot make progress in the number of pounds that I lift over my lifetime, unless I do it the right way. If I do not learn and practice proper form, sooner or later I will fail and most likely get seriously injured. This is true of life. We can haphazardly go about our lives if we want to because it seems easier at the time but we will never accomplish all that we are capable of unless we do it the right way. The right way maximizes our efforts, that’s why it’s the right way. The heavier the weights, the greater the risk and the greater the benefits. This is also true in other areas. Hard jobs with a lot of responsibility and power and influence over other people’s lives are high risk for the employee and the people affected by their performance. The benefits of those jobs are immense for all concerned when they are done right. Great relationships with intelligent, articulate, creative people are wonderful when treated with mutual respect. Everything has to be done with proper form.

Those Days

And then there are those days… You know… Those days when you prepare and analyze and do it right and apply everything you know and the Iron still won’t cooperate. The people won’t cooperate. The Universe won’t cooperate… Those are the days that my Trainer sums up like this. “It’s heavy.” (David Yochim) Sometimes stuff is just hard. Don’t quit. It’s a lifestyle.

Active Rest, Days Off Are Important

Contradictory Term?

The term “Active Rest” sounds contradictory but it simply means that you don’t do your hard workout. You rest from that and stay moderately active. When we work out really hard, it’s more work than fun but on Active Rest days, we can do fun things just to keep moving and get in a little light cardio. I am a lifter so on my Active Rest days I hike, walk or find an outdoor activity that is physical by nature. I recently took a day to go on a zipline adventure. It was great. I had tons of fun that was a workout but still much less intense than my weight lifting sessions. In these times, our bodies can build muscle.

Band-Aid

When we work out hard, we actually tear muscle fibers and cause inflammation in those muscles. On active rest days our bodies repair this damage by sending specialized cells to the area that form a “bandage” to repair the injured area. These cells remain as new muscle. Without these days “off”, our muscles will never have a chance to build because we are constantly tearing it down with hard workouts.

Experiment

Sometimes when we get all gung-ho about working out, we may think that we don’t want to take those off days. When I first began to lift heavy I went through a short lived phase of not wanting to take rest days. My Trainer gave me just enough rope to hang myself. He said, “Try it.” He had already told me what I should do and he’s not one to be ignored. It has always been understood that I would do as he advises because he wants me to make maximum progress without injury. Rest days are critical to both. Without rest, I would never develop my maximum potential and would greatly increase my risk of injury. Sure enough, my progress halted and I began to regress. The Overhead Press was the first to suffer but very shortly, my Squat, Deadlift and Bench Press were following suit. When I acknowledged this to my Trainer, I pretty much got a “I told you so.” That whole experiment lasted about three weeks. It was a disaster. I’ve always been zealous for progress in my numbers and in my appearance. This was not the way to achieve either. He told me that he gave me enough rope to hang myself so that I would learn and to listen to him. Lesson learned. Now I so look forward to my off days. I find fun things that I really want to do and go for it. My progress is steady. I began my program with a 135 pound standard barbell set in February of 2018. In March of this year, 2019, I bought a 300 pound Olympic set and a power rack. I’m closing in on a 200 pound deadlift. I’m not there yet, but it’s coming. That will be about 1 1/2 times my body weight. After that, who knows? I do know that this would never have happened without rest days. At 62, I’m proud.

Mental Benefits

No matter how dedicated we are to our fitness program, if we are working really hard, there is a part of our brain that sees our workout as just that, work. Guess what? All work and no play really does make Jack a dull boy. I refer to this old saying frequently because you may not have read the other articles where I mention it and it summarizes burnout. Heavy lifting is the best thing that ever happened to me for so many reasons. It has changed much more than my body. It has taught me that I can do anything. If I can stand up from a heavy Squat, I can certainly pull myself up that incline at the end of the Burma bridge on the zipline course. If I can break that heavy deadlift off the floor, I can certainly take a lickin’ and keep on tickin’ from anyone who wants to dish it out. At the bottom of a heavy squat, I have to get in touch with my Super Hero and just rise, Baby, rise. I love it. It makes me a bonafide Badass, but let me tell you, it’s work. There are days that facing that barbell seems like anything except pleasure. That’s why I need days off. I can escape the hard work of dedication to a hard thing and be a child again. I can play. Days off from our workouts are as necessary as days off from work. You’ll go slap crazy without them and most likely quit. Take your rest days. Don’t even try to work out hard every day. I’ve already done that. It won’t work. Take your rest days and enjoy without guilting yourself all day. Stress relief is a part of the process and guilting yourself will hinder you.

Enriched

Working out is supposed to enrich our lives. I’ve noticed that some people seem to adhere to the “No pain, No gain.” ideology in everything like it’s a curse to enjoy life. Please. That’s just illogical. Why in this world would you say that you’re trying to have a better life and yet think that you have to miserable all the time? Without off days we will be sore and achy all the time because our bodies can never repair the self-inflicted damage that is necessary to building muscle. We will grow weary with our well-doing and seriously desire to quit at some point. Our minds will never have any time to reset with creative play. Work out and work out hard, as long as your doctor approves, but take those active rest days and benefit in body and mind. Enjoy exploring your playful, childlike side again with active adventures and days of curious joy as you rediscover the relish of playful activity. Remember what you enjoyed as a child and pursue it on these days or do things that you’ve always wanted to do and never thought that you had the time. Make time. Your health depends on it. I always wanted to be a ballerina…Anybody got a pink tutu?

We Were Designed to Work Hard

I am 55 years old and besides enjoying the open road on my Harley Davidson, my leisure pursuit of choice is weight training and anything that can help me be the most physically fit that I can be. And of course these questions arise frequently;

Aren’t you getting a little old for all this craziness?

Short answer, Nope, not at all.

Aren’t you afraid all that weight lifting is going to hurt you?

Again, Nope, not at all.

No, I am not getting too old for weight training and physical fitness in general, and neither are you. I do not give a damn how old you are, there is always something you can do (health allowing of course) to move your body and keep it healthy. If anyone younger than my friend at my gym says they are too old, I really want you to speak with Clarice. This beautiful woman is 83 years young. She suffered a stroke about a year ago and still goes to the gym for cardiovascular and strength building exercises on a regular basis. This gal has more back bone than many young men I know personally.

Moving on to another example. My co-author Brenda Sue is an individual I became acquainted with through Weight Watchers social media Connect. I had joined Weight Watchers to be supportive of my wonderful wife Loraine who had also joined, and for my own benefit. I am a power lifter and had gained a lot of weight eating 6000 calories per day to fuel my lifting. Note, this kind of weight gain is not the healthiest even if you are gaining massive amounts of strength. I began posting on Connect not only my weight loss progress, but also my physical fitness regimen which prompted Brenda Sue to ask me if I could advise her in weight training. That was about 10 months ago and I began training her via online video as she lives 800 miles away from me.

Brenda Sue is a 62 year old nurse who works long hours at a very demanding job. Yet, every task I have placed on her to accomplish with a barbell, she has attacked with great effort in getting it right and in getting strong. I now have her on an intermediate level power lifting program and must say her progress has been quite remarkable.

Many people, besides myself, shrug off this aren’t you “too old” nonsense.

Don’t wimp out damn it, you are capable of more than you can ever imagine if at first you just decide to put in some effort at living a phsically fit life. Most people who fail at any endeavor, first fail in their own mind. Now, back to am I afraid of getting hurt. Brenda Sue puts it best with “Being sedentary will hurt me worse than lifting weights ever will”. This is so true on many levels. Lifing weights will:

  • Obviously, get you stronger than you were before.
  • Physical challenges will become easier for you.
  • Mental challenges will be mitigated.
  • Your self confidence is going to improve.
  • Your body is going to look better.
  • Your bones will strengthen and lessen your risks of Osteoporosis as you age.
  • Your self esteem is going to grow by leaps and bounds.
  • If you suffer depression or Post Traumatic Stress, your symptoms are going to be reduced.

Physical activity helps you feel and perform at your best. There are no exceptions to this rule my friends, as sitting on your ass on your couch watching reruns on the bood tube will never make you feel as good as exercise will. The key to sticking with a regular physical fitness regimen is to choose activities that you wll enjoy. Be flexible and try many things. Remember that you do not have to spend 60 consecutive minutes engaged in physical activity as a few minutes here and there add to the benefits of moderate activity. Just ensure you get your heart rate increased for it to truly count. But, bear in mind, any activity that gets you moving is good, but doing more is always going to be better. The goal is to have a physically active lifestyle my friends.

Mounting evidence suggests that our bodies need regular, moderate physical activity that gets our hearts beating and forces our muscles to wok harder than they usually do in order to remain healthy. Physiologically speaking, overall fitness is a balance between different body systems. With respect ot the joints, flexibility is important. With repsect to muscles, strength and endurance are important. Optimal nutrition contributes to athletic performance, and conversely, regular exercise contributes to a person’s ability to use and store nutrients optimally. Together, the two are indispensable to a high quality of life. No one who is, or can be fit, has to settle for less than optimal physical fitness, period. It is choice made by each individual when they live a sedentary lifestyle. Physical activity does not have to be strenuous to yield healthy benefits. Moderate amounts of physical activity are recommended for people of all ages. However, at present, only about 33 percent of adults engage regularly in sustained physical activity of any intensity. About 38 percent of adults report no physical activity at all. And we wonder why there is rising costs to medical care, besides all the blame that can be placed on insurance companies, hospitals, doctors and pharmaceutical companies, we as citizens are also responsible when we accept obesity and all the associated health issues which go along with it as the new norm of modern life.

In proceeding with a physical fitness program, keep in mind that fitness builds slowly, so activity should increase gradually. For beginners, consistency is very important. Establish a regular pattern of physical activity first (for example, 30 minutes cumulative to start) and plan to increase that amount over time. View your physical activity time as a lifelong commitment.

If you are just starting on a fitness program, a few precautions are important. For most apparently healthy people, moderate physical activity such as walking should not pose any problem. However, medical advice concerning suitable type of activity may be necessary for anyone with any of the risk factors shown in the margin or for anyone diagnosed with cardiac or other known diseases.

Always remember, fitness does not, nor should it be an all or nothing activity. The term fitness is not restricted to the seasoned athlete. With a basic understanding of the concept of total fitness and a personal commitment to a physically active lifestyle, anyone can become fit. To be fit, you don’t have to be able to finish the local marathon, nor do you have to develop the muscles of a Mr. Universe or Miss Olympia. Rather, what you need is a healthy body weight and enough flexibility, muscle strength, muscle endurance, and cardiovascular endurance to meet the everyday demands that life places on you, plus some to spare. Do not let perfection be your stumbling block, everyone in the gym was once a novice too.

No matter how old you are, you have the body of a modern human being, and that body was designed more than 100,00 years ago. You can even conclude that that we humans have inherited enes that have been fine tuned to support a physically active lifestyle. In fact, scientists from University of Missouri, University of Pennsylvania, and East Carolina University not only hypothesize this to be true, but go on to say “that physical inactivity in sedentary societies directly contributes to multiple chronic health disorders”. They conclude that all physical inactivity is an abnormal state because our bodies have been programmed to expect physical activity; this is why inactivity causes the metabolic dysfunctions that lead to a host of chronic health conditions, such as heart disease, cancer, obesity, diabets and high blood pressure. Nearly all of your biochemistry and physiology was fine tuned by and for conditions of life that existed more than 10,000 years ago. However, what we eat has changed drastically more in the last 50 years than in the previous 40,000 years. So what in the hell is the big deal? Our genes do not know it. We still process food the same way our ancestors did, very efficiently. To understand this concept, you need only compare “yesterdays” diet and physical activity patterns to “todays” diet and physical habits. When you make this comparison, it is of no wonder there are more obese people in American society than there are physically fit.

In closing, you are never too old for physical fitness. You can be too infirm or injured, but that is not the same as being too old. Of course, the reality is your injury or infirmity may likely be the result of a sedentary life style coupled with less than healthy dietary habits. Bottom line is if you do not want to keep looking like a cream puff, keep sitting your ass on the couch and munch away on those cream puffs. If you want to be physically fit, and not look like a bag of cookies, then you have to eat healthy and move your body accordingly. Wanting to look and feel good will never cut the mustard if you are not willing to make permenent changes to your life.

Bulky from Weights?

This is a recurring topic where women express concern in regards to getting all swole and bulky from lifting weights. Let’s see if I can put some of these concerns to rest for you as I am a strong proponent of women getting into strength training. There are many benefits for you to gain by strength training such as the obvious with a more toned body, but more importantly you will gain not only physical strength, you will get stronger mentally, you will become more confident in your abilities with all of lifes endeavors.

Another important aspect is resistance training how it is good for increasing the strength of your bones. Ladies, chances are pretty good that if you live long enough, you may become afflicted with osteoporosis. Strength training with a proper diet will help to prevent this or at least mitigate the severity. The human skeletal system reaches peak bone mass by the age of 30 years old. Even though our bodies have quit growing in stature, our bones are still building in mass. After we turn 30, whether we are male or female, it is imperative that we protect our skeletal system by strengthening it through resistance training and ensuring we consume sufficient quantities of Vitamin D and calcium. When there is low amounts of calcium in our blood, hormones and Vitamin D call on the inner trabecular bone matter which is akin to a lacy network of calcium crystals that are almost sponge like in appearance, to release calcium into the blood for use in the rest of the body. Over time, this lacy network becomes less dense and fragile as calcium is depleted. Since our bone mass is at peak level at 30 years old, think of this like money in an account where you need to protect the account and not make any withdrawals unless you absolutely have to.

Next, as a female of any age or physical condition, your body does not produce testosterone which will promote building huge mucle mass. If you bulk from lifting it will never be accidental and will definitely be on purpose through a tremendous amount of work and muscle building supplements of either legal or illegal types, such as steroids. Truth be told, most men do not bulk up easy with lean muscle mass either. Most men who get bulked fairly rapidly actually are carrying more body fat than they might realize or want to admit.

Everyone, male or female has a genetic potential, or rather a limit of how much lean muscle mass they can naturally put onto their bodies by 100% natural means. That potential is all in the size of your bone structure. The bigger your structure, the more muscle you can pack on through, again, very hard work. For instance an accurate way to calculate your maximum biceps size, excluding fat is through a simple measurement. Measure your wrist and then add 10 inches to that measurement. Male or female, this will give you a pretty accurate expectation of how big you can grow your biceps through lean muscle growth. You measure at your wrist because that is the part of your body where you have the least muscle and fat to indicate your bone structure. If your biceps gets bigger than this potential, it is either because of body fat which we hope you are losing, or drugs.

If you do not want to bulk, you also need to know the variable aspects of different lifting methods. Light weight, high reps as opposed to heavier weights low repetitions. Ladies, if you are concerned about bulking, the last thing you want to do is to lift with light weight and high reps even though this is likely to be your first instinct to try. In the short term you might like the toned look you are getting, especially while cutting body fat. But, in the long term, light weight high reps will give you some of the bulk you may not desire. This is because when you do those high repetitions you are promoting sarcoplasmic hypertrophy which does gets you all “swole”. High rep sets pump your muscles full of blood which causes microscopic tears of the muscle tissue. This action causes your muscles to retain sarcoplasmic fluid which results in bulk over time. The good thing, if this is not desirable, the swole will disappear with the dissipation of the sarcoplasmic fluid. Remember too, it takes on average 4 to 5 years of serious weight training to reach your genetic potential, if even then. It will not happen over night. You never know, but during that time you might decide you like being more muscular.

My personal choice in weight training is power lifting where I use higher weights and less reps in order to achieve maximum strength over aesthetics. With this style of lifting you can get huge as I did. I was 250 lbs at my heaviest and strongest. I only stand 5′ 7″. But, the thing is, I was intentionally eating 6000 calories a day to fuel my lifting, and I was also carrying too much body fat despite the amount of training I was doing each day. I was lifting competitively and ate like a horse to fuel my workouts. The other reason I ate a ton of food to drive maximum strength is because I was a Correctional Officer in a pretty hard core prison. Which is really not a environment for small weak people. The inmates will eat you up if you appear weak. Now that I am no longer in that environment, I have taken off 70 pounds and still lift pretty heavy weights for my body weight and age. I still do heavy weights at low reps and in no way am I any way bulky.

Ladies, if you want to strength train, I highly recommend you do compound lifts where you work multiple muscle groups with each lift and begin at light weights, lighter than you feel necessary, in order to master the movements and form. There is no call to be intimidated by barbell training and I assure you, you are not going to look like a male bodybuilder.

Wastes of Time in the Gym

Like many people, in the past I have dicked around with weight training without the understanding that there was a tremendous amount of knowledge that I did not know that I did not know. Hell, none of it really seems to be rocket science, what could there possibly be about picking up and setting down heavy weights which is not obvious. Pick up the weight, and set it down numerous times until you know you are going to be sore the next day, right? This is wrong on many levels yet far too many people assume weight training is really just that basic. Hell, if that dumbass meathead jock can get big and strong, surely I can too.

In my years of experience training under the iron, there are a few things I have learned. Most people who fail at weight training, those who begin really hard and then fade away when their process becomes a grind, do so because of their lack of knowledge, their complete lack of understanding anything about progressive overload, nutrition and rest. You can get away for a short period of time jacking around with different lifts and no set programming where there is measurable progress, and actually get stronger than you were the day you began. Yet, those newbie gains will not last long if you do not understand programming in the realm of strength training. In full transparency, I am included in this group of people who did not have the slightest clue. I have learned many lessons with the iron the hard way until the day I decided several years ago that I was going to be truly serious about my training. I knew that if I were to be serious about making gains under the barbell, I had better recognize that I was actually ignorant of the best approach. And this was despite many years of experience in military physical fitness programs. I had no clue and what I needed was to begin studying those who were noted professionals in strength training. I would no longer listen to my fellow gym rats or believe everything I read in the muscle magazines where you are almost always guaranteed 20 pounds of muscle growth if only you do their programs to the letter, by the way, this never happens for anyone. I did my due diligence in searching out professionals I could learn from and soon found Coach Mark Rippetoe, owner of Wichita Falls Athletic Club, and who is one of the leading powerlifting coaches in the USA. Through Coach Rippetoe I learned about programming, physiology and the important role of rest and nutrition for serious lifters. I also study many other coaches such as Louie Simmons of Westside Barbell, Glen Pendlay, Steve Shaw, Jeff Cavalier and others including Bill Starr. The good thing about each of these coaches is in that they all still use old school methods for increasing the strength of their trainees. Always remember that no matter the bright shiny new machines in your gym, the best laid programs for building muscle and strength all go back to the old school ways of progressive overload in a linear progression.

I had a muse to write an article on wastes of time in the gym and as always, when researching to ensure I am correct in what I write, I came across this article by Coach Rippetoe and felt I would share his words to others. The article was similar to my muse, but Coach lays it out better than I can.

Coach Mark Rippetoe

Time is money. Money is scarce these days, everywhere but DC. You want to be stronger, so you go to the gym. The best use of your time there is the simple progressive barbell training program we have discussed before, one that drives an upward strength adaptation with a programmed increase in load over a full range of motion using as much of your muscle mass as possible. This approach allows you to lift a gradually increasing amount of weight, thus making you stronger. Stronger means only one thing: you can apply more force with your muscles. The process of getting stronger improves the capacity of every aspect of your physical existence. So, getting stronger in the gym is the best reason to go there.

But it is incredibly easy to waste precious time once you’re inside. Here are the top three:

Stretching

Long regarded as the first thing you should always do inside the gym, stretching – for most people, and by “most” I mean you, probably – is not only unnecessary, it may be counterproductive.

What a way to start an essay, eh? The most fashionable aspect of modern fitness is the newly-rechristened “mobility.” Same thing as “flexibility,” except that it sounds more Californian. And here I go again, pooping on the most popular thing in the gym. It is a part of every trendy approach to fitness in existence, from CrossFit and “functional training” to Pilates and yoga. In fact, Pilates and yoga are mobility/flexibility/stretching, and that’s about all.

It has been assumed by almost everybody for the past 40 years that every workout should begin with the physical preparation known as “stretching.” Stretching is an attempt to increase the range of motion (ROM) around a joint, like the knee, hip, ankle, shoulder, elbow, or around a group of joints like the spinal column. The common method is to force the joint into a position of tolerable discomfort and hold it there for a while, thus hopefully increasing the ROM.

More recent approaches to increased flexibility have used techniques that affect the muscles themselves, which actually control the ROM around the joints. Massage, Active Release Therapy, “foam rolling,” and other techniques applied to the muscle bellies themselves are much more effective for increasing a tight ROM than stretching. The Hip Bone’s Connected to the … Thigh Bone, the Thigh Bone’s Connected to the … Knee Bone, etc. So stretching is really all about the muscles anyway. Every operating room professional knows the truth here: perfect “mobility” is obtained only under general anesthesia.

The assumption is always that your current ROM needs to be increased. Here are some Facts, cheerfully provided without citations, so that you can look them up if you want to:

1. Hypermobility is a medical condition – a “Pathology,” in fact – that often involves defects in the proteins that form the ligaments, the connective tissues that connect the bones to each other at the joints. The problem with being too flexible is that it results in unstable joints, which can assume positions they are not anatomically designed to occupy. A subsequently injured joint is not healthy: it is injured. This is not good. And here you are, trying to become hypermobile.

2. Tendons and ligaments do not “stretch out.”You cannot make them longer, and it would not improve their function if you could. Their function is to transmit force, like a chain or a cable; in the case of tendons, which connect muscles to bones, the force of muscular contraction is transmitted to the bone it’s attached to, thus moving the bone. Tendons are indeed elastic, in that a sudden dynamic load causes a very small temporary change in length and a subsequent rebound, seen typically in the Achilles tendon complex. But during normal muscle contraction, if the tendon changed its length not all of the force would move the bone – some would be lost as the tendon stretched. Just like a short piece of chain, a tendon pulls the bone with all the force of the contracting muscle because it does not stretch during the contraction.

Ligaments behave likewise. They anchor the joint as it moves, so that the bones which articulate at the joint change their relationship only with respect to their angle. This allows the joint to serve as a fulcrum in a system of levers. When ligaments move enough to allow the joint to change from its normal inter-articular arrangement, it is said to be “dislocated.” You’ve heard of that, right? When tendons and ligaments are stretched excessively, they rupture.

Most importantly, you cannot change the length of either a tendon or a ligament with stretching of any type, massage of any type, or therapy of any type. And why would you want to? Tendons and ligaments are force transmission components. They are very verytough, and they cannot be permanently lengthened by non-invasive means. The only connective tissues that you can affect with stretching are the fascias, the thin “silverskin” that covers the muscle bellies. If they become a problem, usually caused by tiny scars called “adhesions” that form between them and their underlying muscle or between adjacent fascias, they can be stretched with the previously-mentioned forms of therapy.

3. Since neither ligaments or tendons are designed to stretch, an increase in flexibility primarily involves the muscles that control the position of the skeletal components they operate. Sometimes, but not that often, the muscles behave in a way that requires you to teach them to lengthen more readily. And the best way to do this is with the aforementioned Full Range of Motion Barbell Exercise. Since full ROM is, by definition, all you need to do, anything beyond that is either a simple waste of time, or a counterproductive waste of time.

4. Stretching does nothing to a.) prevent soreness, b.) alleviate soreness, c.) or improve strength or any other measure of fitness. In fact, the vast majority of the studies done on stretching not only support this summary, but also indicate that stretching prior to either training or performance produces a significant decrease in power production. That’s right: tighter muscles can contract harder and faster, and this has an obvious application in performance athletics.

The upshot is this: if you are already flexible (okay, “mobile”) enough to operate efficiently within the ROM of your required training and performance movements, you are flexible enough (your “mobility” is sufficient). And you don’t need to stretch. If you want to, go ahead and enjoy yourself, but you are not using your time wisely.

Warmup

After you stretch, you’re supposed to “warm up,” right? Warmup is an important part of the preparation for a workout, if its function is properly understood and its role in the process is correctly facilitated. But for most people, unless it’s cold – and I mean cold, where the temperature is low where you’re training – your warmup is probably excessive, and you’re wasting time doing it.

The pre-workout warmup serves two purposes. First, it prepares the tissues for the work. “Warm” is a specific term: it refers to the temperature of something, a measure of the thermal energy in a system. In this case, it’s you. If it’s cold where you’re training, then you’re probably cold too, and you will need to devote enough time to some general movement to elevate the temperature of the tissues – the muscles and joints you’re going to use in the workout. A stationary bike, rower, treadmill, or a short run around the building or the block can do the trick.

This is not always necessary, because sometimes you’re already warm. If your workout is being done in August in North Texas in an un-air-conditioned building, or anywhere in Houston ten months of the year (it is effectively impossible to air-condition a building in Houston), you’re already warm. If you’re already warm, this aspect of the warmup has been conveniently taken care of already.

If not, the question becomes, how long do I need to spend getting warm? The answer is, probably not as long as you think. Most people can spend 2-3 minutes on a rower or stationary bike and get warm enough to train. If you’re spending 20 minutes doing any repetitive movement before you get under the bar, you’re spending about 2 minutes warming up and 18 minutes wasting time, as well as energy that could be more productively used to lift weights and get stronger. Strength training and conditioning are two completely separate activities, and they must be kept separate if either is to improve effectively.

The second function of warmup is to prepare the movement pattern you are about to perform. Barbell training is movement pattern training – it is not about the constituent muscle groups that cause the movement to occur, it is about the movement pattern itself. When we squat, we don’t “do quads,” we just squat, and quads get done, along with everything else below the bar on the shoulders. The emphasis in the squat is the correct execution of the movement pattern with an increasingly heavy weight, and this requires that the movement pattern be practiced before it is loaded to a heavier-than-the-last-workout weight.

Warmup is this practice, and it is obviously best done as the weight increases. Start with the empty bar, do a few sets with it, add weight gradually, doing fewer reps as you approach your new heavier weight, taking as much time as you need between sets to rest from the previous set, and you have effectively prepared the movement pattern. You have prepared the muscles – they are now “warmer” – as well as the nervous system that controls the muscles, for the movement you are about to execute with the new heavier weight.

Most importantly, the preparation has incorporated everything it needs to include for an effective execution of the work to be done without getting fatigued. The purpose of warmup is to prepare, and it is valuable because it gets you ready to improve. But the warmup itself does not produce improvement. If it also produces fatigue, then its purpose has been compromised. If the warmup is excessive, you are not only wasting time, you are subtracting from your work capacity.

Failure to Progress

Throughout my career in the fitness industry, I have heard the following phrase repeated ad infinitum, ad nauseum: “I think I’ll just stop here at 90 pounds until it gets easier, and then go up.” This excuse – and that’s precisely what it is, a lame-ass excuse to not do something perceived as harder – has wasted more time after stretching and warmup than any other single lame-ass excuse ever uttered in the gym.

People: 90 will be easy when 135 is hard, and not before then. The way you get from 90 to 135 is to do 95, 100, 105, 110, 115, 120, 125, 130, and 135, adding 5 pounds per workout. The process of going from 90 to 135 is training, and staying at 90 is not training. It is merely fooling around in the gym. You have to understand that if you cannot make yourself load 95 next time and move it in the required manner, you are not going to get stronger. And if you don’t get stronger than 90, 90 won’t ever be easier. Ever. Why would it be? How would it get that way? Why should it?

Stronger is simple: stronger means you’re moving heavier weight. When your training has taken you to 135, 90 will be perceived as easy, and this process requires that you gradually make the adaptation occur. Five pounds is pretty gradual, but in your particular circumstances 1 or 2 pounds might be necessary. Whatever the increments you find necessary, they must be added on a regular basis, and for 99% of you this means every single workout. If you don’t go up, you won’t get stronger. And on a strength program, if you’re not getting stronger you’re wasting time.

So, let’s stop being less-than-productive and learn to embrace efficiency and brevity. If you don’t need to stretch, don’t stretch. It doesn’t accomplish anything and it wastes time. If you don’t need to get warmer than you already are, just do the part of the warmup that actually accomplishes something – the part that you were going to do anyway, under the bar, the part that makes the heavier weight you’re using today possible. The heavier weight is the part you want anyway, the aspect of the workout that makes it training, and all the stretching and warmup in the whole entire Universe cannot accomplish what that 5 extra pounds can do over time.

A version of this article appeared in PJ Media October 30, 2014.