Quick Word on Staying Fit in these Difficult Times

I have seen and answered quite a lot of questions recently on Quora regarding training while in isolation, so I thought I would put a small post together just to help with this subject.

First things First

You don’t really need the gym, or at least not as much as you thought you did, the vast majority of us that are looking to stay in shape can do so quite easily from home, but we are sold the Gym story because it makes money for others and we buy it (on the whole) because it gives most people the best excuse for not working out, if I can’t get to the gym I can’t train, but the reality is (and if we are honest with ourselves) this is exactly what it is an excuse, I am not knocking Gyms, far from it but right now in this moment you haven’t got that as an option so let’s work a way round it, I put a previous post on about working out with an old log or tree stump located here but you don’t even have to go to those extremes, there are a few simply rules to remember and you will be just fine.

  1. if you no longer have access to a wide range of weights, slow down your repetitions and use increasingly concentration exercises, so this would mean concentration curls resting your elbow on the inside of your leg, or lunges instead of squats.
  2. Anything can be a weight if it weighs something, sounds simple but it doesn’t have to be a bar with plates on it, logs, stones, paving slabs anything that weighs something and you can pick up will work, just remember to be careful of sharp edges and any dirt falling into your eyes and so on, apply common sense.
  3. As long as you stress the muscle or you push cardio capacity till you are out of breath you are going to adapt it is simple, so go out for a run (on your own or with members of your household) and push yourself.

Desperation is the Mother of Invention

Remember that you can think a way through anything, in fact a little time having to invent movements will probably do us all some good, consider the muscle group you are wanting to train and think about what movement involves that muscle group, then perform the movements slowly and deliberately, try and feel the muscle group working under the weight, not only will this help with the mind muscle connection when you go back to the Gym but you will find that using heavy objects that are not always completely centred or are awkward to pick up will help recruit supporting muscle groups as well meaning that you can push more weight with the main group as it now as much more support.

Sticking Points

Chest, is always going to be a difficult one, as the normal way of training is to be on a bench allowing greater movement of the elbows, but you can just as easily lay on the floor and do flys, again just slow down and feel the movement, press-ups are of course the staple and see if you can get someone to place a weight on your back while you perform them, cross bench dips can be replicated with two chairs just be careful that one of them does not tip over, I would say just use one and place you feet on the floor. elevating your legs during press-ups will also help engage your upper chest, but not too much as your blood pressure will rise easily in this position.

Yoga, Yoga, Yoga

I cannot stress this enough, if you are looking for a way to improve overall health and wellbeing as well as improve muscle tone and burn fat and you only have restricted space, you cannot beat Yoga, there are a million and one videos on YouTube that you can just put on and work along with, you will feel better for it, I know that for some the idea of Yoga seems a little hokey but believe me I have such an admiration for the strength, flexibility and durability of Yoga practitioners since I started doing it, and my flexibility has improved no end.

Above all

This time is unavoidable, you cannot do anything different because this virus has taken those options away, but although it is controlling our lives now, don’t let it win in the long run, think a way round the limitations and work to emerge better, stronger and more educated when all this is done, and reap the rewards of a bit of time away from keeping up with the virtual Jones’s

The World has Gone Crazy – but I don’t need to tell you that!

So Gym’s, pubs, clubs and all meeting places have been shut down, and it is really for our own good, after all you don’t want the corona virus do you? the issue with this is that although life is changing in an unprecedented way it appears (through the front window) to be normal, peaceful and quiet, meanwhile the TV sounds and looks like the plot of a Hollywood movie, so it is difficult to get a handle on the reality of the situation.

The gym I attend was shut this week and fortunately for me they have taken the generous step of “hiring” some equipment out so I do have a bar and some 20k plates at home to train with, but before we knew that was going to be a thing I first went out and found myself a log, yes, a log, and I intend to find more, you see we have become so ingrained with the convenience of gyms and facilities that we have forgotten the very basics of why we can build muscle, Adaptation the muscle doesn’t care if you are deadlifting with an ivanko bar or a tree trunk, it reacts to something you can’t do by growing bigger and stronger in order to allow you to do it, your body is your greatest ally.

What the hell do I do with a Log ?

Here are my suggestions and the muscle groups this will use, remember that you are now working within “functional strength” so there is very little in the way of concentration movements but as well all know by now, when you recruit the vast majority of your muscle groups in a movement the effects on the body are increased, with elevations in BMR and testosterone production as well as growth hormone release.

  1. Lift above your head – Starting from the ground grip the log and lift so it is above your head horizontally (obviously balance will be a big thing here) and then pass it from shoulder to shoulder in an arc over you head, this will involve back and leg muscle as well as front delts to get the log in position and then delts and triceps as well as forearms to pass it from side to side.
  2. Bent over row – Easier with some grips but you can use rope or chain to wrap round the log to get a grip, I used chain, place the chain around the log taking great care to place the chains at the point the log is balanced, this way when you pick it up you will get even load distribution, then simply carry out your bent over rows.
  3. Squats – While not conventional these are easily achieved by picking up the log and rolling it along your arms until it rests on your upper chest, by slightly leaning back and opening up the chest cavity you will place the load in a balanced position then squat, for the squat monsters out there you may have to up the reps in order to compensate for the lack of weight.
  4. Deadlifts – same as bent over row really just deadlift it instead !
  5. Lift / Carry – with the heaviest log that you can carry, do just that, pick it up with your arms round it and walk, this is an amazing full body exercise and will help with core strength as well.

These are just a few examples and I have set myself a little challenge, rather than come out of this situation having to start again, I want to go back to the gym in better shape than when I left, remember the gym is the best place to build muscle it is just not the only place, and when this is all over these businesses will need us to go back as soon as possible, because while all this is going on they still have to pay the bills.

Do your Trapezius muscles suck?

Mine do, they are kinda there but not really and they have an annoying flat spot in the middle, I am literally going to the gym today to train back and it got me thinking, should Traps be trained with back or shoulders ?, traditionally I and many others would train them with shoulders, 4 to six sets of standing shrugs at the end of the shoulder workout and then off home for a well deserved protein shake, but hang on are they actually connected to shoulders in any way ? well from a movement perspective yes, slightly, they are attached into the base of the skull and out to the clavicle and then to the spine about midway down your back, this presents a problem when arguing for the mechanical movement of standing shrugs.

You see, looking at this picture, traditional shrugs actually only work a very small portion of the trap muscles, and are more likely to contribute to a slightly wider neck than the big blocks of muscle we are looking for, additionally they also seem to serve no purpose (other than stabilising the shoulder joint against the movement) in any deltoid activity as they are not overlapping in any way.

So I would consider that if we are looking for synergistic training they should in fact be trained along with the back muscles as they play a role in all back exercises, in fact as they are responsible for movement of the scapula ( the muscle fibres both pull back and down toward the spine ) it is fairly easy to see that these play a huge role in everything from bent over rowing to lat pull downs and chins as well as single arm Dumbell rowing.

How to best Activate them

As previously discussed the traditional straight backed approach doesn’t actually cut it for this muscle group as you are only activating a small portion of the muscle group, sure due to the nature of the muscle fibre it is easy to move a lot of weight over a small distance, but ultimately once you have fed your ego you must eventually move onto building some muscle, looking at the structure you need to draw the shoulders up and back to completely engage the large mid portion of the muscle ( the one that provides the size ) and for the lower portion of the muscle, you would try and pull down from only the shoulder, these exercises may look a little odd but once your traps start growing people will start to copy I assure you.

Concentration Movements

  • Shrug – Instead of the traditional standing shrug, you should bend slightly from the waist and allow your hands with the Dumbells in them to hang naturally down, obviously you should not lean to far over as you are looking to move the weight with the same shrugging motion just in this modified position, I would also take whatever weight you are using now for shrugs and halve it too, you only have one back let’s make it stronger not damage it completely.
  • Trap Pulldown – This is the one that will get a few odd looks as people will genuinely wonder what the hell you are doing, but seated on the lat pull down keeping your arms straight, you are looking to extend only at the shoulder and the shrug in reverse, so bring the shoulders down and squeeze to the back at the full contraction.

Compound Movements

As a side note and to further illustrate the point, the Trapezius muscles are also heavily involved in the following exercises / movements

  • Bent Over Dumbbell Rows – and to a lesser extent bent over Barbell rows due to the lack of mobility of your hands with the latter.
  • Cable Seated Row – again the pulling back of the arms and squeezing toward the centre of the spine activates the Trapezius.
  • Chin-ups – These hit the lower Trapezius along with their seated counterpart the lat pull down.

So I hope that has been informative and I am open to any questions regarding the above, always be careful when training and always be extra careful when changing a movement / introducing a new position into a routine, as there is only a small difference in the positions it may be easy to think that you can handle the same weight as previously but remember the idea is to concentrate on a muscle group more targeted than before and so this my cause injury if not used to it.

Update After Trying my Own Advice

So often people write these guides and you sit and wonder if that is how they train or if they have even lifted a weight in their life, and of course quite a few haven’t, or at least they do not follow the routines that they put out it is all just for money.

So this, and all other training tips are as a result of considered thought and trying to work out how to do everything as efficiently as possible to achieve maximum results in the minimum time, this the trainee superhuman after all!

So I have updated this post with the findings from last night (at the time of writing)

The action of bent over shrugs feels massively unnatural, this is mainly because we are always taught that we should keep the back straight, in fact the very action of leaning forward immediately puts tangible stress on the middle of the Trap muscles, the important thing to remember here is not to bend to far over, concentration exercises are all about putting the muscle group in a compromised position where they can receive little to no assistance from supporting muscle groups, once in the correct position though the feeling as easy to identify, and the significant drop in the amount of weight I could handle showed just how weak the muscle actually was compared to what I originally thought, the numbers are standing shrug 40 to 50kg for 12 to 15 reps, bent over shrug 24 to 32kg for 12 so as you can see it was significant, today the muscle actually feels sore, all the way from the top of the structure (at the base of the skull) down to the middle of my back and extending out to the scapula, so I am fairly confident that this has had the required effect, it has also occurred to me that the strengthening of this muscle group will counteract office back strain where we tend to sit hunched over a keyboard all day long, by strengthening this part of the Trapezius we keep the top of the back flatter and avoid shoulders naturally falling forward.

So again hope this has been helpful, please let me know if not, or if you have any comment or suggestion on other training routines.

Over 40 ? You need more Protein

I actually turned 40 sometime ago and have struggled to regain the growth of my youth with little to no success, you see the problem is that although we all age we don’t like to think that it has happened and therefore very few of us adjust our lifestyles and nutrition especially to accommodate the changes.

So when I set off back to the gym I was training and eating exactly as I did before, and the results were mediocre at best, the fat refused to budge and the muscle wouldn’t come back for love nor money, a lot of the reason for starting this blog was to share the learning process with like minded people as I try and work out some of the most difficult things to nail down if we are all to live free with happy lives.

Please take a look at my Protein page here where I have included the section on protein over 40 and how the requirement changes, it is truly my intention to educate and assist with my blog and site and welcome any questions at all, I will endeavour to answer them either through a post or as an update on the site.

Photo by Modernista Magazine from Pexels

Nature has an answer for everything – Fenugreek

If you have spent anytime pursuing any kind of sport you will have definitely been exposed to the myriad of pills and potions to help enhance physical performance, from sports drinks laced with sugar for running all the way through to steroids and growth hormone for bodybuilding, the supplement industry is a multi billion dollar industry and it is not difficult to see the motivation behind the glossy advertising campaigns and influencer posts.

Meanwhile for the vast majority of us the availability of the base ingredients of these hyped products never crosses our radar, sitting anonymously on a shelf in a health food store waiting for the inquisitive and informed person to notice just how much cheaper they are compared to the big company names pushed on us from any chosen publication as we pursue our sport.

One of the things I and men all over the world have to deal with is the decline of testosterone from the age of 30 and all the negative symptoms this brings, lack of energy, lack of sex drive, lack of intensity, and as a consequence lack of activity can increase bodyfat and without testosterone to keep the levels down estrogen will rise and cause more weight gain, this is a cycle that many men find themselves in and are looking for a way to increase testosterone without going down the slightly risky route of testosterone replacement therapy or even worse trusting the local dealer to sell good quality steriods.

So while researching testosterone boosting supplements I noticed Fenugreek came up over and over again and so I looked into it further, there is a plethora of information out there and lots of scientific studies proving the effectiveness of this herb (1) and the thing that caught my eye again was the dosage levels, this particular study cites 500mg of Fenugreek as an optimal dosage, most of the supplements I had seen were around 350mg, so far below, it is also widely accepted and shown in this study (2) that the combination of Fenugreek and protodioscin (Tribulus Terrestris) had a significant effect on testosterone, libido, strength and mental alertness.

So rather than purchase the sports manufacturer product that contained only one of the ingredients required and at a lower dosage level than is effective, I set out to buy them separately and see if I could get the results that the study showed.

I began with 600mg of Fenugreek and 300mg of Tribulus as these were the strengths that the tablets came in, and I have been doing this for nearly a week now, I can report with some confidence that my strength has increased and my focus at work has very much improved, one of the effects of higher testosterone is the reduction of bodyfat in general and I think I am seeing some changes but in fairness it is too early to really tell and as far as timelines is concerned I have only just started, I did go up to 600mg of Tribulus but I am not sure if i will continue this as I did start to feel a little odd but this could be just the body getting used to the new substance.

I will monitor my progress for 12 weeks and report my findings as I go, but it is looking really positive so far…

Nature truly does provide for nearly all our requirements, sure it takes more looking and the results are rarely instantaneous, this doesn’t sit well in our on demand society and so natural products often get overlooked in favour of synthetic drugs that hit the system like a steam hammer, but you should always balance the benefit you are looking to achieve, as there is nearly always a detriment to drugs and very rarely to normal dosages of natural products.

As always I will provide links to the products I am writing about, if you are interested and would like to buy through my link please do so, but if not simply google Fenugreek or Tribulus and you will find a whole load of places where these are available.

Protein – Building block of muscle

Further to my research on nutrition I have completed a page on Protein, it’s synthesis and how much we should be taking in, I have included a Bioavailability chart to help you choose your protein sources with a more informed mindset.

If there are any questions that anybody wants answered please leave a comment and I will endeavour to answer as soon as possible, I really want this site and blog to help as many people as possible cut through the marketing bull***t and build the lives they want quicker and easier,

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So enjoy and please forgive the post to introduce a page!

main Photo by Krisztina Papp from Pexels