Calf Raises - Donkey Style

You may be familiar with calf raises. Usually, these are done on either a seated or standing calf raise machine. Your shoulders or knees sit under levers attached to weights. The balls of your feet sit on the ledge of a small platform, with the heels slightly over the ledge. From here, you move up onto your toes and then lower. That is a single rep. Other variations include simply performing this on a platform while holding onto dumbbells or a barbell, or usingno extra weight at all. It can also be done without a platform, on the floor, by simply raising up on the toes and back down.

Yet another, lesser known, less popular variation, is the donkey calf raise. Perhaps this is because those who actually perform this version do so in the privacy of an empty, or home gym. Instead of using weights or a machine to do the calf raise, the donkey calf raise is done leaning forward, with a partner straddling you back. The name comes from the image of a person riding a donkey. The awkwardness of this seems obvious. Why someone would actually want to put themselves through the humiliation of attempting the calf raise donkey style is not obvious. Apparently it is an extremely good exercise for the calf muscles. I’ll never have a first hand account to know if this is true or not.

The following pic is from the Complete Weight Training Book, by Bill Reynolds. Complete with the 1970’s gym apparel, the Donkey Calf Raise is done perfectly.

p.s. Yes, the guy on top is wearing shorts. It’s hard to tell in the actual book, but this scan makes it seem even more like he’s forgone the vital piece of clothing.

Crazy Upper Body Strength

I’ve been working on handstands lately. Attempting to get from a squat with my hands on the floor to a full handstand. Needless to say, I’ve yet to do it. However, even with my futile attempts, I definitely feel it in my triceps and shoulders. But this is all childsplay, compared to what these guys can do. This is crazy stuff.

Workout on the Cheap

Working out can be expensive. A gym membership may cost $50 per month. A treadmill will set you back at least a few hundred dollars. Something like the Bowflex could cost thousands, plus interest on financing. Then there’s the countless unopened exercise DVDs and that spontaneous ab roller purchase that never really got used. It’s almost ridiculous how much money can be blown on fitness. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

A gym membership can be a great investment. They tend to have a lot of equipment, making it easy to get a good workout in. Some gyms even offer free group classes that you can join . It may be a recurring monthly cost, but if used to its fullest, a gym membership can be sublime. However, don’t be fooled by that brand new Super Mega Health Club that just opened. It may be big, but it will probably also be costly. Lower priced memberships can be found at other less lavish gyms and while the larger clubs may have the latest and greatest elliptical machines, there are some really great reasons to choose the less ostentatious abode. The smaller places are generally more accessible as their memberships are lower. You may find that you are less intimidated at a smaller gym and even though it has less equipment, the equipment that they do have might be free more often. It’s also far easier to get to know the staff at a smaller place and take advantage of some of the programs that they may offer. All of this will actually help keep you motivated and keep coming back.

But if you can’t afford a gym membership, there are alternatives. However, don’t fall for the infomercials and all the costly gimmicky equipment. You can easily get a good setup at home with low (or no) cost.

  • A great way to keep in shape is running or walking. And not on the treadmill. The only cost you will incur for taking this up is the price of a decent set of sneakers. Make your investment count, however, by visiting a shop that specializes in running, such as the Running Room.
  • Find some used weights. All you really need is a bench, a barbell and some plates. With just these few items, you can pretty much do any weight training you’d ever need to do. Check you local classifieds. Go garage sale hunting. Check out your local freecycle group - watch for equipment that someone just wants to toss. Scour around your parents place for some old weights that your Dad has long since stopped using.
  • Find a good workout video and use it. All sorts of people have gotten amazing results with the likes of Billy Blanks. Tonnes of Tae-Bo videos are available used from online sources like for as low as $5!
  • Get a skipping rope. You can find them super cheap, but a good skipping rope workout pays off huge. Jumping rope is a seriously great cardio exercise.
  • Work on body-weight exercises. Do circuits of situps, pushups, air squats, calf raises and lunges. If that gets boring, try adding in handstand pushups, dips and clappers.
  • Build some homemade equipment. Fill up a sandbag or get a heavy rock or object. Curl it, throw it, press it, put it on a sleigh and pull it.
  • Check out your local public swimming pool. It may offer free public swimming at certain times of the week.
  • Get a basketball and get your sweat on by shooting some hoops with a few buddies.

There are probably a billion other ways to keep fit, with either very little or absolutely no money down. What would you suggest if you were cash strapped and couldn’t afford the gym membership?

No Time to Sleep? No Good.

With all of our busy lives these days - the long stressful workdays, families to be with, houses to fix up, appointments to meet, errands to run, and all that good TV, many times we find ourselves going to bed really late and waking up earlier than our body would like. Sometimes it gets so bad that we just try and push through the work week and look forward to sleeping in on the weekend to catch up on the lost Z’s. Thank goodness for coffee - our World would be faced with a zombie crisis if it weren’t for caffeine.


It’s unfortunate though. Sleep is important. We’re all mostly aware of that fact. Usually, however, we completely disregard it. Sleep is something that we more or less take for granted. In fact, I used to think of sleep as a waste of time. So many things to do and so little time, why would I want to sleep at all? Well, there are a bunch of reasons.

From a fitness perspective, sleep is important for muscle maintenance and growth. When you’re at the gym, lifting weights, muscle fibers are ripped and damaged (hence the pain you might sometimes feel). In order for muscles to repair themselves, sleep is needed. While sleeping (particular while in deep sleep), our bodies go into repair mode and rebuild the muscle. For bodybuilders, sleep is essential for muscle growth. Repair mode also requires substantial energy and depends on energy stores in our bodies. The energy stores include fat storage. In an indirect way, sleeping actually burns off calories.

Of course, there’s also the fact that the earlier and longer you’re in dream land, the less likely you are to spend any more of your day munching on chocolate bars or nachos. Sure, it’s an obvious point, but I’m sure there have been countless times that you found yourself raiding the fridge at midnight.

Besides the physical benefits of sleep, the mental benefits are huge. More sleep leads to higher levels of alertness and cognitive function. Taking a siesta in the afternoon has been shown to cause higher levels of productivity into the later parts of the working day.  Memories are are improved and better solidified during sleep. Your brain files daily events and works subconsciously on problems. I can recall numerous times when working on programming bugs when I would be getting absolutely nowhere to the point that I’d actually be moving backwards. I’d decide to call it quits and come back to it in the morning. I’d wake up, logon to the computer and fire up my code and almost instantly figure it out.

And then there are health reasons too. Your immune system and organs function immensely better when you get more sleep. It’s the reason why bed rest is next only to chicken soup when it comes to fighting a flu or a cold.

So the moral of the story is to get your sleep. If you find that there aren’t enough hours in the day to get enough sleep at night, re prioritize. Work at becoming more organized. Downgrade to basic cable. Set solid bedtimes for yourself. If you have to be awake by 7am, try to get to bed by 11pm. Aim for 8 hours a night. Once you get into the swing of a good sleep schedule, it will become a piece of cake (low cal cake, of course). You will feel way better, more productive, more alert, more energized and your body will thank you.

Diet Television

So you’ve committed to losing some weight and have set a goal in mind. Step one complete. Now what? How do I achieve this goal? Fortunately for you, there are literally thousands of resources on the web that can help, including, of course. Shameless plug aside, it’s true. If there were one resource that can actually get you to your goal weight, it’s the web. A few articles ago, I reviewed a bunch of social networking fitness sites. What I discovered today was a similar kind of site, but less geared towards social networking and more geared to helping you get on the train to successville.

Diet Television could possibly be the diet site to end all diet sites. You sign on and they more or less just tell you what to do. They get your body stats and interests (whether your looking to be lifting weights or going for runs) and from that, determine when you should expect to reach your goal and what can be done to help get you there. They devise a workout plan and include instructions for each of the exercises. They also provide lots of nutrition and diet information. The best part of all of this, of course, is that it’s completely free.

The motto for Diet Television is “Learn it, lose it, link up”, aptly describing its inclination towards goal setting and assistance. Like the social networking sites, you can create a profile and “link up” with others, which can be a source of some inspiration as you watch other individuals get closer to their goals. The site is in Beta and is still under construction, but with its simple, intuitive interface and the obvious large amount of thought put behind it, it definitely looks promising and is worth at least checking out.

Mens Health Fitness Challenge

Men’s Health has a great fitness challenge in their latest issue. The challenge is also available on their website, here. Measure how many reps you can perform of single leg squats, chinups, pushups, measure your vertical jump height and how fast you can run a mile. Enter your scores in the MH Fit Calculator and get your MH fitness level evaluation. That simple.

However, although the exercises are simple, they are all very demanding. The average guy, for example, is only able to rip out a couple of single leg squats in a row. Pullups are similar, with most guys forgoing this exercise at the gym, in favour of lat pulldowns (which aren’t as effective IMHO). Pushups, on the other hand, aren’t uncommon. But while you might feel fairly comfortable with them, can you squeeze out 30 reps? How about 40 or even 50!? Vertical jump practice is something that I bet you rarely do. And while you might get in a 5k run here and there, the one mile challenge is an all-out run your fastest test of will power to hold out till the end.

It will be interesting to see the results when MH tabulate the average numbers from their readership. My suggestion is to try the challenge now and throughout the next 3 weeks, work up to some higher numbers by practicing the exercises as part of your normal routine. Instead of running the 5k as you normally do on a Saturday, do some sprints or 400m intervals. Work pullups into your warmup and try to get 30 reps, even if broken. Sub inclined bench presses for 3 sets of max reps pushups. Work on your single leg squats instead of some other leg press exercise you have in your normal getup. After 3 weeks is up, go another round with the challenge and see how well you’ve improved because if you keep at it, you will see a huge difference.

Six Pack Exercises

The road to a 6 pack of abs is a tough one. It’s a combination of diet, exercise and genetics that make or break one of the most sought after defined muscle groups. In fact, for some people, it’s just impossible. But it’s worth a shot and although the golden rule is to get lean so the abdominals can peek through the stomach, the abdominal muscles have to first get built up a bit. These two exercises are perfect additions to your routines to help get you down the road to success.

Leg Raises are a great exercise that focus primarily on the lower abs. The easiest variation is to perform them lying on the back with legs out in front of you. Left the legs off the floor, hold for a second and slowly lower them down again. Another variation uses the parallel bars, which can often be found at a gym on the vertical knee raise and dip station. Place the arms on the machine with elbows and forearms holding the body up with the legs dangling. Lift the legs straight out and slowly back down. A third variation is hanging leg raises. This one is done hanging from the pull-up bar. Again, lift legs straight up and then slowly back down. All of these can be done in a typical 3 sets of 10 reps fashion.

Knee Grabs are done lying on your back. Start with arms and legs fully extended and touching the ground. Bend the legs at the knees and bring them up to the chest. at the same time, bring the arms forward, lifting the upper back off the ground and “hug” the knees. Again, 3 sets of 10 should do you well.

Good Form Sit-ups

Good sit-up tip. Fold up your towel to a thickness of about 1.5 to 2 inches. Place it under your lower back so that it fills the gap between your tail bone and upper back when you’re in the lying position of a sit-up. You will find that the towel will enable you to more easily lift yourself with your abdominal muscles, without having to anchor your feet or throw your arms or head forward to create momentum. The towel also helps to fully extend your abs in the lying position and fully contract them in the sitting position. The towel will also help keep your stinking sweat off the mat

Body Mass Index Calculator

The Body Mass Index is a calculated number, based on the ratio of weight and height, that identifies a person’s body type within a range between being underweight and obese. A BMI between 18.5 and 25 is considered optimal weight. Persons with a BMI of less than 18.5 are considered underweight and similarly, persons with a BMI greater than 25 are considered overweight. Individuals with a BMI greater than 30 are in the obese category. Since the 1980s, the number of obese individuals, particularly in North America, has been climbing at an alarming rate.

BMI is often criticized because it does not take into account variables such as bone and muscle mass. Individuals with high muscle mass may be perfectly lean but continue to possess high BMI calculations. The accuracy of the BMI is obviously debatable, but the measurement continues to more or less be regarded as the defacto standard for statistical weight to height ratios. A better measurement for determining “fatness” or “thinness” may be to accurately measure body fat percentage for an individual. However, accurately measuring this is, in general, difficult and requires specialized equipment.

Calculate your own BMI using the tool below:

The Fit Blog Tip #2

Losing weight is a commitment. Unfortunately it’s the hard truth - you can’t expect much from a one or two week South-Beach diet. Losing weight means having the will to deny yourself many of the things you may like. Chocolate bars, beer, croissants, all the good stuff has to be removed from your diet, and not just for a couple weeks - staying on the course and staying committed is the number one road to success. Mix in some cardio and resistance training and you’ll be seeing the weight drop off in no time.

Say No to Gun Control

The guns I’m referring to, of course, don’t need bullets

Get your “Say No to Gun Control” t-shirt at the Fit Blog CafePress store.

Clean, Squat and Jerk for a Rep

I’m a big fan of Olympic style weightlifting. I like the shear strength that some lifters possess, but what I like most about these lifts is actually incorporating them into my routine as they are extremely great workouts.

Lifts like the clean and jerk incorporate a huge number of muscles. From the lower legs right up through the shoulders, a good clean and jerk hits you pretty much everywhere.

Some good instruction on the clean and jerk can be found on, here. It is a very compound movement. Beginning in a squat position, you “clean” the barbell to a racked front-squat position, then the barbell is pushed overhead while the knees bend to bring the lifter under the bar and assist in getting a full arm extension. The lifter then straightens his legs with the barbell pressed fully above him. This is probably the one of the most technical lifts, but with the technical aspects comes the ability for lifters to press amazing amounts of weight above their heads.

But rather than attempting maximum weight, I like to incorporate the clean and jerk into a workout to get more of a full body workout. This exercise is also capable of bringing the heart-rate up significantly.

For a single rep, using fairly light weight, here’s a great way to utilize the clean and jerk:

  • from the weight on the ground, perform a clean to a front squat position.
  • perform a full front-squat.
  • do a shoulder press (no legs)
  • then use the legs and perform a push-press
  • then use a combination of the legs and squating to get under the bar by performing a jerk.
  • bring the weights down to the ground

That’s one rep. Try 5 to 7 reps for a set. Use fairly light weight (or just the bar or broom stick or PVC piping). This exercise can also be performed with dumbbells or kettlebells instead of a barbell.